Govt won’t withdraw Traditional Courts Bill – Radebe

2012-08-30 16:36
The government will not withdraw the highly contested Traditional Courts Bill from Parliament, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has said.

Overhauling the bill outside the parliamentary process would undermine the legislative process, he told a Women’s Parliament gathering in Cape Town today.

However, Women and Children Minister Lulu Xingwana earlier this month said her justice counterpart had agreed the bill should be overhauled because it trampled on women’s rights.

Today, Radebe said: “I have also deemed it necessary to briefly outline the parliamentary process in order to quash speculations that there is a process under way to revamp the bill outside the parliamentary processes.”

He said there had never been any intention to withdraw the bill.

“Doing so will not only interrupt the vibrant discourse occurring in Parliament that will shape the end product of this bill, but will allow the department to redraft another bill somewhere in a dark corner of its corridors, away from the public eye.”

Radebe said the bill was not written in the statute books yet, but a work in progress and should be dealt with as such.

The minister said he would consult Xingwana, and his counterparts in cooperative governance and traditional affairs, as well as rural development.

He would then make a presentation to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), before it started public hearings on the bill.

Radebe said he would take into account the views of those opposed to the bill.

These included that traditional courts should be distinguishable from courts of law, and that women should have an opt-out clause.

Earlier this month, Xingwana said currently women could choose whether they wanted to access a traditional court or a magistrates’ court, but they would not have this option under the proposed law.

Xingwana, along with several women’s organisations, are opposed to the law.

She has vowed to fight against the bill in its current form becoming law, and insisted it would not pass constitutional muster.

“Women were not consulted when this bill was drafted and this is the biggest outcry from women,” she said at the time.

Xingwana said many cultural practices like ukuthwala and ukungenwa were harmful to both women and children.

Ukuthwala refers to young girls being abducted and forced into marriage, often with the consent of their parents.

Ukungenwa is the practice whereby a widowed woman automatically becomes her brother-in-law’s wife.

The Traditional Courts bill was introduced in the NCOP, amid a loud outcry last year, after it was withdrawn from the National Assembly the previous year.