The ANC has come under sharp criticism from its ally the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) for excluding all gender and gay and lesbian rights protection clauses from the Traditional Courts Bill currently before parliament.
Cosatu has called for the bill to be halted while giving time for consultation on the omitted clauses that the federation demanded to be reinstated. It said as it stood, the Bill was fatally flawed and simply unconstitutional and vowed to engage President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC and ministers for Justice and Women, the Speaker and chief whip in parliament to now intervene as a matter of the highest urgency.
Ironically, the legislation was earlier rejected by the National Council of Provinces exactly for not catering for the rights of women and members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex community (LGBTQI).
Cosatu’s parliamentary coordinator, Matthew Parks, lashed out at ANC Parliamentarians in the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services for being behind the move to remove the gender and human rights protection clause. Parks called the move an unbelievable gutting of provisions to protect women and people from the LGBTQI community. Parks hit hard at the ANC MPs serving in the ruling party’s study group on justice and correctional services.
The Bill initially contained crucial concessions, mainly suggested by the civil society organizations during their interaction with the Justice ministry, that protected the women and LGBTQI people including the right to opt out of traditional courts, and protection of the right of both men and women who did not want a traditional court imposed upon them. The bodies also demanded that traditional courts to be gender representative and that such courts should not discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.
The Bill further provided for the Department of Justice to play an oversight role.
“It is simply shocking and bewildering that the ANC MPs in the PC (portfolio committee) have decided to side with traditional leaders and remove all the clauses seeking to protect women and LGBTQI persons from the Bill,” Parks said.
He said the concessions were made by the Ministry of Justice after extensive engagements with civil society. The previous version of the bill was overwhelmingly rejected by the NCOP for failing to deal with these rights. “It’s tantamount to negotiating in bad faith by the ANC justice committee study group,” Parks said.
According to Cosatu, the concessions, whilst not perfect, were progressive and critical to protect women and the LGBTQI community. The Federation expressed disappointment that such key human rights provisions had now been removed by the ANC MPs at the behest of traditional leaders.
“Cosatu calls upon parliament to halt this bill and we also call upon the ANC to reject the deletions of these human rights and gender equality clauses. These clauses must be reinserted without fail or compromise,” Parks said.
Cosatu would not accept the adoption of such an anti-gender and human rights bill and would ensure that parliament rejected it. “It is a shocking indictment upon the ANC justice committee study group to have done so at the behest of a few traditional leaders and to have ignored the calls of civil society. The ANC will be delusional to believe that the votes of a couple hundred traditional leaders are more important than the votes of millions of women living in traditional areas,” Parks said.
But Mathole Motshekga, chair of the committee, dismissed the suggestion that the Bill excluded gender and LGBTQI rights. “No-one must fear as everybody is catered for in the legislation, but that we don’t have to repeat what is in the constitution. There is no law that is above the constitution, it doesn’t mean that rights that are not mentioned in the Bill are not catered for because whoever runs those (traditional) courts will operate within the ambits of the constitution,” Motshekga said.