The first public hearing on the contested Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill (TKLB) was abandoned in Kimberley on Thursday when MPs failed to arrive.
About 350 people from surrounding communities did arrive in time for the scheduled 10am start of the hearing in the RC Elliot Hall in Kimberley’s Galeshewe township, but found there were too few chairs, no sound system in place and no MPs present from the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
At 11am, an hour after the scheduled start, Sandra Beukes, chair of the portfolio committee on Health and Social Development in the Northern Cape legislature, ascended the podium to welcome people and apologised about the absence of the parliamentary portfolio committee, whose job it will be to amend the Bill to accommodate public submissions.
Officials said later that problems with the flight arrangements for the MPs to Kimberley had caused the confusion.
Last week, after postponing many times, parliament announced that Kimberly would be the first of four towns in Northern Cape to start the nationwide programme of public hearings on the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill.
The Bill was first announced in a September 2015 notice in the Government Gazette. It was published a week later.
The system of traditional leadership is recognized in Chapter 12 of the 1996 Constitution. The TKLB takes this further to :
- Provide statutory recognition of Khoi-San leadership and communities, previously unrecognized; and,
- Harmonise all legislation affecting traditional leadership in a single law.
As required by the constitution, the government started the process of public consultation in February 2016 with a hearing in parliament with organisations and institutions that work on traditional leadership.
The second phase was delegated to the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and provincial legislatures to provide the public with an opportunity to have their say on the Bill. After several earlier attempts to set up a schedule, a programme was finally adopted in November.
About 350 people, mainly from Khoi-San communities, arrived for the first hearing, but quickly objected to the arrangements.
“I am concerned about the safety and health of my people. We would like to continue, but our well-being comes first. This place stinks like a toilet, exits are blocked and old people standing on their feet,” said one delegate.
Another complained about the failure of the MPs to arrive on time: “Where are they? They do not take us serious, they say they want to recognise us, but now they undermine us.”
Beukes interjected with an attempt to calm the situation, but the crowd continued to roar and she asked: “Shall we proceed or call it off?”
Delegates continued to express their displeasure at treatment received from the government regarding their heritage, recognition, land and indigenous rights. Others advocated that this public hearing in Kimberly end and be re-scheduled to a different date in a venue with better conditions.
Speakers from the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) did speak about issues they had with the Bill, including the resort to apartheid-era boundaries, but no one appeared to record their views.
In this unrest and in the absence of the parliamentary committee, Beukes adjourned the meeting shortly after midday, saying she would raise the issues with the chairperson of the parliamentary committee, Richard Mdakane.
At the second hearing in Kuruman on Friday, participants started by complaining that they were being asked to comment on a Bill without any printed copies to refer to.
According to government statements, the Bill is necessary to provide official recognition to Khoi-San customary institutions that have hitherto been neglected in the legal and political realm. Yet, the provisions of the Bill make it clear that, in respect of jurisdiction, government is not giving Khoi-San leadership structures the same form of recognition as traditional institutions in the former Bantustans.
Amongst other differences, the Bill proposes jurisdiction over land for traditional authorities in the former Bantustans and jurisdiction over people for Khoi-San authorities. This is especially relevant in light of government’s recent promises to Khoi-San groups that changes in the law will allow them to claim back land that was historically taken away from them.
The hearings are scheduled to move to Springbok, Upington, Vredenburg and Cape Town this month and to Swellendam, Oudtshoorn and the Eastern Cape in December.
Sobantu Mzwakali is a writer with Land and Accountability Research Centre, University of Cape Town.