Michael Mpofu

DA LEADER Helen Zille has accused President Jacob Zuma of using the Traditional Courts Bill as a means to rally support for the ANC electoral conference in Mangaung in December.

She said the timing of the bill, which would give senior traditional leaders the ability to make law, preside over disputes and enforce punitive measures, was strategic and calculated.

Zuma had “done his arithmetic” in an effort to “enlarge the size of his corner”.

“The timing of the legislation is questionable and may very well be construed as an attempt by President Zuma to buy political patronage in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference,” she said.

Zille, who was speaking at a media briefing on the bill yesterday, said the DA opposed it as it reinforced apartheid-era homelands.

She said giving traditional leaders such power would open the door “for bias, subjectivity and abuse” and there was insufficient protection for people. If the bill became law, they would be “at the mercy” of a single leader.

But ANC MP Patekile Holomisa dismissed the idea that Zuma was using the bill to rally support.

Holomisa, who is the president of the Congress of Traditional Leaders, said the bill was necessary because traditional courts continued to operate, but were functioning in terms of laws that were not in line with the constitution.

“People should stop thinking from the point of view of whites,” said Holomisa.

When white people had come to Africa, they had found Africans ruled by systems of government which were “epitomised by the institution of traditional leadership”. Cases were being heard in the same way they were tried in the “Western-inspired courts”.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said the bill would worsen the plight of women. She argued the bill “provides another platform for this prejudice to continue” and called for it to have “at a minimum” an “opt-in and opt-out” clause to provide for those who chose not to be governed by the traditional court and customary law system.

But Holomisa said traditional courts were “an inclusive process” as everyone had a right to participate.

“Of course, in previous times women were not allowed, but these days women participate even in villages, so there is no question of the exclusion of women,” he said.

Within the government there is dissent over the bill.

Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana recently said she opposed the bill “in its entirety”. She was concerned the bill might “reverse gains that women have made towards empowerment and gender equality in the past 20 years”.