By Anees Teladia
Restorative justice is the way forward for the South African justice system, according to Venessa Padayachee, the national manager of advocacy & lobbying at NICRO (National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders). However, the restorative justice approach is not without flaws and opposition.
South Africa has seen a recent spike in gang-related violence, with said violence even finding its way into schools. There is growing concern around children becoming increasingly involved in gangs and becoming both victims and perpetrators of violent crimes.
“Retribution is about punishment and state-sanctioned discipline through incarceration. Restorative justice is based on the premise that crime affects people and relationships,” said Padayachee.
“Restorative justice goes about a restorative approach, [for example] something has happened – how do we restore the situation back to a healthier one? It looks at root causes.”
“Restorative justice does no further harm, while prison does more harm due to the increased violence and rape.”
Padayachee says that one of the primary concerns of restorative justice, is to reintroduce humanity into the justice system.
“We dehumanise people and talk about crime as though it’s not about people. Why are children violent? We need to ask ourselves these questions and then we will find the solutions.”
“It’s an entire paradigm looking at behaviour – violent behaviour and aggressive behaviour,” said Padayachee.
“We know our society is violent – we raise children in this way. There’s a reason why children are acting out, why they are joining gangs.”
Padayachee’s emphasis on a restorative approach is nothing new within the global context, and while many do support the concept of restorative justice, it is not without criticism.
An assumption within the restorative approach is that perpetrators are cognitively and emotionally capable of experiencing remorse, guilt and shame. The restorative approach also arguably places a burden on the victims, or the families of victims, after crimes have been perpetrated.
“I love the phrase that restorative justice does no further harm and gives the ‘crime problem’ back to the people,” said Padayachee.
However, the suggestion that restorative justice does no further harm is arguable and contested in some regards. At times, people simply do not want to engage with the criminals who have perpetrated crimes against either themselves or their family members. Some might also feel that justice has not been served due to the lack of retributive justice.
Padayachee, however, argues that retributive justice has not worked and that accordingly, we need to try a new approach.
“Ask yourself: has prison reduced the violent crime rate?“
“We are human beings, we are not motivated by being dehumanised. Peoples’ mindsets need to shift. We have a very punitive society,” said Padayachee.
According to Padayachee, murderers and other criminals should not be labelled, but rather looked at and understood as human beings.
“Never judge a person. Don’t call them a murderer – they’re a human being.”
The debate around which approach to justice is best, encompasses many different arguments and opinions. Through the promotion of a restorative approach to justice and the rejection of a retributive one, an important question arises: are the families of those murdered during the Apartheid era, who are currently pursuing retributive justice, in the wrong for doing so? Should their pursuit of retributive justice be denied because restorative justice has been determined as preferable by some?