Social Power Series for Mediators, Lawyers and Activists, Part 2: Power and Privilege

“Perhaps …I am the face of one of your fears.

Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself-

A black woman warrior poet, doing my work-

Come to ask you: are you doing yours?”

-Audra Lorde, “Sister Outsider”

 

Restorative justice and peacemaking are not mere ideals but are practices that take place in a real world in difficult, messy terrain. (Ambassadors for Reconciliation, Myers and Enns, 2009)

This terrain may be shaped by historic and current inequality and violence in which some hold and exercise power more than others. In the first article I looked at gendered notions and how they affect or alter or give rise to social power, or the lack thereof.

I encounter far too many mediators who believe that anything can be mediated and that specifically lack insight into the dynamics of power at play within a conflict, be it gendered power dynamics, racial power dynamics, class dynamics, the stark imbalance in employer employee relations and the myriad ways in which excessive power and lack of power intersect.

I’ve spoken and written before, and often on the genesis of violence and the spiral of violence as explained in Camara’s Spiral of Violence and which I recommend for all Restorative Justice Practitioners and actually for anyone sincerely trying to make sense of the human experience. The spectrum of peacemaking strategies from mediation to legal remedies to activism require that we develop and pursue a careful understanding of the realities of social power.

We are surrounded by powerful institutions, ideologies and personalities but we are not typically adept at recognizing, naming, and importantly challenging them. Those of us who seek to transform social conditions and bring about more just conditions in society must learn how to “read” patterns and practices of power. (Myers and Enns, 2009)

At a Christian theological level we assume that power is a gift and a good to be shared in a just manner and not a good to be hoarded (Refer to the manna of Exodus 16). Similar thinking is to be found in other faith traditions and humanist philosophy.

The ancient Hebrews in the judeo-christian tradition held the fundamental vision of “enough for everyone” and the Hebrew prophets constantly challenged the distribution of power in their world. In the same tradition, Jesus of Nazareth located himself on the margins, amongst the marginalized.

The Jesus of the ancient world and the Martin Luther King of our modern world understood the need first to be “disturbers of the peace”. Over and over we see how Jesus predicates his alternative, restorative practice for adjudicating violation upon a careful analysis of relative power in the community giving radical priority to the “least”, those with least power. (Myers and Enns, 2009)

So as ambassadors of peacemaking and restorative justice one of our underlying assumptions must surely be that we are to work to promote just redistribution of power rather than a pre-occupation with individual or group power as dominant culture unashamedly models. MLK spoke about the dire need for non-conformists.

Sometimes it’s easy to see power at work around us-a police rade, a corporate take-over, a factory closing down and mass retrenchments, the fulminations of the playground bully or the spectacular excess of a celebrity function. More often, though, power is less easy to see-it’s mystified, obfuscated or denied-especially by those who have it (Enns and Myers, 2009)

So where a white person insists on being “colour blind”, someone with tertiary education attributes his or her success comparable to others to sheer “hard work” or a man insists that he is not sexist, there may be terrains of privilege and power that are going unacknowledged or unnoticed.

And when a bank CEO complains that he is at the mercy of market forces, or a millionaire politician dons culturally appropriated gear at a campaign function or a huge mining company advertises how much it is doing for the environment, we do well to exercise caution. Denial of actual power makes true accountability impossible. And unaccountable power is the true threat to establishing a just society.

So if we work in restorative justice or peacemaking on any part of the spectrum (as mediators, lawyers or activists), a central discipline should be our willingness and ability to apprehend critically how power is distributed in our own households and communities and in the broader societies in which we live and work.

So how do we “Map” social power?

Power is a combination of nature and nurture. For our purposes we are looking at power socially rather than psychicly. Of course we know and understand that someone who is marginalised can exercise tremendous spiritual power or that poor people can be inwardly deeply content. (Enns and Myers, 2009) I have often commented that I have encountered some of the most profound wisdom, joy and strength of spirit amongst shackdweller communities.

Social power is difficult to understand because it varies from context to context, and is usually unacknowledged by those who have it and wield it.

Social power can be understood as a combination of four capacities:

  1. Mobility the ability to be where one is “at home” and to move where one wishes. In my view the majority of South Africans living in suburbia where they are close to schools and workplaces are largely profoundly ignorant of the devastating and lasting legacy of apartheid spatial injustice that a large majority of our people are still subject to today.
  2. Access the ability to procure what one needs for health and well-being. If “at home” is far from schools, work opportunity and health care facilities then a large number of our people remain perpetually without power and “self-upliftment” is a virtual impossibility
  3. Self-determination the ability to make the decisions that most affect one’s life. In our context the rich typically lambaste the poor because the rich pay taxes and “subsidize” the poor. It is ignorance and lack of insight that allows the rich to disacknowledge that but for their exploitation of the labour potential of the poor and in many cases the super-exploitation of that potential they would not hold the social power that they do.
  4. Influence the ability to be heard seen and respected.(Enns and Myers, 2009)

In my next article under the theme of power and privilege I intend to look at the basic frameworks through which we perceive our social world.

Sources and Recommended reading:

Ambassadors for Reconciliation, Enns and Myers, 2009

Restorative Justice: Politics, Policies and Prospects. Van Der Spuy et al. (2009)

TRAINING NOTICE: LATE REGISTRATION FOR FIVE DAY PROGRAM 26-30 June 2017: DURBAN AND JOHANNESBURG

Dear Student/Prospective student

Those wishing to attend a five day session next week (either as a new student or a registered student who needs to make up sessions) are invited to email training@adr-networksa.co.za to enquire about late registrations

In peace

ADR Network SA

UPCOMING MEDIATION TRAINING

Friends

The best of 2017 to you!

Training takes places monthly in Johannesburg and Durban

We also have Saturday school in Limpopo, PE and Cape Town

Please email training@adr-networksa.co.za for training schedules and registration packs.

Peace.

Sheena Jonker

Restorative Justice Processes in Rape Cases and Sexual Violence Matters: What the hell?

 

I conduct restorative and non-adversarial processes in rape cases and sexual violence matters. Without sufficient information on this you may be offended.

So here is why I do this (and also teach others to conduct Restorative Processes):

Some statistics I have seen tend to show that of the matters reported that actually proceed to prosecution, around 1 in 100 accused persons in sexual violence and rape matters are convicted.

From discussions I have with investigating officers and prosecutors, it may be that less than 1 in 100 are successfully convicted.

In addition to the above, I have seen statistics that only around 1 out of 9 matters of rape and/or sexual violence are even reported.

So if you actually do the maths on that, knowing that rape and sexual violence are prevalent, the numbers of those who commit these crimes and are actually held accountable are very, very low.

One of the reasons that the statistics are so bad is that the Criminal Justice system is just not the best system to deal with these matters. Victims are subjected to having to relive their trauma over and over and the Defence’s right to robustly test the state’s version, means that the victim experiences being implicated in his or her own rape or abuse which is simply beyond what most human beings can actually bear.

The victim in a rape or sexual violence matter is not an actual party to the process but is merely a witness for the state. The state (prosecution) bears the onus of proving that the rape or abuse happened. It also carries the burden of proof. The onus is about who must prove and the burden is about how much must be proved. In a criminal matter the burden is on the state to prove the matter beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if the defence for the accused is able to raise a reasonable doubt (and only where the prosecution has made out a prima facie case), then the court is obliged to give the accused the benefit of the doubt and he or she must be acquitted.

This is further complicated by the artificial rules of evidence that allow for tactical exclusion of evidence primarily on the basis of relevance. Facts that a court deals with are often so clinically distilled through evidentiary rules that the truth may have been massacred in the process. Not only can this mute or brutalize the narrative of the opposing side but it can lead to significant delays that can impact on the process leading to non-availability of witnesses, dilution of fair trial rights and all kinds of things that can complicate the process and even frustrate the process entirely.

Remember that in rape and sexual violence matters, there may be only two witnesses: the one accused of rape or sexual violence and his or her alleged victim. In many cases there are power dynamics at play that make testimony even more complex and painful. Societal stereotypes that still tend to blame victims for their mode of dress, or for not doing “enough” to ward off the attack and worse, are a real deterrent for victims of rape to come forward to report the matter, let alone be strong enough to survive the kind of cross-questioning that awaits them in court. Even where victims are children and testimony takes place in camera, clever cross examination can easily raise the requisite “reasonable doubt” to dismantle the state case and can contribute to the trauma and scarring of the victim not only not being believed, but also of being made to feel complicit in their own rape or abuse.

Getting to conviction is a harrowing process for the victim and the low numbers of conviction should leave us questioning our bent on getting convictions. We are not achieving them. And we are not achieving them whilst dragging victims through all kinds of hell. That’s the real “What the hell?”

So I am most often contacted by the families of victims who have been exposed to some measure to the criminal justice process and cannot see their way clear to seeing the process through.

So what can a restorative process offer?

  1. We work hard to achieve the highest possible admission. It is only when we know we are working with an admission (of truth) that we can proceed with the process. This is not the same as a confession for the purposes of a criminal trial. However if an agreement is concluded it may contain things like protection orders, no contact orders, admission to the sexual offences register, accountable therapy processes, damages and all kinds of other things that may help to achieve accountability for the accused and restoration for the victim.
  2. In some matters we treat the process as a highly expert and skilled plea and sentence process that the prosecution may be a party to. This means we take far more time in negotiating a plea and sentence agreement than is normally the case
  3. The victim can articulate his or her case in a private safe space and never has to face his or her alleged rapist or abuser or their defence representative.
  4. If the victim wishes to face his or her abuser at a time when he or she feels strong enough to do so, even years after finalization, that can be facilitated

This kind of agreement cannot bind the prosecution which always has the discretion to proceed unless it is a party to a formal plea and sentence process as alluded to above. But the defence may use the agreement to argue for a stay of prosecution or withdrawal of charges or in mitigation of sentence. The primary goal is to shield the victim (often a child victim) of the trauma of a trial.

In truth this kind of process, done properly, has higher potential to get to the truth and therefore accountability and ultimately protection and some restoration for the victim. This may involve perceived benefit to the accused rapist who may “escape” a jail term. Unless of course the process is treated as a plea and sentence negotiation which more often than not involves a custodial term.

But the perception that this kind of process allows rapists and abusers to get off lightly must be juxtaposed against the known phenomenon that more than 99 out of 100 individuals accused of rape are being completely vindicated which leaves them absolutely free and unaccountable in society and may embolden them to continue.

A successfully concluded restorative process can achieve the truth (which is central to the victim’s healing), protection orders and interdicts, enrolment on the sexual violence register which carries with it built in protection for children in various organizational settings, accountability measures such as formal therapy processes with ongoing report back and update mechanisms and a whole host of other possible measures that can be explored and built.

One of the most extra-ordinary aspects of such a process is that because we only proceed with the process once there is admission, a successfully concluded process leaves a victim of rape or sexual violence with the one thing that may have eluded him or her all along: the sense and actual experience of being believed. This is one of the most crucial elements of healing.

You may wonder how often we get to admission. You would be surprised. Once those accused of rape understand the process there is an extremely high rate of motivation to tell the truth.

To engage with me further on this or any aspect, or for more information, please email sheena@adr-networksa.co.za

By: Sheena Jonker

BA (LAW) LLB (UKZN)

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PRACTITIONER AND EDUCATOR

ADR NETWORK SA (Pty) LTD and ACCESS TO JUSTICE (NPO)

ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN: FUNDRAISER

 

The Access to Justice Association of Southern Africa (NPO 135-398)

Invites you to join us for a FUN fundraising evening in aid of its project

 

ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN seeks to promote non-adversarial problem solving in matters involving children, and also to develop and advance the right of children to be represented where their best interests are at stake in any matters that come before our courts.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE also provides legal and dispute resolution resources for women and children in vulnerable situations such as in cases of spousal abandonment, honour-based violence and other contexts of vulnerability

This project was shortlisted in this year’s Hague Centre for Innovation in Law Justice Accelerator Program: Family Justice Section

 

Invitation:

We would be most delighted to have you join us for a fun awareness-building and fundraising evening

Where: Hilton Bush Lodge

When: Thursday 17 November 2016

Time: 18:00

What: Dinner will be in the form of gourmet BUILD A BURGER with accompaniments and followed by dessert. A cash bar will be available

Dress: Elegantly casual with a touch of pink or mauve in honour of Access to Justice for Children

Cost: R 300 per head

RSVP: adele@accesstojustice.co.za

Format:

The evening will commence with an entrée followed by an informative presentation. Guests can participate in a lucky draw, art auction for Access to Justice Student Matters and will each receive a copy of ADR Network SA’s manual on Restorative Justice

SUSAN ABRO, accomplished family lawyer, former acting judge and member of the International Family Law Team will be our headline speaker.

The HILTON BUSH LODGE is a beautiful venue with a magnificent outlook and tranquil vibe. Guests can enjoy engaging discussion after dinner on the verandah or around the fire pit

Sponsors:

There are various sponsorship opportunities from sponsoring tables of ten to donating gifts for goodie bags, prizes and an art auction.

Please email adele@accesstojustice.co.za to discuss

 

 

 

Training Schedule

TRAINING CALENDER FOR THE REST OF 2016 AND FOR 2017: 5 Day Mediator Training (including content on Court Annexed Mediation)

Trainees can elect to do additional assignments from the One Year Distance Program, for example Arbitration, Family Dispute Resolution, Commercial, Workplace and others which carries additional certification

Distance Trainees can attend monthly study group sessions for tutorial support

For information packs please email training@adr-networksa.co.za

Dates Durban Johannesburg

(MIDRAND)

Cape Town Limpopo Eastern Cape
Rest of 2016          
24-28 October Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant No No
7-11 November No No No Confirmed No
28 November to 2 December Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant No Minimum Numbers dependant
2017          
23-27 January Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
20-24 February Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
27-31 March Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
24-28 April Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
22-26

May

Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
26-30 June Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
24-28 July Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
21-25 August Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
25-29 September Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
23-27 October Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant
20-24 November Confirmed Confirmed Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant Minimum numbers dependant

 

Restorative Justice, the hope for something else (a faith-based perspective)

Restorative Justice: A Hope for Something else

 

God’s True Cloak

(A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke)

We must not portray you in King’s Robes

You drifting mist that brought the morning

Once again from old paintboxes we take the same gold for sceptre and crown

That has disguised you through the ages

Piously we produce images of you

Till they stand around you like a thousand walls

And when our hearts would simply open

Our fervent hands hide you

 

In what ways have we hidden the God revealed in Christ.

I believe that one of the ways we fail to get God’s character as revealed in Jesus is in our notions of justice.

In God’s order, justice does not come through punishment and violence, but through restoration. (Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still)

Rohr says that most of Jesus’ teaching on non-violence, simplicity, downward mobility, forgiveness of enemies and inclusivity has had no great effect on Christian History.

Our justice system (at the level of litigation) is based on competition.

So you can win, but you were wrong.

Or you can lose, but you were right.

And the win is based on who has the best lawyer.

And that is often based on who can afford the best lawyer.

And that is the system that decides who wins and who loses.

 

Our notions of justice have us believe that if you are wrong you must be punished. And if you are right, you must be rewarded.

 

And that’s how we’ve understood the bible: the good guys win and the bad guys lose.

 

It makes absolute sense-

Unless

You are losing

Or suffering

Or sinning

Or judged wrong in a flawed system

 

Then you hope for something different.

 

Rohr says that it is to this hope which Jesus came and to which he spoke.

 

So God’s power, revealed in Christ is a power for justice. Making things right again. It is a power to restore broken and hurting people; to use their mistakes to liberate them, to soften them, to enlighten them and to transform them.

 

Even in the Old Testament, concepts of Justice are about restoring relationship rather than vengeance:

Rightly related families form rightly related communities which form rightly related nations which contributes to the Shalom in this world. Nothing missing nothing broken. Wholeness and peace.

 

The Hebrew concept of T’shuvah speaks of returning to the original design. That no matter what we have done we all bear the indelible make of the Creator and we treat ourselves and each other as such.

Grace is God’s big jailbreak for us.

In the book, Healing the Gospel, we are reminded that we have assumed through the ages that the word “justice” means punishment.

But if we take a fresh look at scripture, we find that salvation on Jesus is a justice of restoration. Making things right again.

 

Traditional Justice asks:

Who did wrong?

What did they do?

How shall we punish them?

 

Restorative Justice asks:

What harm was done?

How do we make things right again?

 

We think that not punishing means ignoring harmful behaviour.

But often the punishment perpetuates the cycles of violence.

Studies show that “tough on crime” strategies have spawned more crime.

And “zero tolerance in schools” has lead to worse behaviour.

Restorative Justice is the hard work of finding non-adversarial ways of getting to truth, accountability and behavioural change.

Some first nation societies believe that people offend for one of two reasons:

Lack or knowledge or sickness of the soul.

One needs teaching, the other needs healing.

But does Restorative Justice work in Practice?

Let’s take a look at the crime of rape:

Some statistics I’ve seen suggest that 1 in 100 charges of rape result in a conviction and that around 1 in 9 incidents of rape are actually reported. This is largely because of what victims of rape are subjected to through a criminal justice process where they are witnesses for the state and often the brutality and indignity or cross-examination by the defence is just too traumatic and devastating to bear and largely results in the vindication of their accused attacker.

Our artificial system of evidence means that often “facts” become the enemy of the truth. An accused in a rape case bears a much lighter burden in that he or she merely has to raise or introduce the presence of a reasonable doubt. The adversarial/accusatorial system supports denialism which often means no-accountability.

But doesn’t a Restorative Justice process allow rapists to get off scott-free?

No, we have a high rate of getting to truth and setting up sanctions that hold the rapist accountable and keep the victim safe.

On the statistics I’ve mentioned 99 out of 100 accused of rape are vindicated, rendering them far more dangerous to society.

In a properly constituted RJ process we can get to truth and accountability around 9 times out of 10.

Why?

We treat both victim and offender with dignity, in a non-adversarial environment where we are free to explore all available options of achieving accountability for the offender and a safe future for the victim. By the way, they never have to face each other if the victim does not want to.

 

It’s a much better platform for truth seeking. And unless we get to the actual truth, we never even get off the starting blocks of accountability and behavioural change.

 

So on the one hand we have a punitive justice system rooted in the laws of reward and punishment, blessings and curses which the apostle Paul’s audience embraced. Paul contrasts this with the righteousness of God which is often translated as justice.

Righteousness-making right

Justice-to make right again; to restore

God the rebuilder, the restorer.

Paul criticises his audience who are calling out for justice in the form of retribution and punishment. He proposes that justice really comes through God’s action in Christ to restore all humanity in love.

His audience had adopted what Walter Wink refers to as the myth of redemptive violence.

We have killed people to teach that it is wrong to kill

We bomb nations to bring “peace”

We smack children to teach them not to hurt others

Paul was arguing against the notion that if God was not wrathful, he was unjust.

 

He declared that this way would lead to death and condemnation.

Instead he proclaimed a superior way of restorative justice in Christ.

Some equate restorative justice with simple acquittal, declaration of innocence.

No. It’s the hard work of transformation. It’s a process of dismantling evil without destroying the evil doer. It is part of God’s dream for humanity-reconciling all things. Transforming sinners to saints.

It is the work of disruption and displacement.

So for darkness, light

Weakness to strength

Hate to love

Disillusion to hope

Mourning into dancing

Ashes to beauty

The hurt healed

Hurters made whole

Oppressors and the oppressed both set free

By Sheena Jonker

sheena@accesstojustice.co.za (public interest matters)

sheena@adr-networksa.co.za (private dispute resolution, mediation and training)

LAUNCH OF ADR NETWORK SA LIMPOPO: BAPTISM OF FIRE

 

ADR Network SA Limpopo has been launched under the leadership of advanced mediator Mpho Mdingi

Mpho is in the process of preparing for her launch breakfast this Saturday and her first five day program this month. But last week she received an actual baptism of fire. At midnight last Tuesday I sent her an email to request that she assists with a crisis at the University of Limpopo where students had been arrested on their return from a night vigil and silent prayer.

Before 8am the next morning she had assisted (along with BLA) in mobilizing a legal team to assist with release and had started engaging with police, the University and prosecutors. All of the accused were released without charge later that day and she continued to assist the student lead project to get evicted and stranded students home. On Saturday night she received the following message:

“Evening Dear, we are done with our project of taking our students home. I arrived home also. Thank you very much for the overwhelming support that you and ADR Network gave us from the first day. U have been fantastic words alone cannot describe how happy I am now all thanks to you and everyone who support our struggle. I will send you pictures of today from morning to the last taxi which took our students.”

Special thanks must also go to Mr Mohoto of BLA and Mr Kgafane the lawyers who assisted without hesitation.

Mpho is a courageous, energetic and dynamic young woman. If you are keen to get involved in mediation and restorative justice work, or you need assistance via this type of service, please email mpho@adr-networksa.co.za.

The above is an example of mediation as problem solving at it’s best: facilitating connections, building bridges and shining a light in dark places to bring about healing based solutions.

As always, peace

Sheena Jonker

sheena@adr-networksa.co.za

THE VIOLENCE OF NON-ENGAGEMENT

THE VIOLENCE OF NON-ENGAGEMENT

__________________________________________________________________________________

 

It’s not easy to make sense of the current protests, especially not if there are attempts to distil our understanding into dualistic explanations of it’s either or. It’s this way or that way.

 

As I have said before the protests contain aspects that seemingly don’t make sense and veer into contradiction or paradox. The big one for society seems to be ‘why destroy what it is you say you are fighting for’? It is a societal perception to some extent that the student protestors seem to be burning what they say they are standing for.

 

If only an explanation were that easy…

 

I do feel, that I have a responsibility from my vantage point of having had some measure of access to the voices on the other side. Some of the student protestors.

 

First up let me say that I cannot articulate the current issues nearly as articulately and with the depth of wisdom and insight as many of the students I have had the opportunity to engage with. So I won’t even try.

 

I will say this though. And this is what I want to highlight. There has been long term and sustained commitment to engagement though dialogue. As a colleague highlighted, protest is, in itself, an invitation to dialogue.

 

Early this year there was a resurgence of protest and the Minister of Higher Education released a Statement committing to engagement but directing institutions of higher learning to engage with “legitimately and democratically elected structures” and to address grievances raised by “Legitimate” structures. Access to justice immediately raised concerns directly with the Minister as follows:

 

“With reference to your press release referred to in the subject line, we wish to articulate the following concerns and call for your reconsideration:

 

  • The Department has urged university management to engage with “legitimately and democratically elected structures” and to address the concerns and grievances raised by these “legitimate” structures
  • We believe that the above stance is anti-peacebuilding and is actually precipitating and exacerbating unrest which is turning violent at the campuses since those who already feel marginalised are being further marginalised in a way that directly violates against the Constitutional Right to Freedom of Association and collaterally violates against legitimate Rights to Protest
  • The fact that your Ministry is forcing independent institutions to engage only with elected SRC’s, especially in circumstances where these SRC’s are “winner take all” bodies and are not proportionally representative of the student body and also where institutions are able to disband the elected SRC and appoint its own is of grave concern to us and is an obvious impediment to building peace. Some Universities, it appears, also wiled the questionable power to approve or disapprove SRC Presidents which would perpetuate cycles of marginalization.

 

 

We call upon the department to reconsider its position that is exacerbating feelings amongst marginalised student and worker groups that there is little chance of them being authentically engaged and heard

 

This cannot be regarded as just and does not accord with Constitutional Principles

 

In closing we wish to articulate that all student and worker movements on the campuses that have consulted have clearly articulated a commitment to and growing desperation for authentic dialogue”

 

We cannot discount radical elements that might have crept in to the protests and that they might have illegitimate intentions relating to disruption and destruction.

 

But we cannot ignore the violence of non-engagement. The very act of non-engagement can be an act of violence in itself. It can also spawn other acts of violence and lead to a general escalation of and downward spiral of violence.

 

Since our address to the Minister it seems that our concerns have been realised in an all too real way. I by no means have a comprehensive handle or take on the whole picture but here are a few aspects I think are important for me to highlight:

 

  1. I have had experience of peaceful and non-violent protest being violently responded to. This is not okay. In a particular conversation I had, a member of academic staff at this particular campus articulated that these were some of the best minds we had-everything we could aspire to in our youth who were learning-and yet their peaceful, non-violent acts of protest (born out of the crisis of non-engagement) were responded to violently, and in my view brutally so
  2. Some of my colleagues and myself feel that what is needed is a moratorium on all student disciplinary action related to protests over the past year and to create a hiatis in which to explore other methods to bring about resolution. Possibly well-managed mediated dialogue with parties with actual authority to act and to make decisions at the table. This to bring about a disruption to the current passage of things and the worsening course of things. In conversations with various executives, there has been a complete rejection of such a notion and the re-inforcement that the students must stop with the protests but that the executives will proceed with discipline. This is problematic on very many levels. Firstly it doesn’t allow us to explore what could actually create some space to change the course of things. The door is just shut. We don’t get to check things out here. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, we don’t get the opportunity to stop the course of widespread administrative action that simply in many cases, does not accord with the rule of law and constitutional precepts. There is a widespread practice of University Suspensions prior to a proper hearing. Not only is this unlawful but it is worsening the situation, not improving it. And there is very little if no possibility that this practice will improve the situation. I could right an entire article on the ways in which Student Disciplinary Processes are often bad in law and I probably will.
  3. I am hearing from a lot of executives that they are engaging with student groups, that important and valuable conversations are being had and that by and large they are supportive of the underlying cause of protest but that they cannot “condone the methods”. The problem with this is that in the main, protest has been resorted to due to lack of engagement. Conversations are being had, but my view is that there are so many conversational “buffers” that the conversations, though valuable hardly ever reach a platform where they can make a difference. So the protestors hardly ever get an audience with the Vice Chancellors or the Ministry and that is where they feel they ned to be heard. Further to that, the incidences of protest turning violent are born out of a complex mix of feelings that other channels have been exhausted, often peaceful protest being responded to violently and many other factors which again are not easy to distil into simple explanations.

 

I honestly would be fooling myself if I felt like I had any substantial and sweeping solutions. I don’t. But I feel a responsibility to ventilate aspects that I consider to be anti-peacebuilding. And I do believe that there has been a policy of non-engagement that has contributed to worsening the situation.

 

As I often say, I will never justify the use of violent methods for anything. But there is an inevitability about escalation of violence in certain circumstances.

 

And non-engagement is a form of violence that will continue to spawn other forms of violence

 

Sheena St. Clair Jonker

sheena@accesstojustice.co.za