IDRA seeks to promote common good in dispute matters through the harmony model

February 1st, 2017

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Head of the Institution for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA), Professor John Faris, said that the dispute resolution harmony model seeks social restoration and also seeks to promote an outcome for the common good and constructive engagements. Prof Faris was giving opening remarks at the IDRA conference under the theme ‘The Harmony Model for Dispute Resolution in Africa: Together Towards a Culture of Harmony’ that was held on 17 November 2016 in Pretoria.

Head of the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa, Professor John Faris, gave a welcoming address at the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa conference. Prof Faris discussed the topic of alternative dispute resolution to the African harmony model for dispute resolution.

Prof Faris said since the establishment of IDRA in 2011, there was a vision that directed IDRA’s agenda to do research on dispute resolution. He added that IDRA wanted community base participation that would be the driving force of the scholarship. He said the IDRA’s objective was to find the ‘other’ knowledge that is disregarded and generate it to the better. ‘Africa has something to offer, Africa has the knowledge,’ he added.

Professor Kinfe Abraha of the Mekelle University Ethiopia congratulated the IDRA for conducting what he said was  quality research on dispute resolution. He said investigating the root of dispute was the responsibility of traditional leaders, scholars and researchers because politicians and the government may not always agree on certain points. However, he said that politicians and the government can always contribute. He pointed out that disputes claim the lives of many people and also destroy properties.

Prof Abraha noted that as far as relationships are concerned, in the western model, disputes are seen as normal, but in the African model, disputes are undesirable, violent and distracting. He said there must be a developed mechanism that can resolve disputes in a peaceful manner. He, however, added that there are disputes that are easier to resolve, such as a dispute that is a result of a clash of interest, but he noted that disputes as a result of boundaries that were caused by the colonisers are difficult to resolve. He said that together with IDRA his team is trying to rediscover an African way of dispute resolution.

Professor Nina Mollema of the college of law at the University of South Africa discussed integrating traditional dispute resolution mechanisms with the criminal justice systems. She said there are conflicts in any community, however, the manner in which communities deal with the conflict may result in different conflict resolution practices. She said that it was observable in some communities in South Africa, especially at a place where a traditional court is still functional and imposes sentences.

Prof Mollema highlighted that any traditional court, law or conduct must be consistent with the Constitution of South Africa as supreme law of the country and must adhere to the obligations set in the Constitution. Prof Mollema, however, pointed out that in some cases a situation arises where a person, after serving a sentence received from a formal court, may again be trialled for the same crime at a traditional court. She said in that regard, the traditional dispute resolution system may conflict with the fundamental human right.

Prof Mollema said the conflict resolution court system is deemed necessary by communities who feel that a formal court system harms relationships within the community, and does not compensate or directly involve the victim or the community in the proceedings or decision making process. She pointed out that relationships between the formal justice system and the traditional court system is complex.

Prof Mollema noted that the lapsed and much criticised Traditional Courts Bill B1 of 2012 aims to affirm traditional justice system and its values on justice and reconciliation. She added that it further intends to provide a structure functional of traditional courts in line with the imperatives and values and to enhance customary law and customs of community observing a system of customary law.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Jan/Feb) DR 15.