Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reuters - South African women rights at risk as Zuma woos tribal chiefs

Well, this is certainly a step in the wrong direction for South Africa.
Traditional courts are the most accessible form of justice for poor, rural South Africans, and their power is growing, setting back the clock on women's rights in one of Africa's most progressive countries.

Their increasing influence is largely thanks to President Jacob Zuma, a proud Zulu who has four wives and a fondness for dancing dressed in a leopard skin cloak and a kilt of animal tails with a cow-hide shield and spear.

As Zuma fights for re-election as head of the African National Congress (ANC) in December and as president in 2014, he plans to make traditional courts the only option for millions of South Africans by denying them access to civil courts.

Zondi's eviction was not based on any statute, and it flew in the face of South Africa's post-apartheid constitution, which guarantees gender equality and outlaws "unfair discrimination". But that didn't make it any less real.

Remember when people thought the ANC would the shining light for all of Africa after coming into power? Good one.
The Traditional Courts Bill, which had its latest round of public hearings in September, would subject the 18 million South Africans who live in the homelands - where the tribal chiefs still exercise power - to this separate justice system.

Speaking to traditional leaders about the bill last month, Zuma lambasted South Africans opposing it for trying to be "too clever" and aping "the white man's way".

Critics say the bill will almost certainly be kicked out as unconstitutional, but they say the fact it is before parliament at all, and that at least one other bill boosting the power of traditional chiefs are planned, harks back to apartheid.

"It's going to take us back to prior to democracy when, as women, our rights were not recognized," said Priscilla Matsapola, a lawyer with People Against Women Abuse, a rights group that provides legal advice and other services to victims of abuse.

The white minority government that ruled the country before the first democratic elections in 1994 created the homelands as a dumping ground for black Africans in pursuit of its goal of a racially segregated South Africa.

Many of the black majority were evicted from their homes and squeezed onto 13 percent of the land where they were ruled by tribal chiefs co-opted into the white segregationists' scheme. Others lived in crowded townships round the cities.

"It's ironic that the democratic government should be moving towards realizing the goals of the apartheid government," said Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town.

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