Victim-Offender Mediations Rule the Day
Thebogo Kuloane, a Ga-Rankuwa probation officer, sees family group conferences and victim-offender mediations as a process whereby the participants have the opportunity to learn from each other and the events that surrounded the commission of the offence. She notes that there are a number of important factors to bear in mind when conducting a family group conference, the most important of which include:
Although there are only two probation officers for the whole of Ga-Rankuwa, Mabopane, Winterveldt and the 144 neighbouring villages, since January 2002 approximately 45 victim offender mediations and family group conferences involving adults and children have been conducted.
Thebogo has chosen two successful conferences as examples of successful interventions with child offenders.
A Victim-Offender Conference held in Ga-Rankuwa
The following recount relates to a victim-offender conference conducted on request by the Public Prosecutor at Ga-Rankuwa.
The purpose of the conference was for the victims and offenders to have the opportunity to learn from each other regarding the events surrounding the crime and how it affected their lives. It also allowed the participants to get answers to their questions, express their feelings, gain a sense of closure and to develop a mutually accepted plan that addresses the harm caused by the crime.
What transpired during the conference
M, who was the accused in this case, related his version of the events. According to him Mr L insulted his uncle as he was passing by. M tried to stop him, but Mr L provoked him and tried to start a fight with him. According to him Mr L was drunk at the time. Then Ms M arrived on the scene to stop the fight but it continued and at the end they threatened to lodge a case against him. M felt he was unable to communicate his position to the victims.
Ms M indicated her disappointment with the incident. She stated that the fight was aggravated by a quarrel with the accused's mother before the commission of the crime. She further stated that she had sustained minor injuries from the fight and needed compensation, especially for the transport expenses and a medical consultation. The total costs were estimated at R69.00.
Mr L admitted that he had insulted the accused's uncle and that he was drunk at the time. He felt sorry for his actions but was aggrieved by the fact that he was assaulted. He wanted to address the assault issue with the accused and to be reconciled with him.
The accused's mother and supporter at the conference, felt that M was provoked by Mr L. He entered their property and initiated the fight with M. She admitted that she had a misunderstanding with Ms M earlier and she was unaware that it had aggravated the situation.
After hearing the accounts of all the parties and allowing them all a chance to be heard, the facilitator emphasized the purpose of such a conference and stressed the concept of accountability and that they should all learn from this experience. To prevent further re-offending, anger-management skills were explained to the accused.
The agreement between the parties
Ms M requested compensation for her transport and medical expenses and chose to withdraw the charges against the accused. However, the idea of compensation to be paid by the accused, as a child, was discouraged by the facilitator. It was explained that compensation should occur voluntarily by a parent. The accused's mother then volunteered to compensate the victim as she had requested. It was arranged that both the victim and the accused's mother would meet at a set time and place for the compensation to be paid and this occurred as scheduled.
The Toy Gun Victim-Offender Mediation
The preparation for the mediation took place in everyone's presence. The facilitator introduced herself to all present, and introduced each of the conference participants. The purpose of the conference was also outlined, namely to ensure that the harm that had been done was repaired. The conference involved an incident where a toy gun was pointed at the victim and the conference's focus was to ensure that the offender became aware of how his unacceptable behaviour affected the victim.
S, the accused, informed the participants that one day when he was on his way home from the lottery game, he came across B, the complainant. He was confronted by the complainant, exchanged words and ended up in a fight. After some days, they met again. The complainant provoked him again and he pulled out his toy gun to scare him, as he was not prepared to fight again. S stated that he regretted what he had done, and apologised.
B, on the other hand, alleged that S and his friend, who resides in Tembisa, had once tried to rob him. A few days later, they met again, exchanged words and they ended up in a fight. On the third occasion, he confronted S who in turn pulled out a fire-arm. B did not notice whether it was a toy or a real gun, because he was scared. He then ran away for his safety. B also stated that S associates with bad friends. He however forgave him, and requested him to behave well and get rid of his bad friends.
Mr. P, the complainant's uncle, told the participants that they have decided to forgive the offender. He stated that this was on account of the fact that they were neighbours and it was therefore necessary to restore their friendship. He was of opinion that both victim and the offender should relate well with each other and restore the harmony.
The offender's mother alleged that she was disappointed when she heard about the incident. She was thankful to the victim and his uncle for forgiving her son. She also requested the victim to contact her should her son insult him again.
Agreement reached between the parties
Based on the above, the probation officer recommended that the charges against the offender be withdrawn.
This mediation indicates how a conference can develop a mutual understanding between the parties to resolve the harm caused by the crime and restore a peaceful relationship amongst people who interact with one another on a daily basis.