oa Constitutional Court Review - Reconciliation as the aim of a criminal trial : ubuntu’s implications for sentencing

Volume 9 Number 1
  • ISSN : 2073-6215
  • E-ISSN: 2521-5183



In this article, I seek to answer the following questions: What would a characteristically African, and specifically relational, conception of a criminal trial’s final end look like? What would the Afro-relational approach prescribe for sentencing? Would its implications for this matter forcefully rival the kinds of penalties that judges in South Africa and similar jurisdictions typically mete out? After pointing out how the southern African ethic of ubuntu is well understood as a relational ethic, I draw out of it a conception of reconciliation that I advance as a strong candidate for being the proper final end of a criminal trial. I argue that, far from requiring forgiveness, seeking reconciliation can provide strong reason to punish offenders. Specifically, a reconciliatory sentence is one that roughly has offenders reform their characters and compensate their victims in ways the offenders find burdensome, thereby disavowing the crime and tending to foster cooperation and mutual aid. I argue that this novel account of punishment is a prima facie attractive alternative to more familiar retributive and deterrence rationales, and that it entails that widespread practices such as imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences are unjust.

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