ELDORADO PARK, South Africa – Eugene van Kramberg felt trapped. He was in prison where his fellow gang members were plotting the murder of a rival. Van Kramberg was against the plot but could only delay it. His gang members would see it through with or without his assistance.
Today, van Kramberg and his rival gang member – who survived the plot – are best friends. Now a bishop of the Rock (Reflections of Christ’s Kingdom) church and one of the leaders of the Pastors Forum of Eldorado Park, van Kramberg is committed to stopping the kinds of criminal activity of which he was once a part.
Van Kramberg and community members of Eldorado Park, a township of Johannesburg, have worked to establish a peacebuilding program that emphasizes restorative justice mediation as a response to crime.
Whereas punitive justice views punishment as the best response, restorative justice focuses on crime prevention and reconciliation. The victims and offenders meet face to face in the presence of a mediator in order to bring about reconciliation. A goal of restorative justice is for offenders to gain an understanding of how their actions personally affect victims.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) supports this collaborative work of the Africa Peace Network and two local implementing partners: Shekinah Covenant Church and the Pastors Forum of Eldorado Park, which represents about 80 local churches.
Van Kramberg’s church recently experienced a break-in during which two teenage boys stole several items. Though he himself had become a direct victim of a criminal act, van Kramberg saw this as an opportunity to restore the boys and display God’s love and forgiveness in very practical ways.
Despite South Africa’s constitutional shift from racial discrimination, prejudices remain. Racial discrimination can lead to criminal acts. When this happens, van Kramberg said, developing an understanding of cultural differences is a necessary part of the restorative justice mediation process.
“It is preferable to have a black person work with blacks and a colored person work with coloreds,” said van Kramberg. This is to ensure a respect of cultural differences, and is essential to a smooth and productive mediation process. (Colored is a race classification dating back to apartheid that is still used today in South Africa to describe people who are not black, white or Indian).
Peace and reconciliation were foundational aspects of Christ’s life and ministry. Just as the apostle Paul teaches of God’s reconciliation with people through Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17-20), van Kramberg notes that “it is our Christian responsibility to restore one another.”
Restorative justice not only brings reconciliation where it is so desperately needed, but it is also an effective means of sharing the gospel. “The bulk of ministry is outside of the pulpit,” he said as he pointed out toward the Eldorado Park community. “It is out there.”
Lucas Klassen, from Abbotsford, B.C., is serving as an MCC intern in southern Africa.