Traditional Courts Bill 'must deal with patriarchy', workshop hears

04 March 2019 - 16:34 By Zingisa Mvumvu
Minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) Zweli Mkhize.
Minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) Zweli Mkhize.

A request for an increased budget for traditional leaders, communal land and the role of women in traditional leadership institutions were some of the issues at a consultative workshop between the government and traditional leaders at the Birchwood Hotel in Ekurhuleni on Monday.

Minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) Zweli Mkhize told a journalists on Monday that the government had reached consensus with traditional leaders on various issues, including the contentious 11-year-old Traditional Courts Bill.

According to Mkhize, the bill will be tabled before parliament's portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development on Wednesday, with the aim of passing it into law next month.

One bone of contention in the bill has been the role of women in traditional courts. Mkhize said it was agreed that anything that traditional courts do must be in line with the country's constitution, which emphasises and protects the rights of women.

"We needed to refine a number of aspects, one of which is the role of women in the institution, as well as ensuring everything that is done there is done within the ambit of the constitution, which recognises equality, gender parity and sensitivity around the protection of the rights of women and children. All of us got that as a background on how the laws are going to be implemented," said Mkhize.

"Our constitution is very clear: access to justice must not be interfered with by any form of discrimination. All courts in the country, including the traditional courts, will operate under that understanding, so there is no question.

"All traditional leaders, like magistrates, have a responsibility to operate under the constitution. Therefore we can assure everyone that that is the same law that is going to be followed."

Dr Vuyo Mahlathi, who heads the advisory panel on land reform, added that patriarchy was the order of the day in traditional institutions, including when it comes to communal land tenure.

"When we recognise the problems of the past, patriarchy is at the centre of that problem. There is no way we can talk about these bills, such as the Traditional Courts Bill, without dealing with issues of patriarchy from a woman's perspective," said Mahlathi. 

To this end, Mahlathi said the land advisory panel would meet on Friday specifically to deal with the issue of women and rural land.

Inkosi Sipho Mahlangu, chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL), said they accepted criticism but were clear that 13% of the country's rural communal land should not be placed under the control of a trust accountable to government, but rather to traditional leaders in those communities.

"Land that has been taken from us [traditional leaders] should be expropriated back to us," said Mahlangu. 

He reiterated traditional leaders' request to President Cyril Ramaphosa to be allocated more money, saying the current budget does not meet the needs of their communities.

"On the issue of resources, we are hoping that the sixth parliament will consider giving us a better budget. We had a debate with the president last week, requesting an increase. That will help us to develop our own communities for programmes that we have come up with, such as agrarian revolution," said Mahlangu.