In this study a component of long-term peacebuilding practice – restorative justice processing – was examined in South Africa’s unequal, transitional context. Based on multidisciplinary literature, Galtung’s (1996) notion of cultural-structural-direct violence, Cohen’s (2001) theory of denial, and empirical data, a conceptual argument was made that a conspiracy of silence (cultural violence) exists about the interaction of growing inequality (structural violence) and the levels of crime/social harm (direct violence). Victim offender mediation, as a form of restorative justice processing, was an embedded, (Yin, 1994) instrumental (Stake,1995) case which provided micro level information about peacebuilding practice.
Peace studies was chosen as the core discipline in this multiperspectival study, as it allowed micro-macro linkages to be made deductively and inductively. Empirical data was generated by a 360° formation of six sub-units comprised of victims, offenders, practitioners, prosecutors, key experts, a Norwegian external subunit (which provided a keyhole comparison of activities inside the ‘black box’ of victim offender mediation), and observation. The research discovered four interlinked gaps in restorative justice processing. These gaps are contextual, conceptual, training and practice related. Patterns of denial – that manifested as procedural blindness, substantive deafness and a complicit silence about the interaction of cultural, structural and direct violence – resulted from the combined effects of these interlinked gaps.
Recommendations for education, training and coaching, based on the conceptual argument and comprehensive model of findings, were developed to fill the interlinked gaps, so that restorative justice practitioners can be better placed to contribute to long-term peacebuilding in a structurally responsive way. A caveat applies: ultimately, society and individuals must change and restorative justice processing on its own can only take society part of the way towards social justice.