In South Africa, the ombudsman concept has firmly taken root. There are ombudsman type offices covering a wide range of different entities, from government departments to department stores (see Member Directory). There are various reasons that South Africa is a world leader in dispute resolution, including:
- South Africa’s experience from an example of bringing about a peaceful resolution to the political turmoil in 1994;
- The pressing need to provide justice to all in an inexpensive and accessible form;
- The indigenous tradition of out-of-court dispute resolution. For example, in Zulu culture there is a ‘Lomxazululi’ (‘Solver of Problems‘).
What is an Ombudsman?
The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial person with authority and responsibility to receive, investigate or informally address complaints and when appropriate, make findings and recommendations and publish reports.
The origin of the word is found in an Old Norse word ‘umbodhsmadhr’ meaning ‘representative of the people’.
The word is gender neutral. Many other names are used to represent the ombudsman office, such as Public Protector and Médiateur.
The term ‘Ombudsman’ should only be used if six key criteria are met. Those criteria are:
- Independence of the Ombudsman from those whom the Ombudsman has the power to investigate;
- Public accountability,
- Effectiveness; and