CALL TO ACTION: Resistance from provinces strengthens, National sidesteps….

Today the NCOP Select Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development in parliament met to consider the negotiating mandates from the provinces on the Traditional Courts Bill. It was a short meeting, it seems that the actual work took place behind closed doors prior to the meeting session.

Instead of considering the mandates, the committee have decided to send the bill back to the provinces for further consultation. If the committee was to undertake the negotiation in its meeting today it would have had to reject the bill. It is not clear if that is for public consultation or consultation within the various political structures. We’ll have to wait and see.

The stated purpose of sending the bill back is to consult on the aspects that provinces raised concerns with in terms of the bills unconstitutionality.

Going into the meeting, with the mandates on the table five out of the nine provinces, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, North West, Western Cape and Limpopo, reject the bill. Only three support it with amendments, KZN, Free State and Northern Cape. Mpumalanga has not submitted its mandate, the position in that province is therefore unclear.

The fact that provinces are building in their vocal resistance to the bill is an important sign, it shows that provincial legislatures are listening to the overwhelming voices raised against the bill during the public consultation processes. If only the National sphere would show the same respect for the voices of the people.

From reading the mandates and attending various provincial and national hearings, we see loud resistance from the public to this bill that will create separate legal systems for people in South Africa depending on where you live.

Of major concern is the current unmitigated power of chiefs over their ‘subjects’ which will be profoundly enhanced should the bill be passed. Instead of creating checks and balances against abuses of power at this level, the bill side-steps measures that exist in customary law presently which hold some accountability through the role of traditional councils. Local power structures in which women, people who do not support the standing of the chief, people with disabilities, young people and children do not have voice will be further entrenched if this bill is passed.

Through the hearings it is clear that people are not all saying no to customary law and tradition, people are saying no to unchecked chiefly power in rural communities. This power has profound effect on people’s daily lives. It affects access to resources, state grants, justice, safety and many other areas of people’s lives.

We expect that there will be attempts to push this through before the end of the year, the next phase may or may not include public hearings in the provinces. It is critical that people across this country make public how they feel and what they think about this bill in whatever way possible, don’t wait for hearings.

Put this on your agendas. Organise. Raise your voices. Start now.

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Sam Waterhouse
Parliamentary Programme Coordinator, Community Law Centre, UWC