Zuma wants 'African' justice
President Jacob Zuma has tacitly endorsed the controversial Traditional Courts Bill, telling chiefs not to buy in to the legal practices of the white man.
Speaking at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in parliament yesterday, Zuma said Africans had their own way of solving their problems through traditional institutions.
"Prisons are done by people who cannot resolve problems.
"Let us solve African problems the African way, not the white man's way," Zuma said, to cheers from traditional leaders.
"Let us not be influenced by other cultures and try to think the lawyers are going to help. We have never changed the facts. They tell you they are dealing with cold facts. They will never tell you that these cold facts have warm bodies," he said.
Zuma's view could be seen as an endorsement of the controversial Traditional Courts Bill, which has women's rights groups, the ANC Women's League and the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities up in arms.
Drafters of the bill have argued that it will offer the prospect of access to justice to 18million citizens who live in the rural areas.
But women's rights groups believe the bill will disempower millions of rural women by not allowing them access to the formal justice system when they have been wronged.
They believe this and other problematic provisions make the bill unconstitutional.
One of Zuma's ministers, Lulu Xingwana, who presides over the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, has been a fierce critic of the bill, demanding it be redrafted altogether.
When the bill was discussed in parliament in September, she said: "Let me remind you the constitution has an equality clause that supersedes custom. I plead with the National Council of Provinces not to pass this bill [because it] is an apartheid-era piece of legislation.
"It's oppressive to women and discriminatory . We don't think traditional courts should be allowed to impose forced labour. Why are we taking our people [back] to the dark ages?"
There had been "no consultation" with rural women, Xingwana said.
The ANC Women's League - which has endorsed Zuma for a second term - has also called for the bill to be recalled.
Zuma was adamant yesterday that traditional authorities had sufficient capacity to deal with legal matters affecting people under their jurisdiction.
"Our view is that the nature and the value system of the traditional courts of promoting social cohesion and reconciliation must be recognised and strengthened in the bill," he said. But he realised there were genuine concerns that the courts fell outside of a proper legislative framework.
According to Zuma, there was no need to involve external law-enforcement agencies in issues that could be solved by a chief.
He slammed Africans who had become "most eloquent" in criticising their cultural background.
"We are Africans. We cannot change to be something else."
Zuma also lashed out at critics of the government who, he said, continued to mislead the poor into believing "poverty was worse" now than in the apartheid era.
He said there was no factual basis to claims that the gap between the rich and the poor was widening.
"It is an absolutely wrong statement and has been repeated and we have almost come to believe it is true. It is not scientifically correct. It is a spin to criticise the democratic government."
Before 1994 the population of black people had not been counted and therefore any gaps in wealth could not be measured, Zuma said.
"It's a manipulation of the words to make us who are in a democratic country responsible for the sins of apartheid.
"It [the gap between rich and poor] has not been growing since 1994, it has been narrowing.
"Poverty was worser [sic] than what it is now. Fifteen million poor people get the [social] grant, which they didn't get before. If that's not closing the gap, what is it?"
Zuma urged traditional chiefs to do their part to quell violent wildcat strikes over service delivery and working conditions.
He said another Marikana massacre could not be tolerated.
But, he said, international commentators who likened such events to the violent apartheid days were unjustified.
"No, we will never go back to apartheid. In apartheid times the Marikana situation was a daily occurrence. People were being killed left, right and centre, and there was no one to stop it. It was a culture, the nature of government was different," he said.