Earlier this week I wrote about the EFF call to action and insuring protests in the wake of the racist hair advert published by Clicks and its partners. In order to get to true peace where justice is present, it may be necessary to disturb the peace or the folly of “law and order” in an unjust society.

During its first 40 years, as a challenge to the adversarial system, restorative justice has largely failed to address race and racial justice, according to Fania E Davis. (We must not forget that restorative justice has existed for centuries as the way of addressing harm in indigenous society and many faith traditions.)

This failure is surprising, she says, on the basis that people of colour overwhelmingly bear the brunt of the horrific inequities of the (western) criminal justice system, past and present. In the same way that restorative justice proponents have failed to develop a racial justice and a social justice, activists in racial and social justice have not widely been adherents to or proponents of restorative justice.

Davies calls for a convergence of the two urging racial justice advocates to invite more healing energies into their lives and restorative justice advocates to invite more warrior energies into theirs.

She clarifies her use of the warrior and healer archetypes as follows: the “warrior“ is not used in its oppositional and militaristic sense but in its spiritual valance connoting the integration of power and compassion. In an example, she thinks of the youth activists at standing Rock who led the historic resistance to the Dakota access pipeline installation in 2016 and who engaged in ceremony as a form of social action proclaiming themselves water and earth protectors, and not simply protestors. She thinks too of the fierce African Massai warriors who first and foremost protect children.

In the same way ’healer’ is not used to connote when one works to heal the human body but more broadly to mean when we aspire to heal the social body, or transform social harm.

Because South Africa was born in violent economic dispossession exclusion and exploitation over centuries and because we have neither fully acknowledged or reckoned with these traumas much less worked to heal them they perpetually manifest themselves.

Those of us who have committed our lives and our work towards a just society will have a chance to succeed only in devotion to both individual and collective healing.

Restorative justice in its various indigenous and sacred expressions is at its core, the work of deeply entering into and  maintaining ‘Right relationship’. South Africa is not a scene of rightly related citizens. Rather it is a scene of a small majority having way more of what they need and the large majority living with your backs against the wall. And this is squarely a continuation of centuries old dispossession, exclusion and exploitation.

So, as I said, earlier this week I wrote about the EFF protest action in the wake of the Clicks advert. What South Africans primarily saw was warrior energy in almost full expression. We have a tendency to want to suppress warrior energy especially when it is collective and we look to the ‘Law and order’ state to do this. However, as I wrote, the EFF is exposing the folly of “law and order“ in a deeply unjust society.

What we witnessed yesterday, was the access of something of a healing energy when, out of talks with both Clicks and Unilever, the EFF resolved to call off its protest on the basis of Restorative outcomes comprising acknowledgement of harm, apology and certain reparative measures.

This has been a wonderful demonstration of how the warrior and the healer can come together to restore a society to justice. The warrior confronts, disrupts and disturbs the ‘peace’ which often acts as cover for all kinds of else, most notably racism. And the healer engages and looks for and develops solutions.

I am aware of incidents where the protest was reported to have turned destructive and violent. I am aware of certain individuals and organisations accusing the EFF of inciting violence.

‘The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.’ (Adichi)

We must take care not to start with the secondly here. We must start with the underlying act of racism perpetrated by Clicks and it’s partners.

In the words of Vicky Osterweil, none of us will know true freedom until we properly dismantle the existing institutions and prevailing effects of settler colonialism and white supremacy in this world.

To get here, we need the work of both warriors and healers to succeed in a justice that restores.

By Sheena St Clair Jonker

Sources and recommended reading:

‘The little book of race and restorative justice’, FE Davis

‘The danger of the single story’, Adichi (Ted.com)

‘Disturbing the ‘peace’. The EFF is leading the way.’  Sheena Jonker (http://www.adr-networksa.co.za/blog/)