The Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Development met today, 12 February, to discuss the provinces negotiating mandates for the contentious Traditional Courts Bill. However, the discussion was brought to a stop when Members of the Committee argued that it was a waste of time to discuss and vote on each provinces various amendments.
The Traditional Courts Amendment Bill seeks to “affirm the recognition of the traditional justice system and its values based on restorative justice and reconciliation; to provide for the structure and functioning of traditional courts in line with constitutional imperatives and values; to enhance customary law and the customs of communities observing a system of customary law; and to provide for matters connected therewith".
The Bill, considered to be seriously flawed, was rejected by most of the nine provinces last year, when in a confusing turn of events, instead of the Bill being withdrawn, it was sent back to the provinces for further deliberations. Some provinces, the ANC’s Women’s league and opposition parties have questioned the constitutionality of the Bill saying that it puts power in the hands of traditional leaders who can then enforce laws on people (mainly rural) - laws that could violate the rights of many, especially land owners and women.
Negotiating mandates have already been tabled with the Committee, which meant that there should have been a substantive discussion followed by a vote where provinces show whether they reject or approve the Bill. Instead, the Select Committee had to delay the deliberations for twenty minutes because there were no legal officials present at the meeting. Once legal professionals were there, the process was delayed further when the Committee deliberated on each amendment made by the provinces. The Committee only managed to make it through three provinces amendments before they became frustrated and stopped discussions.
The meeting concluded when the Committee referred the mandates to the legal section of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as the State Law Adviser, with instructions to consolidate the amendments proposed by each province into one document. The document also needs to include legal opinions on the proposed amendments.
In the mean time, tabled negotiating mandates showed that four provinces supported the Bill, four rejected the Bill, and there was one province that abstained. Failure to secure the support of a majority number of provinces could lead to the withdrawal of the Bill.
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