South African Bill Evokes Apartheid Era
The Traditional Courts measure, which gives power to local chiefs, threatens to undermine democracy.
Critics including the Democratic Alliance Party claim the bill will also trample the constitutional rights many South Africans fought so hard to gain. "It's essentially authoritarian rule by traditional leaders," Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, a senior researcher at the Law, Race and Gender Research Unit of the University of Cape Town, told The Root. The LRG has produced an informative video detailing the issues of the bill. "You talk to older people as well and they say, 'This is not our culture, this is apartheid.' People say, 'How can our government do this to us?' "
Furthermore, Mnisi Weeks says, the bill gives the chief sole discretion to decide what is customary. "In this case you're talking about an individual who's given the power; the law is not written down anywhere and no one can contradict him," she said. "There's no accountability." The bill also allows traditional leaders to sentence people to a range of punishments including forced labor and confiscation of land.
And although the text provides for women and men to participate equally, critics ssay that is not the reality. That became clear to Mpumalanga resident Paulinah Sithole when she sought a court hearing over a dispute with her longtime partner. "They said I would make women disrespectful if they allowed me to win my case," she told Johannesburg's City Press newspaper. "They said I would make women stand up for their rights and then they will be disrespectful to their husbands." She concluded: "This is what happens to women who are under the chiefs. We stay under. Forever."
Who, then, supports this bill?
At a recent hearing in the Eastern Cape, City Press reported that one traditional leader rose to its defense. "When something is supported by me it is supported by everyone … I am in full support of this bill and so are all those under me," said Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, king of the AbaThembu. "As for those who do not support this bill, they surely then fall under the other chiefs and not me."
Dalindyebo, 48, is known as a commanding leader who strikes fear in his "subjects." He is appealing a 15-year jail sentence stemming from acts of murder, kidnapping, arson and other charges, dating back to the mid-'90s when local residents claimed he used violent force to dole out justice. One case involved a man’s house being burned down for failing to pay a fine for a wandering goat.