Delivering the keynote address today (6 December) at the Victim-Offender Dialogue at Richards Bay stadium in KwaZulu-Natal, which was attended by more than 3,000 people, Minister Ndebele said: “During the apartheid-era, most Black communities in the country, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, developed disrespect for law and the rule of law. In this context, people who chose to operate outside the law, far from being ostracised, developed a hero status in communities, akin to social bandits. This status not only applied to political opponents of apartheid, but some criminal elements as well. There can be little doubt that the peace process in KwaZulu-Natal has been an important, and successful, contributing factor in addressing the high levels of political violence in the province.
This has brought welcome relief to the many affected communities in the province. Although the peace process has successfully permeated most parts of the province, there are still areas where political violence, and intolerance, remains a challenge. Recent assassinations indicate that there are still elements who seek to use violence to ‘resolve’ political differences.
“The Victim-Offender Dialogue therefore provides KwaZulu-Natal with an opportunity to start afresh, by promoting the values of freedom, and humaneness, as well as reaching out to those most in need of our support: victims of crime and offenders. The main thrust of this programme is to keep as many people as possible away from imprisonment through reconstruction of family units, and community systems, as well as victim support and empowerment, while pursuing the rehabilitation of those already incarcerated through well-managed rehabilitation programmes. The objective of the Victim-Offender Dialogues is to put the victim back at the centre of the corrections system, as the victim is directly, and personally, affected by the criminal act of the offender. Equally, the offender must be given an opportunity to reflect on his or her wrongs and request forgiveness.
“The family unit is recognised as the basic building block of any healthy, and prosperous, community and nation. South African history, and circumstances, resulted in many families living on the edge of survival. Families living on the edge of survival have a great possibility of becoming dysfunctional. Many children grow up in families without a mother, or even both parents. Factors such as poverty, the migrant labour system, outdated traditions, the effects of HIV and AIDS and the changing roles of men and women, cause hunger, hardship and challenges to traditional socialization processes. Trusting, and respectful, relationships are an exception rather than the rule.
A sober analysis of the composition of South Africa’s offender population drives home the reality that the vast majority of offenders come from communities, and families, plagued by poverty, hunger, unemployment, absent figures of authority and care, a distorted value system, and general hardship – some of the very factors associated with dysfunctional families and communities. Looking at all the negative consequences associated with dysfunctional families, the role of other social institutions, and individuals, in society becomes very important.
These other social institutions and individuals, such as teachers, religious leaders, sports role models, cultural and other leaders, are required to supplement the role of parents in shaping the values, and lifestyle choices, of our children and youth. It is in the context of dysfunctional families that the role of the state, through its various government departments and communities with all its social institutions, takes on a significant importance in the development of a correcting environment for our children and the youth.
“It is also within this context that the Department of Correctional Services has formulated a new strategic direction, which facilitates making a fundamental contribution to corrections. The state is regarded as being the overall facilitator, and driver, of corrections, with the Department of Correctional Services rendering the final level of corrections. Our successes in crime prevention, and rehabilitation, are intimately connected to how effectively we are able to address the anomalies in South African families that put people at risk with the law at the primary level – that is at family level. Correction is therefore not just the duty of a particular Department.
It is the responsibility of all social institutions, and individuals (starting within the family and educational, religious, sport and cultural institutions), and a range of government Departments. It is only at that final point, at which the society has failed an individual, where the criminal justice system, and the Department of Correctional Services, steps in.
“The focus of the Victim-Offender Dialogues is on problem solving, healing of the spirit, lifting of condemnation and the restoration of harmony within one’s self. The restorative approach enables the offender to: recognize the wrongness, and accept responsibility, for their offending behaviour; deal with instances where they themselves have been victims to encourage forgiveness, and restoration of relations, with affected parties; and to come to terms with their court imposed sentences. Restoration of relations between the offenders, and his victims, is also critical. The principles of restorative justice include: recognition of the human rights of all people; recognition that crime is often a violation of one person by another with the state assuming an intermediary role; and recognition that the reintegration of rehabilitated offenders into society entails restoration of rights of citizenship.
Reconciliation of the offender with the community must be addressed, and the relationship with victims must be healed. This includes restoration of trust and/or loss where applicable, as an integral part of rehabilitation and reintegration. Non-reconciliation increases the risk of recidivism and the offender remains alienated from the community.
“The Freedom Charter states that imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance. It is accepted worldwide that 95% of all inmates will ultimately return to their communities at some point. Rehabilitation programmes must impact the hearts, heads and hands of offenders. The Department recognises the restoration of relations between offenders, and victims of crimes, as vital for the prevention of recidivism. As government and societal institutions, let’s continue to work together in advocating the restoration of families, and communities, as viable entities in which there is good governance and socio-economic viability, security and stability. This restoration of viable, and good, governance is essential if communities are to benefit optimally from government. Working together, we can do more,” said the Minister.
Through the Victim-Offender Dialogues, the Department of Correctional Service is embarking on a renewed focus to bring victims and offenders together in a safe space where relationships can be restored and forgiveness sought. The dialogues create opportunities where various stakeholders defined as victims of crime, those affected personally, their families, communities, community-based organisations, non-governmental organizations, religious and spiritual bodies, educators, councillors and local leaders, assemble together with offenders with a single purpose to rebuild communities ravaged by crime. The trilogy of victim, offender and community must play a leading role in the implementation of the Victim-Offender Dialogues as Corrections is a Societal Responsibility.