Women’s minister whacks chiefs bill
Minister and others lash out against Traditional Courts Bill in heated Parliamentary discussion, writes Pearlie Joubert
It was a rough week in Parliament for supporters of the Traditional Courts Bill as rural South Africans and groups representing rural interests laid into the controversial piece of legislation.
Discussions during the week of public hearings into the bill were often heated and emotional – and Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana was probably the fiercest critic of them all.
From Tuesday to Friday, the National Council of Provinces’ (NCOP’s) select committee on security and constitutional development heard 26 oral testimonies about the bill.
The committee received 88 written submissions from across provinces and ideologies.
Xingwana arrived shortly before the close of business on Thursday and, in a presentation entirely at odds with her soft voice and quiet manner, she ripped the bill to shreds.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has previously publicly defended the bill and, referring to their differences, Xingwana told the committee she was “not here to fight with anybody”.
“I’m here because my department’s mandate is to realise the rights of women, children and people with disabilities,” she said.
“Let me remind you the Constitution has an equality clause that supersedes custom. I plead with the NCOP 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 to the dark ages?”
She said there had been “no consultation” with rural women.
“The department of justice admitted that the bill was drafted on the basis of talking to the houses of traditional leaders who are mostly male and don’t have lived experiences of women who are on the receiving end of decisions of (traditional) courts. On the lesbian killings and witchcraft killings the bill is also quiet.”
Echoing an earlier submission by the Alliance for Rural Democracy, Xingwana reminded the committee that the bill was first tabled in 2008.
“It was withdrawn because it was and still is unconstitutional. Since then, we’ve been making inputs.
“But the bill came back to the NCOP in 2011 and nothing anybody had said was taken on board. It was submitted again, warts and all. Nobody has the powers to decide on this bill but you,” she told the committee, to loud cheering and ululating from the public gallery.
Of the written submissions to the committee, only three supported the bill. These were from:
» the department of justice;
» the National House of Traditional Leaders, which was the only body consulted during the drafting of the bill; and
» a Zeerust resident named Moleshoane Mothoagae, who warned that “any suggestion to repeal the bill is tantamount to keep a toothless dog to guard its owner”.
On Tuesday, the hearings started with a phalanx of men addressing the committee: the National House of Traditional Leaders’ (NHTL’s) entire delegation was male, the department of justice’s submission was delivered by a man and the committee itself consists only of men.
On the first day, a delegation from the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) arrived uninvited.
They had excused themselves from Cosatu’s conference in Gauteng to “plead with the chairperson for an opportunity to speak”.
Addressing committee chairman Tjheta Mofokeng, Numsa’s parliamentary officer Woody Aroun said: “We are the second-biggest affiliate of Cosatu, with over 300 401 members and a large percentage of our members will be directly affected by the bill.
“Sir, we must insist that you listen to us because our members feel very strongly about this bill. This bill poses a serious threat to the rights of women. We must oppose this bill.”
The justice department’s deputy chief law adviser, Jacob Skosana, was the first to take the stage, presenting a new version of the bill. But he insisted it was the original bill.
Skosana proposed the bill be renamed the “Resolution of Certain Disputes by Traditional Councils Bill”.
Committee members were decidedly confused.
Amos Manila said: “For clarity, this input is so different from the bill we have received before … you’ve changed the title of the bill. This is not what you gave us as the original bill and what was introduced to Parliament.”
But Skosana replied: “It’s not a new bill. It’s only areas that are strengthened. We’ve been able to identify the reformulation of the bill and are re-packaging (it). It’s part of lawmaking.”
Next up was the National House of Traditional Leaders’ deputy chairman Kgosi Makgeru Frans, who defended the bill.
“It’s not correct that women are sidelined. If 30% of traditional structures aren’t filled by women, Parliament is to be blamed,” Frans said.
The NHTL’s chief executive, Wilson Mokete Makgalancheche, said the traditional council system was “not a patriarchal system but a matriarchal system”.
“Traditionally, women are not oppressed,” he said.
Nomboniso Gasa, representing the Committee for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, was so astounded by this statement that she fled the venue in the grips of a coughing fit.
Some of the week’s strongest words came from Thandi Orleyn, the director of Peotona – a company that represents women in business.
Orleyn is married to a traditional chief and is a human rights lawyer.
“There’s a perception that educated women know nothing about custom and leadership. I’ve studied customary law and this bill makes a mockery of our customary system,” she said.
“We’re throwing our black rural women to the wolves if we agree to this bill. We don’t believe that customary law should be done away with. But let’s go back to the drawing board.
“Consult before you redraft this bill so that people are heard. What is the rush suddenly with this bill? We can see that the law is flawed,” she said.
The committee will hold several more public meetings, starting on October 16.
If it does not then propose that the bill be scrapped, it has three weeks to push the bill through the National Assembly.
The statutory deadline for the bill to be passed is December 30.
A woman’s horror story
“I was born with ten fingers. Now I don’t have ten fingers because the traditional leader stood by and did nothing to protect me because I am a woman.”
Stombi Hlombe wept as she addressed Parliament’s select committee on security and constitutional development on Wednesday.
Hlombe, who is from KwaZulu-Natal, lost a finger after a member of the Amahlubi Traditional Council bit her because he was angry that she had been elected to the council.
Hlombe’s story was one of 26 written submissions chosen by the committee for a verbal presentation during this week’s public hearings on the Traditional Courts Bill.
Hlombe asked the committee to “rather scrap this (bill) instead of people dying at the hands of traditional chiefs”.
She said: “In the rural areas, women are treated as rubbish. We are seen as people with no dignity and we are treated inhumanely by the traditional leaders.”
As she spoke, the committee and public gallery looked on in silent horror.
“As rural women, we fought for the inclusion of women in the traditional authorities and when the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act of 2003 was implemented in September 2007, we celebrated, thinking that women will (be represented) in the traditional council.”
The act states that the chief can appoint 60% of council members and the rest must be elected.
Of those elected, 30% must be w
“In our traditional council, we have male members who do not want women representatives. But I was elected and quickly saw that not all men appreciate that there is now a woman. One of the councillors started swearing at me whenever I spoke at council meetings.
“Nobody, not even the chief Mzuwenkosi Hadebe, protected me. So I made a case against him with that very traditional council, and he lost the case and was ordered to pay a fine of R5 000.
“He told the chief and the traditional council that he would not pay anything. They all kept quiet.”
Some weeks later, Hlombe was in a taxi when another council member attacked her and bit her finger so badly that it had to be amputated.