» Interview with Fanie du Toit: 'Social justice is about making concrete decisions.'
29.01.2009 - SHSviews 22

Interview with Fanie du Toit: 'Social justice is about making concrete decisions.'

in SHSviews 22

Winner of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2008, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa is among those “think tanks” that seek to throw light on policy decisions within the social and human sciences. Fanie du Toit, Executive Director of the Institute, answers questions from SHSviews.

How is social justice itself an essential factor for the establishment of peace?

Our institute believes that justice is an indispensable component for reconstruction in post-conflict countries. Promoting justice helps to stabilize society and provide citizens with ways to participate in decision-making and development. It is also the only way to deconstruct the lines of the past and ensure that the poor feel they have a reasonable chance to live a better life.

This view is confirmed when studying the history of South Africa. Social justice is part of the agreement that enabled South Africa to become a democracy. This idea is reflected in our constitution that represents our version of a "peace agreement". Both the interim constitution of 1993 and the so-called final Constitution of 1996 were based on a very progressive vision of social justice. Without such acceptance of social justice as an essential element for future stability, there would have been neither peace nor a peace agreement in South Africa. Our history shows clearly that social justice is not just about human, legal and political rights; it also concerns economic and social rights. Our courts have been quite creative in beginning to legislate on these issues. In some cases, the state was obliged to provide housing "to a reasonable extent", i.e. that the courts have considered that the state was responsible for social rights and to the extent of its ability to extend these rights to all citizens of South Africa.

This is proof that social justice is not only an ideal, but also involves taking difficult decisions in politics and jurisprudence.

How do you view the events of May 2008 between South Africans and migrant workers?

It is a real problem. The Institute is also involved in the search for solutions. Our annual reconciliation prize will be awarded to a community of Cape Town who apologized to migrant workers and has been working hard to reintegrate them within the community.

There are two ways to analyze these events. The first concerns the material dimension. In South Africa, there is an anxiety to benefit materially, and this anxiety is accentuated when there is a distribution of services. The more the government is preoccupied with this distribution, the greater the risk of social unrest, because economic refugees and other migrants are perceived as competitors.

The other way to explain these events is that apartheid has left an indelible mark in South Africa on the way people think. The logic of Apartheid is indeed a logic of exclusion, which consists of perceiving individuals not as similar, but different, and categorizing them. Integration, the building of an inclusive society is, indeed, the antithesis of the logic of Apartheid.

To understand what happened, you need to combine these two analyses: the material and ideological factors.

How can social and human sciences help resolve conflicts?

Social and human sciences can not only help resolve conflicts, but they are essential because they focus on deepening understanding between people, and there can be no lasting peace or reconciliation if this is not reinforced. It is not only a question of understanding others, but also of providing a mode of engagement, a way of dialogue with others.

History, taught in a responsible and inclusive manner, enables, for example, a common understanding of the developments of a country and thereby helps people understand and accept each other. We try and think of this discipline as a conversation between different points of view generated through the memories and everyday experiences of people on the ground, rather than as a series of ‘expert’ monologues. It proposes a debate between different historical views and ensures that none of them become dominant. It is very important for us to understand how we liberated South Africa from political oppression, to realize that this was a concerted effort among South Africans, and to ensure that they continue to commit themselves to a new nation.

Another example: even though mathematics is the only discipline directly linked to economic growth, we have always maintained that this discipline, like all other disciplines that provide technical and vocational skills, should be taught within a framework of democratic values that encourage the development of personal abilities and non-technical skills. It would be dangerous to produce qualified individuals who do not understand the values of democracy.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation has helped other African countries to develop similar approaches to those of South Africa. Is there a model?

No, certainly not. We do not export the South African model. We only present a small initiative of civil society in South Africa which was developed in the city, region and country where we are based. Based on this work in progress, we encourage other countries to take part in an exchange of ideas and partnerships on ways to move forward. We simply believe that the South African history has taught us a number of lessons worth sharing. So we started a dialogue in Rwanda on comparisons between their system, their Commission for National Unity and Reconciliation and their courts, and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We are also very involved in Burundi on the question of how to create conditions in which Burundians can conceptualize the process of truth, reconciliation and justice. In the same spirit, we are involved in Mozambique, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

In international law, justice involves reparation and therefore someone’s responsibility in financial terms. Is it possible to make reparation for social injustice? Who should be held responsible?

In international law, the state still bears responsibility for compensation, even when it is a new regime that can not be held directly responsible for atrocities committed in the past. However, the response of the State of South Africa is rather mixed. Three types of reparation were recommended by the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation: symbolic, individual and community.

There have been symbolic reparations related to monuments and memorials. There were also individual reparations paid to about 16 000 victims interviewed by the Commission. But we do not yet have a policy for community reparation. Admittedly, there is a special fund - the President’s Fund - which represents about one billion Rand, but 14 years on this sum has still not been disbursed to the communities. The question of reparation must be taken seriously because it is part of the agreement made with the victims of apartheid, which helped justify the amnesty granted to perpetrators. The victims gave up their rights to go to trial on the condition that they receive compensation. We are still waiting for this to be finalized.

At the same time, the state has taken some responsibilities for reparation. But we have probably missed an opportunity to ensure that those who benefited from apartheid commit themselves more in this process. The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation had suggested that companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange pay wealth tax of about 1% of their market capitalization, but this recommendation was not followed. Another idea was put forward: that of creating a business-friendly environment for the economy which would be more beneficial for the country than to punish businesses which made profits during and even from apartheid.

Interview by Coraline Bardinat


Fanie du Toit

Born in 1966 in Somerset West, in the province of Western Cape (South Africa), Fanie du Toit holds a doctorate in philosophy of religion from Oxford University. He specializes in post-conflict reconciliation processes and transitional justice. He has been involved in many projects of postapartheid reconciliation and edited textbooks on history, reconciliation and life orientation.




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