Contentious traditional leadership Bill passed

In the NCOP, only the Western Cape did not support the Bill. (David Harrison/M&G)

In the NCOP, only the Western Cape did not support the Bill. (David Harrison/M&G)

The controversial Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill has been passed by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and now awaits the signature of President Cyril Ramaphosa to make it law.

On Wednesday, MPs were called back from recess for a special sitting of the NCOP to finalise it, as well as the Public Service Commission Amendment Bill and the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill.

In November last year, the traditional leadership Bill was passed by the National Assembly. Its supporters say it restores people’s dignity, but its detractors argue that it will subject 17-million people who live in former apartheid homelands to the edict of unelected traditional leaders.

In the NCOP, only the Western Cape did not support the Bill. The province’s chief whip, the Democratic Alliance’s Cathleen Labuschagne, said: “The Bill is discriminatory because it treats traditional Khoisan leaders differently and applies different criteria for recognition.
Furthermore, the Bill puts too much power and authority into the hands of traditional Khoisan leaders and councils to enter into agreements and partnerships with insufficient input from the affected communities.”

There have also been claims that the ANC is trying to rush the Bill through to appease traditional leaders before the general elections slated for May. But Parliament denies this. Legislature spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said: “It is consistent with the plan and programme of the NCOP. It’s a special sitting in the sense that both houses are in recess. But they had to squeeze in the special sitting so that the work of these three Bills can be concluded.”

Khoisan traditional leaders crowded the public gallery and applauded the passing of the Bill, but some lobby groups say other aspects of the legislation could have far-reaching consequences for poor South Africans who live in the former homelands.

The University of Cape Town’s Land and Accountability Research Centre’s Aninka Claasens said Parliament had ignored the recommendations of former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s high-level panel to scrap the Bill. “The panel found this Bill fundamentally compromises the property and citizenship rights of one-third of the population,” she said.

The Bill will have to pass constitutional muster, especially after the high court in Pretoria ruled late last year that a community, as the holder of rights on land, must give consent to the department of mineral resources before it allocates rights to mining companies. The case involved the Xolobeni community on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast and an Australian mining company.

Claasens said the Bill hands the right to make deals with mining and other companies to traditional leaders. “It’s not just traditional leaders who benefit from this; it’s mining magnates. And you have got to look at very senior people, and people related to the president, and understand that it’s their interests that this Bill serves.”

Lobby groups and rural community organisations say they now plan a legal bid to stop Ramaphosa from signing the Bill into law.

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