Social Power Series (2): Power and Privilege

Restorative justice and peacemaking are not mere ideals, they 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.

“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”

 The Genesis of Violence

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)

Power as a Gift

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)

Working to Promote Just Distribution of Power

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 raid, 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.

Unaccountable Power

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.

Mapping Social Power

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 people in 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.

Four Capacities of Social Power

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)

#AndreOlivier: An Imagined World

#AndreOlivier: A world where white people took nothing from black people is not a real world, it’s an imagined one.

A South Africa where white people took nothing from black people is not a real South Africa, it’s an imagined one.

A South Africa where white people gained the position in society that they occupy and the place in the economy that they enjoy through sheer hard work, is an imagined South Africa. It’s not real.

When Pastor Andre Olivier says “We (white people) took nothing from black people” he was accessing this imagined dimension that has become a narrative that is widely bought into.

And it’s not going to help us build our nation.

In the church’s official response, they talk about acknowledging the scars left by apartheid and also about the need to “correct the past”.

The problem is that if acknowledging and dealing with scars is the end game, we dis-acknowledge the very present reality of one of the most unequal societies in the world.

The other problem is the past can never be corrected. It’s in the past. What we need to correct is the present situation. It’s our present reality that needs correcting. And that comes through redress. And before we can ever begin to do that we need to understand and acknowledge the past.

Professor Sampie Terrblanche in his book Western Empires, writes of the unprecedented accumulation of wealth by the Western World which has come at a dire cost to the people of what he calls the “Restern World”. And Empire building has been at the root of it. He writes of the last 500 years having seen successive epochs of empire, followed by war and systemic chaos.

Apartheid and its corresponding legislation in the South African context, was actually the codification of centuries of systematic exploitation and exclusion.

Imagining that the dismantling of the legislation and the ushering in of political freedom (or democracy) has, in itself “corrected” or even has the potential in itself to “correct the past” or even the present reality that is a deeply unequal society, is exactly that: imagination.

Terblanche further unpacks the history of how the “haves” of world history have systematically channelled global resources towards the West through cunning and conquest. He also writes about how, during these processes Christian Missionary Society played a key role as the soft avant-garde, which was followed by the hardware of guns and military.

If we examine this 5 century old history we see clearly the forces through which empires have been rolled out: arms, money, ideology, religion

The latter is what makes the sentiments articulated by Pastor Olivier particularly alarming: there seems to be a new breed of evangelicals that appear completely out of touch with the God revealed in Christ. And in many cases they have enormous following and often a significant portion of that following is people who have historically been hurt and exploited through the four fold ideology of empire.

“We took nothing from black people”

Are we to believe that Pastor Olivier honestly knows nothing about or lacks a proper understanding of The Group Areas Act (which was the harmonization of three pieces of legislation that excluded the majority to a fraction of the land and reserved for a tiny minority the majority of the land) and its related forced removals and destruction of dwellings. Are we to believe that he knows nothing of Bantu Education, of job reservation and of how the system literally took away the humanity of black people.

Okay so he referred to the law that favoured us. How then does a man with a platform like his so comfortably and confidently articulate that “we” took nothing from black people.

White South Africans today still enjoy advantages in the world that flow from the greatest entitlement thinking in the history of the world: Western Empire building.

I don’t dis-acknowledge that there are some white people who live in poverty and that there is not a growing middle class of black people. But I’m taking at an overall look at society where the majority still live with the economic and spatial injustice created by the past and that exists in the present.

The notion that white people have what they had because they work hard is a blind one. It is largely (though not exclusively) the labour potential of black people, cheapened and peddled by Western Ideology that has built this country. If wealth automatically flowed from hard work, our labour force would be obscenely rich.

Pastor Olivier insists he is all about nation building. I don’t know the man and he may well have done a lot of good. But the sentiments he holds as articulated a few days ago carry the power to do a lot of damage.

I am always alarmed at Christians that rail against political correctness (which is largely about treating all those we encounter with a sense of respect) and teach their children that words carry no power to harm and still teach their kids the old adage that sticks and stones can break our bones but words can never harm us.

These are a people who believe in a God that literally spoke the universe into existence. A people that believe in the creative power of words and that that creative power is accessed through faith in Christ.

Why then are they seemingly so unaware of the harm and destruction potentially accompanying words that reveal such profound lack of insight.

Professor Devenish, Constitutional Expert, a few years ago said that we ignore land transformation in South Africa at all of our own peril. And it’s a patently obvious reality right now. It is in the interest of all South Africans everywhere to commit to creating just conditions and a just society. Where legal systems fail to bring about just conditions we know that people, in desperation start turning to “out-law” action or vigilante justice. The issue is not about whether that is right or wrong. The issue is that it is inevitable.

Australia’s indigenous population suffered numerous injustices at the hands of European invaders of their lands from the late eighteenth century onwards. Crimes against them ranged from discrimination and the appropriation of traditional land and water resources to smallpox pandemics and massacres. But perhaps the most infamous was the state sponsored forced removals of indigenous children from the mid nineteenth century to the late 1970s. Almost all aboriginal families have been directly affected by this process. These came to be known as the “Stolen Generations”. (From 21 Speeches that Shaped our World, Chris Abbott)

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recognized this as a “stain on the nations soul” and issued a formal apology in 2008 part of which read as follows:

“We apologize for the laws and policies of successive

Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss

On these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants

And for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”


Apartheid law and the centuries’ preceding exclusion and exploitation similarly destroyed communities, families, people. The Migrant labour system itself, which is a present reality, took fathers away from families, leaving the families left behind vulnerable, exposed and broken, and burdening those fathers and sons and brothers with socio-economic burdens that simply cannot be sustainably born.

Apartheid Law codified a system of economic and spatial injustice in our land that continues today.

Pastor Olivier fails to acknowledge or even see that regardless of whether we were there or not there, were in agreement or not in agreement, the decisions of our forefathers and mothers leave a stain on our souls and a present reality that simply cannot be sustained.

But the big thing is that we have not even got into the door of progress towards a just society (which is important for every one of us) whilst we live in this imagined world that white people have taken nothing from black people and that we have what we have through sheer hard work.

By Sheena Jonker

Academic Lawyer, Mediator, Restorative Justice Practitioner

Executive head of The Access to Justice Association of SA and ADR network SA

Access to Justice:

ADR and Mediator Training:

Trauma Release

I am busy with material updates for 2016 for our ADR and Mediator Training

Although mediators do not assume the role of counsellor, it is important that they understand how individuals and groups behave during trauma and what the residual effects of trauma might be.

Trauma is said to be anything that overwhelms our natural coping skills. So whether we are dealing with parties going through a divorce, workplace conflict, business dissolution or more patently high conflict community or political disputes, we are dealing with probably dealing with traumatized individuals or groups

A book I have found very useful in its practical application in restorative circle work as well as personal practical application (as a mediator one is regularly exposed to high conflict and traumatic circumstance) is Trauma Release Exercise by Dr David Berceli. It’s easily available on Amazon Kindle.

Happy holidaying and much peace

Sheena Jonker

Mediation Training including Court Annexed Mediation:

Mediation Processes:

ADR, Restorative Justice and Arbitration processes:

Access to Justice and public interest matters:



Am I violent?

As a proponent of non-violence and non-adversarial methods of getting to justice, I spend a lot of time looking around me, glancing within and recognizing the violent impulses that I too have to dismantle and unlearn that obviously emanate from living in a violent world.

On our mediation training programs one of the first things we do is a bit of soul searching. We ask ourselves the big question: am I violent? We are invited to take a few steps back and think, really think about this.

Do I entertain violent thoughts?

Do I use violent words?

Do I ever act out violently? Violence is not limited to punching someone in the face or stabbing someone in the heart. No. Violence lives on a spectrum.

Do I ever use anger to subdue or control others?

Have I ever put my foot down on the accelerator in a rage and with passengers in my car?

Do I call people names?

Do I ever intentionally or recklessly cause others to feel “less than” or humiliated?

All of these things are born out of violent impulse that we have learned to use to survive or to navigate the world around us. There is plenty more I can add to the list.

But as a would be mediator or even as a seasoned mediator, this is one of the most crucial journeys we can go on. The journey of “am I violent” and “in what way am I violent?”. We cannot obliterate violent impulse in an instant. What we can do is be aware and go about intentionally limiting the permission we give ourselves to think violently, speak violently and act out in violent ways.

And it’s one of the most powerful ways we can go about building peace in the world around us.


Sheena Jonker

Mediation Training and ADR Training:

Mediation processes:

ADR Processes including arbitration and restorative justice settlement processes:

Access to justice and public interest matters:

ADR and Mediator Training for the rest of the year and early 2016


We have completed our 5 day training program schedule for this year. Distance Learning Remains open to register and complete.

5 Day Training Early 2016

5 day training will resume in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town on the last Monday to Friday of January, February and March 2016

You can register until 25 November 2015 at 50 {db4c0d2959e302539fe96b7aa3161328ff99665e8aefb664444410c6414dd29e} of the normal fee (ie R 5999 instead of R 11 999) on any of the above programs or the Distance Learning Programs

In addition to that concession the first 10 registrations will receive a smart watch compatible with apple or Samsung, up to the value of R 2000. Specs and available colours can be requested

1 Day training in various aspects of ADR

For the rest of the year we will host one day workshops. Next Friday’s is as follows:

We are holding a one day ARBITRATION TRAINING next week follows:

When: 20 November 2013

Where: 11 Delamore Road Hillcrest, Durban and Constitution Hill Johannesburg and TBC in  Cape Town


Cost: R 1000 payable to ADR Network SA FNB Number 62488968888 Br 223726

Includes: manuals and certificate of attendance

We are holding a one day workshop in UNDERSTANDING TRAUMA FOR MEDIATORS as follows:

When: 27 November 2013

Where: 11 Delamore Road Hillcrest, Durban and Constitution Hill Johannesburg and TBC in  Cape Town


Cost: R 1000 payable to ADR Network SA FNB Number 62488968888 Br 223726

Includes: manuals and certificate of attendance


Kindest regards

Sheena Jonker


Mobile: 0843773340

Alternative Dispute Resolution, Mediation, Access to Justice, Restorative Justice

ADR Network SA (Pty) LTD for Private Dispute Resolution

ADR and Mediator Training

The Access to Justice Association of SA (NPO 135-398) for Access to Justice and Public Interest Matters



#feesmustfall #outsourcingmustfall to #feesarefalling and #outsourcingisfalling

Outsourcing has fallen at UCT: why is this an important win for all of us?
At common law a contract does not have to be fair to be lawful. For a contract to be lawful there must be consensus (agreement), the parties must have capacity to act, the terms must be legally and physically possible to perform and any formalities imposed by law or by the parties themselves must be adhered to.
But fairness is not a requirement. The employment relationship at common law must meet the above requirements to be lawful. At common law, there is, similarly no requirement of fairness. But the employment relationship, has, by its nature, a strong element of control and has its origins in the master/servant relationship of our common law. This means that the relationship is vulnerable to imbalanced power relations. Our legislators have thus attempted to impose the requirement of fairness onto the relationship statutorily via various measures in the LRA including collective bargaining, Basic Conditions of employment and various Employment Equity Mechanisms.
The culture of outsourcing and labour broking is a way in which some of the mechanisms which were intended to impose fairness onto the employment relationship can be circumvented. So at a very basic level a buffer is created between what would otherwise be employers and employees. This distance allows for what would have been the employer to distance himself/herself/itself from who would have otherwise been the employee and be far less accountable. There are many complexities and implications that are experienced by a worker where this “middle man” or agency relationship exists. Some are:
1. The worker is enduringly a contract worker without proper expectation of permanent employ
2. Because of the buffer/ “middle man” or agency cost, the worker tends to end up with less pay than would be the case if there were no such buffer
3. Relationally the worker doesn’t have the same connection that is meant to be born in good faith, trust and loyalty that is meant to be nurtured within the employment relationship
4. It is much easier for what would have been the employers to harden their hearts and shut down contract workers than would be the case in a proper employment relationship
Does this mean that there are no upsides to outsourcing and labour broking? No. But in a deeply divided society such as ours and one that is so profoundly unequal, outsourcing and labourbroking serves to deepen the disparity that is hurting us all. A close examination of the Marikana massacre shows that labour broking or outsourcing played a significant compounding role in the unfolding events that lead to the tragedy.
The youth in our land are leading the charge in dismantling some of the aspects intrinsic to a system that can sustainably advantage the few at the expense of the many, if it remains largely unchallenged.
We need to understand that in the broader scheme of things, in the interests of a more just, and therefore potentially safer world for the next generation (that’s our kids), the current movements lead by our students are actually in the interests of us all.
In peace
Sheena St Clair Jonker
Per ADR Network SA and the Access to Justice Association of SA private dispute resolution and ADR Training access to justice for poor and disenfranchised communities



Date Venue Selection
9-13 November 2015 Durban/Constitution Hill (Joburg) /Cape Town
25-29 January 2016 Durban/Constitution Hill (Joburg) /Cape Town
22-26 February 2016 Durban/Constitution Hill (Joburg) /Cape Town
14-18 March 2016 Durban/Constitution Hill (Joburg) /Cape Town

For registration packs for 5 day programs or Distance Learning please email