In New Book, South African Catholic Priest Advocates for “Ubuntu, justice under the tree”

Screengrab of Fr. Bonginkosi Dennis Xulu making a present at the International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Credit: International Center for Law and Religion Studies Youtube Channel

A Catholic Priest in South Africa is, in his new book, advocating for traditional methods of resolving conflicts in what he has described as “justice under the tree”.

In an interview with ACI Africa about his new book, Fr. Bonginkosi Dennis Xulu said that the publication is anchored on Ubuntu spirit that has guided the people of God in Africa.

“When we look at Justice under the tree, we are referring to how our ancestors, mainly African ancestors and how they tackled justice,” Fr. Xulu said in reference to his new book published under the title, “Justice Under the Tree.”

In the Monday, March 14 interview, the South African Catholic Priest said that traditionally, community leaders “would have their forums in an open space, using trees as sort of courts; in this way, they are part and parcel of nature.”

The new book, he said, makes reference to the spirit of Ubuntu, a term that describes interpersonal relationships, especially how a person relates with other human beings.


“Ubuntu calls for one to move out of himself or herself to look at the needs of others,” Fr. Xulu said, adding that the spirit of Ubuntu can be used to address interpersonal struggles, including situations when “people are trapped in conflicts, unfounded allegations, crimes, and worst, various kinds of hatred.”

“Others are traumatized to go to courts, yet they labor in physical and emotional crimes and abuses,” Fr. Xulu said, underscoring the need for an alternative “judicial plan” through Ubuntu, which he proposes in his new book, “justice under the tree”.

Situations of conflict “are in churches, religious communities, and people in general cannot afford high legal fees,” he said, adding that “justice under the tree” he is advocating for in his new five-chapter book “might not be absolute but will certainly make a difference and Ubuntu calls to look for others, care for others.”

Published by SUNRISE publications, the first chapters of Fr. Xulu’s book examines how the Church in South Africa has been addressing issues of justice over the years. 

The second chapter deals with how the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) became a vehicle in addressing justice without parties in conflict having to face the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

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Chapter three highlights what the South African nation learnt from the TRC experience, including challenges to the legal systems, and to social and religious sectors. 

While chapter four discusses the plurality of ways of addressing justice in South Africa and how the Church needs to take advantage of such diversity, the last chapter of the book analyses the feasibility of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) within the context of the Church.

In the March 14 interview, Fr. Xulu who serves as Durban Judicial Vicar of the Inter-diocesan Tribunal said the use of ADR to resolve conflicts in South Africa positions the Church in a space where it is seen to be administering justice in the society beyond her own periphery.

He described his new book as “great for groups as it calls for ‘palaver’, meaning both talk and activity.”

The South African Catholic Priest said that there are so many ideas and suggestions in his “justice under the tree” book, which are open for discussion, adding that additional insights would help make such approach workable and productive.


“Justice under the tree,” Fr. Xulu said, must be developed to serve the community, as “no community is the same as another and so discussion in a group can give guidance to planning how to apply this system effectively to the people involved.”

“I need to underline something here, that this book is not an easy-to-read book; it has to be read in a group and this explains why it is going to be valuable in the Synod discussions in our region,” he said in reference to the Synodal process currently underway in South Africa’s Durban Diocese.

Fr. Xulu added, “The synod is an opportunity for the Church and the people to work together. Pope Francis wants to not only hear the voice of the people but also to involve the people more in the functioning of the Church.”

According to the Catholic Priest, his new book gives “very positive guidance to how the Canon law of the Church can guide and involve the people in setting up channels of legal assistance for those affected by crime.”

“It is an opportunity for laity and clergy to put the practice of Church law into a positive and meaningful path to assist both crime and criminals,” Fr. Xulu told ACI Africa March.

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This story was first pubblished by ACI Africa on 16 March 2022

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.