South Africa

Mark Amstutz

A Professor at Wheaton College

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

I would say that a number of factors in the South Africa case are really quite unique. One of them is the person of Desmond Tutu, but especially Nelson Mandela. I happen to think that the reason why South Africa's model succeeded so well, is that they did not follow the retributive model that was followed especially in Argentina and to a lesser extent, in a very small way in Chile. In a normal civil society context, the retributive justice system is crucial to maintain the rule of law. In the context, however, where you're trying to deal with a fragile society like Bosnia or Kosovo, simply to focus your energy on the rule of law and trying to identify and then prosecute people who are responsible for systemic wrong-doing is to really put your focus on something that probably would not contribute to the healing of relationships. What the South Africa model does is that it focuses on how to restore and how to rebuild; it focuses on the future, and it comes at the expense of the people who have been victimized in the past.

Q: In the sense that the retributive aspect is not there. In other words, we're not taking people to court and prosecuting them.

A: That's correct. If victims, in order for their own healing, need to see offenders prosecuted, the South Africa model doesn't do that. But the point is that the retributive model really doesn't focus on the healing of victims. It's a part of the rule of law and it need not and it does not necessarily contribute to the healing of offenders and especially victims. The strength of the South Africa model is that it takes an alternative paradigm of restorative justice which is not fully justice, but it's a different kind of justice in the sense that it calls attention to the healing of the social fabric and political fabric and hopefully the moral/cultural fabric of society. What made the South Africa case possible was that you had people of faith on both sides of the aisle. Very large numbers of people who professed the Christian faith, which has a very central element of forgiveness in that faith. And then you have extraordinary leadership, not just on the ANC side, in the case of Nelson Mandela, who is a man of enormous, enormous moral courage, but also on the opposite side of President De Klerk, who was a great statesman. I guess if you could take the South Africa model and try to replicate it in the Middle East, or Kosovo, but I don't see that happening.