Sonke joins civil society letter to SAHRC requesting intervention to stop Traditional Courts Bill

To: Commissioner Lawrence Mushwana
South African Human Rights Commission

By email to:
cc: Commissioner Pregs Govender
Commissioner Janet Love

By email to:

Dear Advocate Mushwana


We are writing to express our concern about the SA Human Rights Commission’s response to the Traditional Courts Bill. In particular, we are concerned that repeated requests for assistance to SAHRC regional offices from affected communities have been met either with silence or rejection. The response copied below from your North West office, in which your Ms Letsike states that “… this Bill has very little to do with our mandate of promoting and protecting human rights” and declines to provide assistance to CBOs in North West in creating awareness of the TCB and facilitating community meetings is a case in point. These responses are very much at odds with the Commission’s submissions to parliament regarding the Bill, both in 2008 and in 2012.

The need for SAHRC provincial support to ensure adequate community participation in the legislative process has become acute now that the NCOP has initiated provincial consultations. Workshops hosted by the SAHRC would provide one of the few spaces in which people are able to speak out about the impact of the Bill outside the unequal and potentially intimidatory power relations that characterise many rural areas. The rural communities and organisations that have written to the SAHRC’s provincial offices have requested that the SAHRC hosts information and consultation meetings, and provides support to enable them to effectively participate in the NCOP’s provincial consultation processes. They are particularly keen that the SAHRC facilitates and ensures, through these workshops, the participation of ordinary people, especially women.

We, as organisations that are concerned about the Bill, have previously gone on record concerning the strikingly unequal nature of the consultation process thus far. Indeed the memorandum to the Bill (p18 s4) states that it was drafted in collaboration with the National House of Traditional Leaders. The consultation meetings listed in the memorandum reflect that the views of traditional leaders have been privileged over those of ordinary rural people. The Human Rights Commission, the Gender Commission and SALGA are specifically mentioned in the memorandum as the only organisations consulted other than traditional leaders. This implies that the Department of Justice considers the Commission to have a particular and special status in respect of having endorsed the Bill.

Rural people too consider the Commission to have a special status in being constitutionally enjoined to protect their human rights. In that context the Commission’s failure to provide assistance at the provincial level, where it is uniquely positioned to support a more equal consultation process is doubly concerning.

We are writing to bring these requests to the attention of the Commissioners and to request that the SAHRC acts urgently to engage its provincial offices to provide support to rural citizens. This would include, inter alia, disseminating information on the TCB, advertising the dates for provincial consultations, providing support to those wishing to attend those consultations, monitoring the conduct of consultations, and providing neutral and non-intimidatory opportunities for wider community consultation.

We look forward to working with the SAHRC on this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

  • Law, Race and Gender Research Unit, University of Cape Town
  • Women’s Legal Centre
  • Section 27
  • Sonke Gender Justice
  • Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape
  • Students for Law and Social Justice
  • Gender and Health Unit, Medical Research Council
  • Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, University of Cape Town
  • Women’s Health Unit, University of Cape Town
  • School of Public Health, University of Cape Town
  • Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre
  • Nomboniso Gasa
  • Professor Ben Cousins, DST/NRF Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies

Download the PDF here: Civil Society Petition to SAHRC on TCB