Activists berate Traditional Courts Bill

By Sipho Khumalo Time of article published Apr 12, 2012

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The controversial Traditional Courts Bill, which its critics say will take the country back to the era of bantustans, is set to come under scrutiny at a series of public hearings in KwaZulu-Natal.

The sponsor of the bill, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, argues that the legislation seeks to affirm the recognition of traditional justice and its values based on restorative justice and reconciliation.

However, it has come under heavy criticism from civil society movements and legal experts, who suggest that it might not be constitutional, and that it takes the country back to the era when amakhosi were let loose on traditional communities.

The bill was first introduced in 2008, but was withdrawn after meeting opposition. Now it is set to be debated at 10 public hearings scheduled to take place around the province, beginning in Port Shepstone on Monday.

Sindiso Mnisi, of UCT’s Law, Race and Gender Unit, has strong reservations about the fact that the bill makes a traditional leader the sole presiding officer of a traditional court. “It centralises power in a single individual who may have a conflict of interest in the matter being decided,” he said.

Gender activists fear that, given the patriarchal set-up in traditional and rural communities, the bill might discriminate against women and their participation in these courts.

However, the bill has been defended by traditional leaders in KZN and elsewhere in the country. Bonga Mdletshe, an IFP MPL and its spokesman on traditional affairs, rejected critics of the bill as people seeking to impose “western values” on traditional communities.

A broad alliance of civil society organisations from all over SA has been formed to oppose the passage of the bill.

Organisations included in the alliance are UCT’s Law, Race and Gender Research Unit, Section 27 and the Treatment Action Campaign.

In a statement yesterday, the alliance said the bill would affect at least 17 million South Africans and had “serious implications for democracy as a whole”.

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