We live with soft and violent. We need tough and healing


I often say that when we look to raise up restorative justice peacemakers and train mediators we are looking for those with tough minds and soft hearts. Hard heartedness and soft-mindedness facilitates ongoing ills in society.

Let me unpack this further. The Criminal Justice system, which just sent Oscar to prison is a soft, violent system.

That sounds like it makes no sense. No?

Allow me to explain. It’s a soft system in that the artificial system of evidence in court allows for muting of narratives and exclusion of evidence at the behest of brilliant lawyers who know the rules well and how to play the system the best. So it allows for what I call truth massacre. The truth is often the greatest casualty. It is not a process that is tough enough on getting at the truth. But ironically, it is precisely because it is a violent process that makes it soft on getting to truth. This is because it is encapsulated in a high-level fear environment. The outworkings of the criminal justice system our so damaging, that the entire system is set up to motivate and perpetuate a culture of denialism rather than advance a culture of courageous truth-telling. Oscar like everybody else knows that it is a system that wants the truth but it wants to destroy the offender whether he tells the truth or not.


So the very first images of Oscar in the dock, even when the presumption of innocence applied, was of a human being with his most horrific actions exposed for all the world to see, and now in his most vulnerable moment, completely exposed with dozens of camera flashes in his face. The last images of him are being paraded through the street put in a caged van with crowds and cameras in his face again. His act of killing Reeva was born in insanity. The barbarism of the criminal justice system that allows for this public display of bloodhound-like pursuit of a human is also born in barbarism. Unless we recognize that we cannot answer barbaric acts with different forms and different levels of barbaric acts, we will never end up dismantling the violent culture that we are all a product of at varying levels.

If you look at the entire process, the dignity of Reeva was not kept in tact. Images of her displayed in her most brutalized moment for all the world to see, precisely to stir up the anger of the public against the person who took her life. This doesn’t protect her. This doesn’t protect thousands of other woman and children potentially in this position. It just continues to advance violent culture. Keeping the fire of the perpetual spiral alive and well.

We need processes that are tougher at getting at the truth. And we need outcomes that facilitate healing and restoration of offenders.

I personally don’t believe we got to the whole truth in the Oscar trial. But I know that for as long as the system continues the way it is, the Oscars of this world will be too petrified to tell the truth and will use brilliant lawyers, as they have every right to, to advance a version that could possibly fit with often compromised forensics

Restorative Justice is not soft. It’s tough. It’s hard work. It’s hard on the truth and it’s hard on the issues. But it is a process that facilitates truth, accountability and ultimately behavioural change. The fact that amongst optional outcomes may be restoration and healing for victims and offenders, makes it’s application way more supportive of getting to the truth, of offenders and societies learning from the process and of ultimately dismantling the violence.

We cannot think we will ever dismantle violent acts apart from all working together to dismantle violent culture and our own violent thinking.

We need to ask ourselves what we want. Do we want those who offend, those who choose badly, to suffer? Or do we want the violence to stop. The former is easy work if we continue to apply violent, retributive, punitive systems. But it will never achieve the latter whilst clinging on to the need for the former.


Sheena St. Clair Jonker

ADR Network SA and The Access to Justice Association of Southern Africa

sheena@adr-networksa.co.za or sheena@accesstojustice.co.za