Hear the People. Scrap the Bill.

The Alliance for Rural Democracy celebrates the resounding rejection of the Traditional Courts Bill by many provinces at yesterday’s sitting of the National Council of Provinces’ Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Development. However, we reject the decision by the Committee to re-open the public hearing process. We call for the drafting of an entirely new Bill, informed by the views of rural people.

Yesterday was a victory for the many South Africans who spoke out against the Bill at the recent public hearings, despite the many shortcomings of the hearings. Four provinces rejected the Bill outright, namely the Eastern Cape, North West, Gauteng and Western Cape. The ambivalence of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and the far-reaching amendments proposed by the other provinces, support the Alliance’s consistent stance that the Bill in its current form is fatally flawed and cannot be salvaged by mere amendments.

A delegate from Limpopo was at pains to emphasise that the province’s proposed amendments do not suggest that they support the Bill. The mandate of the Eastern Cape states that, “no amount of amendments and redrafting can salvage this Bill”. That provinces have come out so strongly in opposition to a Bill is unprecedented in ANC parliamentary politics.

The Bill was sold by traditional leaders as upholding African custom, dignity and tradition. Yet it was roundly rejected by rural people, particularly women, on the basis that it does nothing of the sort. Instead it seeks to entrench colonial and apartheid distortions embedded in ‘official’ customary law at the expense of women’s rights and equal citizenship. It creates a separate and highly coercive legal regime for those living in the former Bantustans.

The public contestations around the Bill have been falsely framed as pitting human rights against custom. This is not the case. What communities across all the provinces are contesting is the apartheid boundaries and autocratic chiefly powers, entrenched by the Bill, which rural people insist are inherently inconsistent with living custom.

An entirely new Bill is required, one which takes into consideration, amongst others, women’s human rights, proper adherence to the Constitution and living customary law, and the real lives of rural South Africans.

The Select Committee created confusion when, instead of processing the provincial mandates as required by the Constitution and the Rules of Parliament, it decided to re-open the public hearing process. The Alliance contends that this move obfuscates the required engagement with substantive issues arising from the Bill.

We call on the Committee to deliberate on the Bill on the basis of the mandates received from the provinces. These mandates are informed by the opinions expressed in the public hearings, which although flawed in process, should not be ignored.

We demand that the Bill be scrapped in its entirety, and that a new Bill be drafted which takes as its starting point the Constitution and the concerns expressed by rural communities.

There was uproar in 2008 when the Bill was introduced in the National Assembly and it was shelved as a result. The very same Bill was resuscitated this year. How many times do rural people have to say NO for Parliament to hear? The Alliance demands that the voices of South Africans be heard and that the Bill be immediately withdrawn.

For more information contact:

Nomboniso Gasa Cell: 083 451 9321 or 083 7791435

The Alliance for Rural Democracy includes the following organisations: Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape (CLC); Corruption Watch; Co-operative Policy Alternative Centre (COPAC); Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC); Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, University of Cape Town (DGRU); Embrace Dignity Campaign; Empilisweni AIDS Education and Training Centre; Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR); Law, Race and Gender Research Unit, University of Cape Town (LRG); Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre; Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC); Peddie Women’s Support Centre; Rural People’s Movement; Rural Women’s Movement; Section 27; Sonke Gender Justice; Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ); Treatment Action Campaign (TAC); Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre; Unemployed People’s Movement; Women’s Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town; Women’s Legal Centre Trust. The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) acts as legal advisor to the Alliance.