Partnership to bring the law to the people

Partnership to bring the law to the people. Picture: COURTNEY AFRICA

Partnership to bring the law to the people. Picture: COURTNEY AFRICA

Published Nov 16, 2023


The Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Afrika Ikalafe have joined in a historic partnership to advance rural democracy and to train traditional leaders.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand and Afrika Ikalafe Pluriversity have already begun work on this project. Its aim is to train traditional leaders on the existing constitutional framework, and use traditional courts to develop research on how to make the justice system work for indigenous communities.

Director of Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Professor Tshepo Madlingozi, and the director of Afrika Ikalafe Pluriversity, Dr Mmatshilo Motsei, signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of the institutions last month.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Afrika Ikalafe are undertaking a project to advance scholarship on rural democracy in the context of the Constitution and the on-the-ground experiences of rural communities.

“Our ultimate aim is to contribute towards making the existing legislative framework faithful to the ever-evolving cultural practices of African people,” the Centre for Applied Legal Studies said.

The project will be conducted in four phases. In the first phase, which begins in June, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Afrika Ikalafe will conduct training with traditional court staff on subjects ranging from accountability to the authority of traditional councils and courts.

It will also include issues around traditional ownership and communal land.

In addition, the parties will be piloting a training programme with the traditional council of the village of Kgomo-Kgomo, in Hammanskraal, on the effectiveness of traditional courts and the powers of traditional councils.

In phase two, the project moves on to searching for indigenous legal solutions essential for building an African legal system that works for African people.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies said interviews would be conducted with people living in rural communities, traditional leaders and various experts to unpack legal pluralism and what it means for rural democracy.

In phase three of the project, the parties plan to host a national conference on indigenous knowledge systems and rural democracy in South Africa.

The final phase will involve the development of a short course accredited by Wits University on indigenous knowledge systems and rural democracy.

“South Africa has entered a volatile period in so far as upholding good governance and noble leadership. Looking through the physical, mental, cultural and spiritual lens, it has become clear that we may soon experience an irreversible state of decay,” Motsei said.

She referenced the Setswana proverb “Kgosi ke kgosi ka morafe” (a king/leader is a leader through their followers), saying communities had deferred their power to leaders.

“In the process, followers have abdicated their capacity to lead. Civic engagement and rural governance is therefore not foreign to pre-colonial Africa. Using underlying Indigenous philosophies and values like letsema (people coming together for a common purpose), rural communities engaged in co-operative economics and philosophies that ensured that the outcomes of their actions benefit the greatest number of people,” Motsei said.

“In this project, we retrace our steps by engaging with leaders and followers in three villages in search of means of reviving the society from inside out, as well as bottom up.”

Madlingozi said the Centre for Applied Legal Studies believed that advancing rural democracy to cater for those who had a dual identity and belonging was essential to the missions of the two institutions.

Madlingozi added that this is part of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies’ strategic objective to contribute to a society where historical justice is achieved and state institutions are strengthened.

“We understand that there is no democracy without strengthening the state and traditional leadership. Through this project, we hope to revive and strengthen traditional leadership,”Madlingozi said.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies is a civil society organisation based at the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Their vision is a society where historical and social justice is achieved, state institutions are strengthened and oppressive systems are dismantled.

Afrika Ikalafe Pluriversity is a centre for land-based healing, learning, and living which aims to build an African consciousness that provides fertile ground for healing individuals and building self-reliant sustainable communities in Africa.

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