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Pretoria - The egg dance over the Traditional Courts Bill is fuelling suspicions that the government’s stalling on withdrawing the controversial draft law is aimed at appeasing traditional leaders in the run-up to the ANC’s Mangaung leadership elections.
The latest twist in the saga is the strange story of resolutions on the bill discussed at the Women’s Parliament held in Cape Town a week ago.
On the first of the two-day women’s indaba, consensus was reached that the bill be withdrawn.
A draft resolution noted “the input” by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on the first day. He made it clear that the bill would not be withdrawn, although Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana had said last month she had received a clear commitment from him that it would be as it needed to be “overhauled”.
Despite Radebe’s position, a draft resolution - of which Independent Newspapers has a copy - states: “As the Women’s Parliament we feel that for now the Bill, as it currently stands, must be withdrawn.”
But a subsequent draft of the resolutions - also in possession of Independent Newspapers - makes no mention of the demand that the bill be withdrawn, indicating that the consensus reached at the Women’s Parliament was somehow overturned.
Attempts to get a copy of the final resolutions proved futile.
The National Assembly’s deputy Speaker, Nomaindia Mfeketo, who presided over the Women’s Parliament, said the “unanimous” view of delegates was that the bill was unacceptable as it stood.
But she said it was not the bill - which seeks to regulate the functioning of traditional courts - that was at fault.
Women would continue to suffer abuses in traditional courts if the bill were withdrawn, she said. Instead, there was a need for more consultation. “We need to have a friendlier environment in which to consult women (on the bill), without any intimidation, on what is it they want traditional courts to do.”
The National Council of Provinces committee dealing with the bill has set September 18-20 as dates for public hearings and will meet on Wednesday to draw up a shortlist from a wave of fresh submissions.
When he addressed the Women’s Parliament, Radebe said withdrawing the bill would “not only interrupt the vibrant discourse in Parliament that will shape the end product…“
But the bill has not been debated by Parliament.
The Alliance for Rural Democracy, a cross-section of civil society organisations concerned about the impact of the bill’s current provisions on the rights of women in rural areas, said this week nothing short of a new process could fix the problems with it.
The lobby group accused woman MPs of ignoring the pleas of rural women by throwing their weight behind Radebe’s position that the bill be retained and amended.
“It is clear that Minister Radebe can now rely on powerful allies in the Women’s Parliament to ensure that his position on the bill is asserted and to deflect attention away from [its] failures. The government is clearly intent on wooing traditional leaders at the expense of rural citizens in the run-up to the ANC’s national conference at Mangaung at year-end,” the alliance said.