Encountering Pain and Confusion in order to Heal

By Sheena Jonker

We need to encounter the pain and confusion head on so that we can heal. So, do we tell it like it is? Or do we tell it like we are?

We are all made up of a complex mix of our biology, our experience, what we’ve been taught, what made sense to us at the time, those who have influenced us, our suffering, our triumphs and I could go on.

So to answer the question, it’s probably a bit of everything. Both, and.

I spend my working life mediating high conflict and often complex legal disputes. This means that I spend a lot of time with people going through some of the most profound pain of their lives. In Criminal Justice and Civil Justice in the judicial system, the pain is often masked behind voluminous papers, warring legal teams, complex rules of procedure and the cumbersome of the bureaucratic. Lives are still falling apart, wealth and health is still being destroyed, but it may not have a human face. We lose sight of the pain.

In alternative processes like mediation we encounter the pain, the confusion, the torment head on. We also encounter the healing, the peace, the “just-ness” head on at various points along the way and at the end if we get all the way though to resolution. And that is why we do this work.

But we need to keep learning, keep avoiding assumption, finding new ways to remain open, compassionate and insightful. Especially when parties become stuck in the sheer woundedness of it all.

So I’m always seeking out new ways to learn of and understand the human condition in all of it’s messiness and beauty which can and often does exist all at the same time.

For Fear of Fear

I recently came across the work of Padraig O Tuama.

There is this Irish Phrase ar eagla no heagla that translates “for fear of fear”

What if the way we tell it, is the way it is, and the way we tell it is the way are and at that point where we are is in a place of being terrified of fear. So we can’t really be in the here, because we want to get out as quickly as possible and so we don’t stay and look around and learn what we need to learn.

Most conflicting parties I deal with are in a profound state of fear. More so, terrified of the fear.

In David Wagoner’s poem, “Lost”:

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called here

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger

Taking Courage to Stop and Look Around

Sometimes we help parties stand still and look around. And meet the powerful stranger. We help them be here long enough to learn what they need to. To learn things from the place they are in but wish they are not. Sometimes that is the only way they will be able to move from that place. From here.

One of our most important roles may be to assist conflicting parties in taking courage to stop and look around in the here. Whether they are here by disaster or by choice. What must be learned here? We help them discover that.

O Tuama tells the story of Jesus and the disciples and the boat and the storm and he says it is as if to say that only in the middle of a storm can we find a truth that will steady us.

Sometimes we assist parties to go into the storm to find that truth that will steady them.

“What is the name of the place you are in now?” O Tuama says “It requires close looking. It requires the dedication of observation and commitment to truth. To name it requires to be in a place. It requires as to resist dreaming of where we should be, and look around where we are.”

Sometimes we resist naming where we are. Words have power and we fear giving power to a place we don’t want to be in, by naming it.

Helping Parties to take Courage

Sometimes we are there to help parties to take courage to name the place they are in assuring them that it doesn’t mean they will stay there. Anger. Pain. Trauma. What if my telling it like it is and telling it like I am is an angry, excruciatingly painful mix of all that has happened, all that is and all that I feel. And what if the same mess of things is true for the person I am in conflict with.

Sometimes we help parties start here. Stand Still. Look around. Go into the storm. The truth needed to steady them may be found there. And it will take courage.

Sometimes we are there to literally help parties be here.

Late Registration: Five Day Program 26-30 June 2017

Dear Student/Prospective Student in Durban or Johannesburg

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

A RESTORATIVE JUSTICE view on #pennysparrow #chrishart #justinvanvuuren

New Years Day this year saw our beaches packed, as usual, with jubulent beach-goers. It also saw some South Africans taking to the social networks to vent deeply racist and hateful sentiment. Some of the posters were Penny Sparrow, apparently a former Estate Agent with Jawitz Properties, Justin Van Vuuren of FatTruckSA and Chris Hart, Senior Economist at Standard Bank.

Their actions have resulted in serious consequences. Penny Sparrow has been denounced by her former employer, has had threats levied at her and has been suspended from the DA. Justin Van Vuuren has lost his Future Life Sponsorship and Chris Hart has been suspended from Standard Bank. I understand that all three have had criminal charges laid against them.

And my response is: good

You may be surprised at this since I am a proponent of restorative justice. Well let’s take a look.
Punitive Justice asks:
What offence was committed?
Who committed the offence?
How should they be punished?

Restorative Justice asks:
What harm was done?
Who caused the harm?
Who suffered the harm?
How can we make things right?

One of the features of a restorative approach and the way I practice restorative justice is that unlike a punitive approach which often sees quick results that are unsustainable, a restorative approach emphasizes learning and growing through the process.
As a restorativist, sometimes it is a good thing to take a step back and allow those who offend to experience the natural consequences of their harmful behaviour. In this case the action of the three has lead to being made to feel unsafe in this world through threat of actual harm as well as threat of legal action as well as action that could very well expose them to economic detriment.
Am I happy that they have been made to feel unsafe. No, it’s not as simple as that. I could never say I am happy about any of this. But it is good that they are living the real consequences of their deeply hateful and harmful sentiments which were publically vented.
For too long restorative justice practitioners have light-weightedly regarded issues of race, gender and distribution of social power leading to the mindset that anything can be mediated. No, often other action is required before matters are ready for dialogue and often that action takes the form of natural consequences or action taken by a righteously angry citizenry.
It’s a good time for South Africans everywhere to watch and awaken to the fact that the type of thinking that the three expressed publically is every bit as harmful to all of us as a society as is violent crime. In fact this type of thinking which is the actual entitlement thinking, and has been for 400 years of Western entitlement ideology is what has landed our Country up as a deeply divided society and this makes violent crime and instability not justified so much as inevitable. And we need to be very honest with ourselves right now.
Does the action of the three exclude restoration? Absolutely not. In fact it may well catalyse a season of restoration if we are willing to be tough on ourselves and honest about the real problems. And one of the things we need to ditch is the argument on reverse racism. It lacks substance. Racism, properly understood is a system of advantage of one race over another. Transformation policies can never be regarded as reverse racism. They must, for all our sakes, be regarded as aspects of redress and reparative justice.

It’s important to know that a significant aspect of the restorative approach is insight into the harm we have caused or the harmfulness of our thinking and actions. Penny Sparrow at least seems to completely lack this insight. Cornel West states that the unexamined life is not worth living.

It’s time to take a good look around and look at how our brothers and sisters are living and its time for all of us to take transformation seriously. Constitutional expert, Prof Devenish once said: “we ignore land transformation at (ALL) of our own peril.”
Restorativism is about liberating both oppressors and the oppressed and Penny Sparrow, Chris hart and Justin Van Vuuren, your vile public spewing of hatred and the devaluing of our brothers and sisters might just have catalysed enough righteous anger for us to finish what the TRC was meant to have started: the actual reparation that is intrinsic to restoration.

Let’s starting talking about what that might look like.

As always, Peace
Sheena St. Clair Jonker
Mediation Training: training@adr-networksa.co.za
Processes: sheena@mediatorsa.co.za
Access to Justice: sheena@accesstojustice.co.za

Featured Mediator

Friends and Colleagues

I am proud to introduce David Sibsiso Mlangeni as this week’s featured mediator. He trained recently with ADR Network SA and has joined our panel. He is a vastly experienced and highly accomplished mediator, notably in Education and Land Claims. To use his services, please email him at david@adr-networksa.co.za.

Here is more about him:



I am born in 1948, in the old Alexandria township and left for Diepkloof in Soweto in 1968. I studied at Botshabelo Training College and matriculated at a Lutheran Missionary in Middelburg (Mpumalanga).

Further education was done at the University of Zululand, where I completed a B. A. degree, majoring in Education, History and Political Science. Thereafter I completed a Secondary Teachers Diploma at the same institute.

I was actively involved in student politics and was a member of the SRC in 1994.


Worked as a teacher and within three years was promoted to the ranks of a High School Principal in 1978. Later in 1986 was seconded to a post as Lecturer at the Ndebele College of Education, teaching English (STD 111 & PTD 111 as well as Pedagogics.

Requested to take up a post as a school Inspector in 1988 and retired from teaching in 1988.


At the University of Zululand I was Chairman of the disciplinary committee and it was that my skills of mediation was unveiled.

In the year 2001 I was requested by MTP (Mediation and Transformation Practices) on a part time basis resolving issues of unions in the Western Cape.


MTP appointed me on a contractual basis doing mainly

  • The Extension of Security of Tenure for the Occupiers and Owners on the Tenure Act, 62 of 1997 dealing mostly with:
  • Rights of Owners and Occupiers
  • Rights of Occupiers
  • Rights of Owners
  • The rights of long term occupiers
  • How can Occupiers strengthen their land rights
  • Requirements for the Settlement
  • Ending and occupiers right of residence
  • Application for an eviction order
  • Restoration of residence and use of land
  • The courts and dealing with disputes

All the above was to restore the dignity of the farm worker on the farm and assist him/her to have permanent residence on the farm. I was based in Springbok in the Northern Cape but doing work in the Northern Cape and Free State, only with farm workers and the land owners.

Out of 100% of the cases on farm workers issues (occupiers) I had a 99.8% success rate, restoring dignity on the occupier (farm worker)

Contact: Rodney Dreyer

Franklin Farmer

Craig Arendse


Act no. 28 of 1996

MTP was awarded a tender with the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform to regularize all the 2500 CPA’s in the country.

Trained by MTP and was given up to 10 CPA’s to regularize and later it was increased to 15. Serious mediation and negotiation, lots of disputes in land management, financial management and disputes on leadership up to 2010 – 2011 with MTP and CPA’s. In 2011 a new company took over.


This company continued with the regularization of the CPA’s with a view to minimize their problems and make them functional. I am contacted up to now.

Disputes and litigation on land was very serious but mediation had to resolve both the CPA’s and Trusts, up to 2015

Contact: Ashraf Mahomed

Miriam Sirkhotte

  1. B. We are doing Land Rights Management Facility

Trained by: Claire Hock & Ashraf Mahomed


Whatever disputes and conflicts are there, mediation has proven to be the best ammunition to assist in resolving such conflicts and disputes.”

Peace be with you.


Ps. To feature in this section you must be registered with ADR Network SA on our panel. Get a mail through to panel@adr-networksa.co.za


“Receiving God’s Love is like breathing in. Responding to the suffering of others is like breathing out. If I do the one without the other, I will pass out”

-Living without Enemies

What does “I’m there for you” actually mean.
Living without enemies identifies four models of engagement:
Working for (the professional services model)
Working with (more of a partnership our joint venture model)
Being with (actually being present with those who suffer)
Being for (like academic models of advocacy, lobbying for change)
The being with model is the model with highest potential for trust. Being with the disadvantaged, injured, hurting or oppressed means experiencing in our own lives something of what it is to be disempowered, injured or oppressed. It means setting aside our own strategies and plans for change and simply feeling with the disadvantaged, injured or oppressed the pain of their situation. It involves seeing the implications poverty, injury and oppression has for people’s sense of themselves and their connections with one another-not only their material well-being. It means seeing tensions and contradictions within and between disadvantaged, injured or hurting people and more advantaged people and recognizing through this that all of us are part of the problem. Poverty, injury and oppression is not just out their. It’s in all of us.
Being with goes beyond working for, working with or being for people. It means experiencing in our own bodies some of the fragility of relationships of self-esteem and general well-being that are at the heart of poverty, injury, oppression and trauma.
It means having the patience not to search for the light switch, but to sit side by side for a time in the shadows.
In the story of Job, it is often overlooked that his much maligned comforters saw the depth of his suffering and “they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights and no one spoke a word to him because they saw his suffering was great” (Job 2:13)
Being with is incomprehensible to a world where working for is trumped over everything else. We even do it in our own families. Our innate response is to jump to fix and solve the problems of others when the most profound healing might spring forth from simply willing to be with them. Alone. In the dark. Side by side. Sitting on the ground.
We are terrified of divesting ourselves of all we “know” and all the “wisdom” we can impart. That is after all how we “help” others.
Of course there is value in working for and working with. There is profound value in being for. But being with. Just hanging out. Being present in pain as much as in joy. We miss so much. If only we knew what would bring peace.
The being with model says “Let’s not wait until all the fixing and solving is done. Let’s make these discoveries now. Let’s hang out”
Maybe this is where the healing begins. Can we for a time suspend our search for the light switch? And just sit alone in the dark. Side by side. On the ground. With each other. For as long as it takes
Being with is the basis for everything else. It says “I am for you. I will work for you. I will work with you. I am there for you.”
Unless we are prepared to sit in the dark, on the ground, side by side with those who are disadvantage, injured, traumatized or oppressed, our words, “I am there for you” lack integrity.
If only we knew what would bring us peace.
As always, peace.
Sheena Jonker.
References: Living without Enemies, Sam Wells