With labour unrest breaking out at the rate of measles in a kindergarten all over South Africa, from mines to the seemingly idyllic setting of Boland farms, 2013 is shaping up to be a very busy year for the country’s Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The three terms contained in its name, conciliation, mediation and arbitration imply that the CCMA faces a challenge as old as mankind itself.
All three words made their first known appearance in the English language less than 500 years ago during the 16th century. Interestingly enough, during the relatively short period of 40 years between 1540 and 1580.
“Conciliation” was the first of the three to be recorded in English in 1450 and derived from the Latin word conciliatus, the past participle of conciliare which means to assemble, unite or win over. In turn it originally comes from the word concilium, which means 'assembly'. It also gave us the word 'council' and the first C of the CCMA.
In step with our historical time line, the M for mediation, came next in 1568. It started off from another Latin word medius for middle and then mediare meaning to be in the middle. Then, in Late Latin we see first the development of the word mediār , which meant to intervene or to place yourself in the middle; the act of which became mediacion in Middle French before it migrated to English as mediation.
The A standing for arbitration in CCMA, was the last to arrive in the English language, with the first recorded appearance around 1580. And, not surprisingly, it also derives from a Latin word. In this case it is the Late Latin word arbitrātus, which means to decide or to judge. From this same root came 'arbitrate' and 'arbiter' or 'arbitrator'.
It is against this background that we find the modern definition of arbitration to be “the hearing and determining of a dispute or the settling of differences between parties by a person or persons chosen or agreed to by them”.
If we now string together the history of the component words in the name of the CCMA, it provides a clear mission for this South African institution. That is to first bring together the parties involved in disputes, to then stand in the middle between them to facilitate a reconciliation between them and finally deliver a decision or, if you want, a judgment.
An historical process
While the words of this process of finding resolutions to disputes are less than 500 years old, it is quite a different story with the process itself. Apart from violent clashes and war, it is probably the oldest process of settling disputes known to man.
The custom of having a tribe or town elders being called on to intervene and resolve disputes dates back to ancient times. This way of settling disputes predates the development of codified judicial systems in most societies in the world by a long shot.
Recorded instances of arbitration also go back to the biblical times of the Old Testament with King Solomon probably the best known arbiter of all times.
Remember, much like the core dispute at present between workers and the business community in South Africa about who really owns the economy, King Solomon once brought two women together to resolve the dispute over who was the mother of a baby.
According to the theosophical website World Wisdom the original meaning of the word 'arbitration' contains "a wealth of theosophical significance. For an ‘arbiter’ was not at first considered to be one who pronounced final judgment. He was, instead, ‘the one who goes out to see what he can do’ in effecting a better adjustment and understanding between disputants. He sought the ‘adjustment’ of human affairs; he was an educator rather than judge ...”
Looking at the levels of distrust, the huge divide between the clashing interests and competing goals of the various parties involved in the wide-ranging social and economic disputes in South Africa, what would we not have done to have a King Solomon around during this year of 2013?