n Acta Juridica - Stumbling at the first step? Lost opportunity in the transformation of the South African justice system? : evidence, criminal process and criminology

Volume 2003, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1346
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2088



Countries undergoing a transition from authoritarian to less authoritarian governance face momentous challenges. Meaningful democratisation requires simultaneous fundamental change across a wide swathe of state institutions. As one form of state-control and social alignment is being dismantled, the new paradigm is being introduced. In the South African experience, apart from the structural amalgamation of 11 political entities into one, significant attitudinal and behavioural changes were expected from most of apartheid's civil servants at the dawn of democracy.

Human rights required that more care be taken in balancing competing needs. Not only do institutions consequently battle with the introduction of a new paradigm but they are required to deliver to the community at large in terms of this model and most importantly, be perceived to be doing so on a basis that improves the benefits for local communities.
Transformation is, first, about managing the structural change within institutions, secondly, about local communities' perception of the benefits they derive, and, thirdly, their understanding of the processes that deliver such benefits. Transformation is therefore, structural change, delivery of more appropriate services to the community and education about the processes taking place. Transformation cannot be seen to have taken place if institutional change has occurred but the broader community experiences negligible improvement.
This indeed is the core dilemma for a new government facing the need to transform and deliver. Transforming large state institutions is by its very nature a long-term project whose benefits are only perceptible within a decade or more of the process having started. Communities which have fought long and hard for regime-change might have to suffer longer, even experience deterioration of services, while the institutional and policy-change road is walked, sometimes haltingly. Is this feasible or is the price too high for the newly enfranchised communities? What do the communities do in the interval - resign themselves to limited change and continue suffering, or take the law into their own hands? It is argued that it is practical to be rather more strategic in approach and select a certain number of local level projects that can deliver tangible results within the short term, months or few years, drive them hard so that communities experience some improvements but make sure that these projects can be (and are) incorporated into the larger structural change projects. Short-term projects that adequately deliver are likely to fail in the medium term if the broader organisational change does not coincide with the appropriate institutional support systems. However, swinging to the opposite extreme and primarily concentrating on the broader picture may mean the critical loss of community goodwill that is not easily re-established and can no longer ride the wave of the transforming goodwill established through a positive regime-change.

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