Activists attending the public hearings on the controversial Traditional Courts Bill in Parliament were shocked yesterday when women were told debate and comment on the Bill were not welcome.
A number of civil society organisations and rural women have travelled to participate in the public hearings on the Bill which has been widely criticised for entrenching gender inequality and possibly subjecting millions of rural South Africans to a ‘second class' justice system.
It is feared that the Bill, which is before Parliament's Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Development, in its current form gives patriarchal traditional courts enormous power to undermine the Constitutional rights of women and children.
This fear was reinforced yesterday when committee acting chairman Amos Matila said the committee would not entertain debate or comments but would only accept questions of clarity after two women from the lobby group Land Access Movement of South Africa called for the Bill to be scrapped.
LAMOSA director Constance Mogale had, along with others, rebutted the claim by the National House of Traditional Leaders that women represented 30 percent of the traditional courts structure.
Mogale said this claim was untrue and it remained difficult for women to access justice in traditional courts.
She said MPs should not confuse the 50 percent women's representation in Parliament with what was happening in traditional courts.
Matila then charged that the Bill was not about women but “people who deliver”. He went on to say the committee would not accept debate or comment but matters of clarity from the presenters as the Bill was not going to be withdrawn.
A woman activist from the gallery then stood up and said that if the committee had made up its mind about the Bill then the organisations that had come to provide their input may as well “walk away”.
Mogale stuck to her guns that the Bill should be withdrawn as if it was passed in its current form it would be challenged in the Constitutional Court.
Fluent and outspoken LAMOSA activist Emily Tjale also argued for the scrapping of the Bill.
She was joined by Solom Japhta Mabuza from Silwanendlala Ubuntu Farmers Agricultural Co-operative in Mpumalanga.
Mabuza who travelled from Buffelspruit village under Matsamo Tribal Authority, said some of the chiefs in Matsamo's 12 villages were fake and counterproductive.
He said he knew of a chief in the community from Swaziland who crossed the border everyday to come and rule over them.
He said such chiefs already enjoyed enormous powers, including double taxing villagers, did not know the South African Constitution and the Bill would only strengthen their power to abuse communities.
He said besides villagers having to pay normal state taxes, the chiefs there made them to pay a tax of R1 000 and taxed foreigners R3 000 or its equivalent in cattle.
He cited a number of examples of corruption and abuse of power and requested MPs visit their community to see for themselves the various problems they faced.
Public hearing on the Bill, which started on Tuesday, is set to wrap up today