Parliament draws fire on Traditional Courts Bill

The Bill seeks to regulate the functioning of the traditional courts.

On Wednesday, during a meeting of the National Council of Provinces committee, which is processing the Bill, it was revealed the committee would only deal with submissions made by two organisations, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Shocked opposition MPs and members of the non-governmental organisations present heard the other submissions were "irrelevant".

Parliament held public hearings on the Bill last month, where 22 organisations were invited to make submissions on the Bill. Only two were supportive of the proposed law, while the rest called for its withdrawal from Parliament, claiming it was unconstitutional.

The meeting started with the justice and constitutional development department presenting a summary of the input made to the parliamentary committee.

This was highly unusual as committees processing proposed laws normally draft summaries of submissions. It was their presentation that contained submissions of only two organisations.

Abuse of power
When MPs enquired as to why the other submissions were not considered, committee chairperson, Tjheta Mofokeng dropped the bombshell about irrelevance to the Bill.

This is the abuse of power by department, said Independent Democrats MP John Gunda.

The Congress of the People's Dennis Bloem was outraged. 

"It would be an insult to all the organisations that made input to say it's not relevant …We have spent taxpayers' money to have a whole week of public hearings to listen to what people were saying. That's the essence of public hearing. Saying it's irrelevant is unfortunate," he said.

Mofokeng told the complaining MPs that if in their view there was relevant information that had been left out, they themselves should write up summaries for the committee.

'Completely unprocedural'
Nomboniso Gasa of the Alliance for Rural Democracy, an umbrella body of NGOs opposed to the Bill, accused the justice department of manipulating the process in a way that is "completely unprocedural", as the department has no standing in drafting the summary.

She said Wednesday's proceedings undermined the separation of powers and the Constitution.

The committee also decided to go to provinces for further public hearings and to get "final mandate" on the Bill, as per the rules of the NCOP. Opponents of the Bill, who include Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana, claim the Bill will be oppressive and discriminatory to women.

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