What is Restitution?

Restitution involves seeking to set right the generational ills of inequality by engaging those who have benefited from the systems of colonialism and apartheid, directly or indirectly, in transferring wealth and social capital and reinvesting in communities that are still suffering.

The word “restitution” means to restore something lost or stolen to its proper owner or to recompense or compensate for injury or loss. We normally hear it used in a legal sense where it refers to ‘paying back’ or ‘making things right’ for wrongs previously committed. However, even in courts we recognise that some wrongs can never be made right, for example murder or torture. When considering historical injustice, thinking about restitution forces us to recognise that loss includes both tangibles - such as land - and intangibles - like dignity, a sense of safety or self, and opportunity - compounded over generations. For this reason, we speak about “social restitution” as a project encompassing more than just legal redress.


Why does restitution matter?

It is only possible for people to live in real peace with each other when the root causes of a conflict are addressed. Peace in South Africa will remain fragile as long as the root causes of colonialism and apartheid remain unaddressed, with levels of inequality still deeply entrenched and starkly raced and the wounds of injured humanity evident in all sectors of society.

Restitution speaks about confronting the root causes and actively deciding what needs to be done to address it. While restitution in South Africa includes the problem of land and socio-economic redress, restitution ultimately aims at restoring dignity, a sense of belonging and all our humanity.

Who is the Restitution Foundation?

The Restitution Foundation, a Cape Town based NGO, was established in 2003 in response to broader South African society not having taken up a restitution responsibility for the human rights abuses of colonialism and apartheid. It recognised that the transition to democracy called for citizen-led restitution to “level the playing field” alongside state-level redress measures (including the repeal of racist laws and enactment of law aimed at facilitating redress in land, employment and reconciliation). The organisation’s vision is to be a catalyst for broader social restitution that can lead to healing in South Africa.

What does the Restitution Foundation offer you?

The Restitution offers theoretical tools to strengthen the understanding of what restitution is and practical models to assist in the doing of restitution.

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