News / Africa

S. Africa's Traditional Courts Bill Criticized

South African President Jacob Zuma pauses as he delivers a speech in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 31, 2012.
South African President Jacob Zuma pauses as he delivers a speech in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 31, 2012.
Anita Powell
South Africa's government has proposed setting up a separate legal system for rural black citizens.  Supporters say the bill recognizes the importance of traditional customs and leadership, but critics say the proposal is too reminiscent of apartheid-era laws.

Separate system

The Traditional Courts Bill would set up a separate legal system for 17 million South Africans living in rural areas.  All of those affected by the system would be black, and most are poor.

The bill is making its way through provincial governments after months of hearings in which locals voiced vigorous opposition.

The bill's supporters say it will prevent conflict and maintain harmony in communities.  Traditional courts could also lift pressure from the overburdened court system and should provide quicker resolutions while respecting local customs.

The bill is a reprise of the Black Administration Act 38 of 1927.  As the name suggests, that old law considered blacks second-class citizens and enforced that belief with legal muscle by putting them under the rule of traditional leaders.

The new law, like the old one, would set up a court system ruled by traditional leaders and governed by traditional practices.

Defendants in the traditional courts are not allowed to have lawyers.  Court leaders can sentence defendants to forced labor.  No one can opt out.

Criticism

“It is unconstitutional because it does not adequately protect the rights of women, and it does not allow people to choose whether or not they want to have their disputes to be resolved under traditional practices and rules, which under the constitution is something that people are entitled to," said Sindiso Mnisi Weeks of the University of Cape Town’s Law, Race and Gender Research Unit, explaining why she feels the bill is flawed.  "It does not permit people to be represented by lawyers if they so choose, and it generally contradicts even customary law, in terms of the fact that customary law is a participative process, it is a relatively inclusive process of dispute resolution.”

She said the vast majority of traditional leaders are male.  During hearings on the bill, many women complained they were told they could not win their cases in traditional courts because it would encourage women to “be disrespectful.”

“These courts, because they are typically made up of old men, tend not to be very sympathetic to the concerns of women and children," Weeks said.  "And in fact, in family disputes, they tend often find more in favor of men than of women.  And of course this is of real concern when it concerns matters such as domestic violence or women’s access to land and inheritance, etc., and marriage disputes.”

Supporters

Nghamula Nkuna of the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs says traditional leaders support the bill because it recognizes the valuable role they play in their communities.

Traditional leaders hold great sway and respect.

"In South Africa basically you have the institution of traditional leadership that has been here for centuries.  And if you talk about traditional communities in South Africa... traditional leadership is part of their evolvement, even often part of their diversity," explained Nkuna. " Various communities have got their ways and traditions which have survived and are recognized by constitutional dispensation.  Remember that traditional communities also have their way of dealing with disputes within their communities.”

Mnisi Weeks said the population does not necessarily share this reverence.

“The National Council of Provinces should acknowledge that after two rounds of consultations, which have yielded pretty definitive results as to how people feel about this bill and the problems that is has in it, the problems it will produce in rural communities, they should throw the bill out in its entirety and start afresh drafting a new piece of legislation based on the voices of ordinary rural people that will meet the needs that rural people have expressed,” she said.

The bill has been languishing for months.  But recent events in South Africa may breathe new life into it.  President Jacob Zuma has taken a political hit after months of violent strikes.

The ruling African National Congress is facing a critical party convention in December in which they will chose their leader for national elections.

The ANC has swept every major election since 1994; their candidate will be heir apparent to the presidency.  But the party still needs voter turnout, especially in rural areas.  That elevates local chiefs to the role of kingmakers and that appears to be a major reason the party is pushing the traditinal courts legislation.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Damien1981 from: South Africa
November 04, 2012 11:55 AM
The ANC will push this bill trough, just like they've pushed every other bill through with total disregard of any intelligent advice.

Liberation movements can't run democratic countries, because they need to keep the "struggle" alive to keep their voters from voting for another, more capable party.

See what's really going on in Madiba's rainbow nation:

http://www.thetruthaboutsouthafrica.com/

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More