NCOP again ignores rural voices on Traditional Courts Bill: A case of “we’ll consult until we change your minds”?

MEDIA RELEASE by the Alliance for Rural Democracy

November 21, 2013

Provincial negotiating mandates tabled to the Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Development in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on October 15, 2013 showed overwhelming rejection of the Traditional Courts Bill (TCB) by the provinces. However, instead of following parliamentary procedure and debating the mandates – which would inevitably have led to the withdrawal of the Bill – the NCOP committee sent back the provincial mandates to be considered for the third time, purportedly “for clarity and removing ambiguities”. The committee did not deliberate on which aspects of the mandates needed further clarification. Stalling debate on provincial mandates has been a default response of this committee for almost two years now.

It has emerged that provincial hearings on the TCB are now being organised in North West province. There was nothing unclear or ambiguous about the North West provincial mandate. In fact, the mandate indicates that about 95% of those who participated in hearings in the province rejected the TCB. This has been the position of the North West since early 2012.

Further hearings in the North West will thus be wasteful expenditure as there are no reasonable grounds to believe that this mandate will change. This begs the question as to what exactly is the reason for these further hearings. It is instructive that the letter sent to some members of the Alliance for Rural Democracy stated that “the purpose of the hearings is to solicit views and inputs from relevant stakeholders and members of the public.”

The Bill is thus not being discussed in the North West to “for clarity and to remove ambiguities.” While public participation is in principle laudable, it becomes deeply problematic when consultations are seemingly used to cancel out prior processes of participation. Is this a case of “we’ll consult until we change your minds”?  Is this the meaning of “public participation”?

Members of the public in North West and other provinces went to great trouble, with no financial or any other assistance from Parliament or the NCOP, to attend public hearings. They wrote submissions to the NCOP and attended public hearings. For some, this action was costly, not only in financial terms but also in terms of their very security and livelihoods. It is an insult to them and the people they represent to now attempt to subvert the process like this.

Other provinces, such as the Free State, will hold public hearings in February 2014. Some have chosen to stick to their mandates and respect the views of South Africans. Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Western Cape have declined further hearings. It is not clear whether Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu–Natal will go along with this unlawful, unreasonable and unprocedural process.

We call on all South Africans to support the struggle of rural people to be treated with respect and enjoy the freedoms provided in our Constitution equally. The Alliance for Rural Democracy urges South Africans and the media to be vigilant and observe this process, starting with the hearings in the North West Province on 21 November 2013.

This must not go unrecorded.

Issued by the Alliance for Rural Democracy

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The Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD) is a cross-section of civil society organisations sharing a common concern about the detrimental effects that the Traditional Courts Bill will have on the rural constituencies they serve and support.  The ARD includes the following organisations:  Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA); Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria; Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape (CLC);Corruption Watch; Co-operative Policy Alternative Centre (COPAC); Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC);Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, University of Cape Town (DGRU); Embrace Dignity Campaign; Empilisweni AIDS Education and Training Centre; Greater Rape Intervention Programme (GRIP);Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR); Justice and Women (JAW); Land Access Movement of South Africa (LAMOSA); Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town;  Lesbian and Gay Equality Project; Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre; Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC); Rural People’s Movement; Rural Women’s Movement; Rural Health Advocacy Project; Section 27; Sonke Gender Justice; South African Constitutional Literacy and Service Initiative (CLASI); Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ); Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Project (TVEP);Treatment Action Campaign (TAC);Triangle Project; Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC); Unemployed People’s Movement; Women’s Health Research Unit in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town; Women’s Legal Centre Trust. The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) acts as legal advisor to the Alliance.

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