Over the years the Association of Arbitrators (Southern Africa) regularly joined forces with its long-standing friends at the Society of Mediators in London to provide our members with opportunities to be trained in mediation by internationally renowned, top-class mediators and mediation trainers Jonathan Dingle, Andrea Barnes and Zoey White.  Those were the days when training could still be done in person, and mediations were similarly conducted in person.

Like in most fields, the global COVID-19 pandemic called for innovation in the field of mediation.  How do we train mediators effectively on virtual platforms?  How do we conduct effective mediations on virtual platforms?  In response, as from 2021, the Association of Arbitrators (Southern Africa) concluded an exclusive Southern African partnership with the Society of Mediators in London to present a series of Zoom-based mediation courses.

The first of these exciting, educational and novel courses kicked off on Friday, 12 March 2021.  Jonathan Dingle, the ever-entertaining Faculty Head of the Society of Mediators, has since reported to me as follows:

‘The delegates assembled from across Southern Africa.  They came talking of the sun blistering on the Wanderers on the Highveld.  Of the warm sea caressing Green Point in the Western Cape.  Of the Botswana roadworks in Gaborone and the morning drive into Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape.  Of load shedding and the fishing in the hamlet of Dullstroom in Mpumalanga.  In all, they talked with a warmth of goodwill that overcame the pre-dawn darkness of that freezing Friday in London.

London, England that is – not the Eastern variety on the Buffalo River.

How so? 

This was the first in a new series of international Zoom-based courses launched by [*the] Association of Arbitrators (Southern Africa) in conjunction with their old friends from the Society of Mediators in London.  The Society of Mediators (the United Kingdom’s mediation charity) has been training in Southern Africa for a decade and many readers will remember being introduced to the subject by Jonathan Dingle FRSA, Andrea Barnes, and Zoey White, inter alia in Sandton. 

Well, despite what you may have heard, the UK remains open for business post-Brexit and midst-Pandemic.  The Society of Mediators like so many of us has adapted and brought mediation (and mediation training) online around the globe.  Initially working with King’s College London, to bring dispute resolution training to students trapped as far away as the Far East, Canada, the United States, Dubai and Doncaster, the Society of Mediators has built on that success to provide the courses its Faculty would normally have travelled to deliver, through the medium of Zoom. 

It works.  The remote training has led to novel developments in New Zealand and Nassau, and brought a sense of progress elsewhere.  It has enabled people to engage with the Faculty and forge a new skill and vocation when perhaps they felt there was nothing to be done until the pandemic was over. 

More than that, by adapting mediation techniques and protocols, procedures and policies, the Society of Mediators has put in place in the UK what may be the largest mediation project in the world.  More than 10,000 landlord and tenant cases will be sent to mediation over the next six months for resolution remotely using the Zoom system.  This is a UK Government-funded project which is providing free mediation where previously the process was beyond the reach of most.  Mediations are provided within ten days of the first request and to date there is a two-thirds resolution rate in matters that had previously been thought intractable. 

This is certainly a revolution.  It may have been coming, albeit at the speed of a tractor in any event, but the Pandemic – and the availability of Zoom since May 2020 – has meant that technology has advanced in a season what would have taken a decade.  And qualified mediators, certified to work remotely, are taking – or are ready to take – the opportunities that this provides. 

Training has had to change with the same speed.  Time zones are the only potential barrier but the Society of Mediators’ Faculty enjoy going live at 0700 GMT in London and it seemed to work well all over the world.  Last Friday’s course saw people joining not only from Southern Africa, but from parts of Europe, the UAE and even (brave soul) from the US at 0200 EST!  Not only was the learning effective in allowing delegates to get to grips with the mediating on Zoom but the sheer diversity of experience and cultures that the delegates brought was inspiring.

Delegates learned the lessons the Society of Mediators has garnered from a year of Zoom.  They learned how to adapt to provide security, confidentiality, confidence, and competence in mediating online.  And, as importantly, they were given a lengthy Zoom 101 on how to operate the software like a professional.  This concluded with a fun hands-on session where breakout rooms were created, miscreants put in the waiting zone, and documents fired around within chat. 

Better still, delegates resolved to meet with each other – across frontiers and conventional boundaries – to build on the learning, to gain fluency, and develop ideas.  It was a remarkable endorsement of the options that Zoom provides to work well.  And not just Zoom – other technologies were discussed and debated – and so too the basic tenets of mediation, both internationally and within South African High Court rules and notably Uniform Rule 41A (and Botswana’s Rule 42A). 

Profound learning then, plus business development and networking, as well as embracing the resolution revolution.  It was the first of a remarkable series that will be run across the summer by the Association.  The training is available:

*          as a one-day extension course for accredited mediators; and

*          as a five-day full course for those wanting to join the revolution.

The Society of Mediators’ Faculty will come to Sandton and Cape Town once travel restrictions allow to round off the full course with in-person days but for now world-class mediation training, and the keys to the future, are available online through the General Manager of the Association of Arbitrators, Rochelle Appleton (  Rochelle will also enthusiastically promote forthcoming virtual mediation training sessions on social media and elsewhere.’

(*Insertion added)

We strongly recommend that you invest – no previous experience of technology or mediation is needed.  The resolution revolution calls.  The time for change has arrived.

Adv Tjaart van der Walt SC
15 March 2021