"Just say sorry?" Ubuntu, Africanisation and the Child Justice System in the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008
In the midst of concerns about serious offences committed by young people, the Child Justice Act is the first formal legislative step to introduce restorative justice in South Africa, and promotes reconciliation and problem solving as an approach to the criminal behaviour of youth.
This article analyses the new place of restorative justice and ubuntu in the Act through an analysis of the Preamble, Objects and General Principles sections of the Act as well as the chapters on diversion and sentencing. It notes that there is a clear and consistent framework for restorative justice and ubuntu in the Act that accords with the Constitutional Court’s understanding of both concepts.
In addition, the article also enquires if the inclusion of these concepts has created a criminal justice system for children that does not hold them properly accountable for their actions. The question as to whether or not the Act has created a "just say sorry" regime is answered in the negative by way of reference to the numerous checks and balances included in the Act by the legislature. In this context it is contended that the inclusion of ubuntu-related ideologies remains relevant to the development of indigenous and locally constructed images of Africanised forms of justice, but that the true test of how it is integrated into the criminal justice system lies in the manner in which criminal justice role-players engage with ubuntu and how its implementation is effected.
KEYWORDS: Restorative justice; Ubuntu; Child Justice Act 75 of 2008; Child offenders; Criminal justice system and Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996