File picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

PARLIAMENT - The contentious Traditional Courts Bill was adopted by the National Assembly on Tuesday after House chairperson Grace Boroto retroactively cast her vote to create a quorum.

The outcome of the vote on the bill was 195 in favour and five against. Boroto said that the house needed 201 votes to be cast for the outcome to be valid, and that the measure would therefore stand over.

After deputy Justice Minister John Jeffries pointed out that she was a member of the chamber and had not voted, Boroto declared that she voted in the affirmative and therefore the bill had in fact passed. 

It drew angry protest from the Democratic Alliance (DA), with the party's Natasha Mazzone pointed out that according to the rules the presiding officer could not add her vote retroactively.

Empty seats in the chamber appeared to attest to a wish by the opposition to prevent the passage of the draft law.

Boroto responded that the DA was welcome to challenge her decision through formal channels but that for the moment it stood.

Jeffries conceded that the heavily contested bill would not be passed in its current form by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

At issue, in particular, is lawmakers' decision not to include a so-called opt-out clause which will give residents in traditional areas the right to decide not to subject themselves to traditional courts.

DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach argued that the bill was patently unconstitutional and consigned women in these areas to second class citizens subject to a regressive, patriarchal system.

Her colleague Werner Horn said it was nothing more than an election ploy to push through a bill that would not make it onto the statute books.

Jeffries, however, said the bill had to be passed "because we need to make some progress".

He said it should be left to the NCOP to make changes after the May elections. "Once it is revived in the sixth parliament it can be revised in the second house," he said.

The deputy minister said the issue of the opt-out clause may have to be settled by the Constitutional Court but that this could only be done once the bill had been adopted by the legislature.

He added that the opposition did not respect traditional custom. "DA has shown their contempt for people living in traditional areas."

There are about 18 million people living in traditional areas and the opt-out clause was designed to ensure that their constitutional rights are not infringed. 

The bill has been years in the making and seeks to carve out a constitutional role for traditional leaders.

African News Agency (ANA)