1 August 2012

South Africa: Traditional Courts Bill to Be Reviewed

Photo: So-and-So/IRIN
Girls dance to entertain guests.

Pretoria — The Traditional Courts Bill is in for an overhaul, says Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana.

The announcement was made by the minister at the launch of Women's Month in Pretoria on Wednesday.

The department has been calling for a review of the bill over concern that it would undermine the rights of women in rural areas, saying that women in the rural areas were not consulted.

Xingwana on Wednesday said flaws were identified in the bill in its current form, and women were not consulted and denied the right to self-representation during public hearings on the bill.

She said she had met with Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe to raise some concerns regarding the bill and he agreed that it needed a complete overhaul.

Concerns raised by Xingwana included some of the articles in the bill, which were "not acceptable" such as recognising cultural practices like ukungenwa and ukuthwalwa (abduction and forced marriages).

"[The bill] doesn't give women an option out of traditional court if they live in a village and strips them of their democratic rights to choose magistrates courts if they so wish," said Xingwana.

Rural women's lack of access to resources and basic services, Xingwana said, was compounded by their unequal rights in family structures and unequal access to family resources such as land and livestock, as well as oppressive traditional practices.

"We are concerned that the bill will perpetuate this state of affairs. As government, we are painfully aware that women's dependence on husbands, fathers, partners and family members has increased women's vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse and murder," said the minister.

There was also concern that women, including widows, had already suffered abuse in the form of eviction from their homes and land by the largely all-male traditional courts.

"South Africa has made commitments through the Constitution, various pieces of legislation and international conventions to respect, promote, protect and advance the rights of women. We have a duty and obligation to honour these commitments," Xingwana said.

The Traditional Courts Bill is intended to regulate the role and functions of traditional leaders in the administration of justice in accordance with the constitutional imperatives.

The bill deals with civil and criminal jurisdiction of traditional leaders and is intended to facilitate the contribution of traditional authorities in the criminal justice system.

Government has identified traditional leaders as agents of social cohesion through initiatives that encourage communities to share common moral values and a development agenda.

Meanwhile, Xingwana announced that Cabinet has approved the establishment of the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence, which is a high level, multi-sectoral national response to the scourge.

"We are confident that the work of the council will lead to a significant reduction in the incidents of violence against women and children," she said.

The council, led by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, will be launched on 25 August 2012.

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