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The Traditional Courts Bill is a Bantustan Bill

(Originally published as “Respect our rights”, in City Press as a column, 6 May 2012)


The Traditional Courts Bill is meant to replace the Black Administration Act of 1927 with a law that is constitutional.

Instead, if passed, it will in effect strip between 17 million and 21 million people living in rural South Africa of many of the rights we enjoy in the rest of the country.

About 59% of these people are women, who, along with other members of their communities, will cease to be citizens and exist only as subjects.

As is stands, the bill creates a separate legal system for rural folk, geographically recreating the old Bantustans with no irony on the eve of the centenary of the 1913 Land Act.

Let me first dispense with the two main problems with the consultation process. The bill results from consultations between the state and traditional leader structures.

It patently ignores input by the Rural Women’s Movement based on consultation with hundreds of rural women pointing to the multitude of ways in which existing tribal hearings deliberately disenfranchise them.

Most rural folk were deliberately kept in the dark about the drafting process.

In the past few weeks, many rural communities expressed outrage when confronted with the bill for the first time.

Once again, the culturalist argument is being made for resisting this bill.

Those who oppose it are hostile to cultural African legal and dispute mechanisms, and we are reprimanded.
Yes, this bill partly recognises what is already operational in many of these spaces.

This includes royal patriarchs who explicitly endorse the kidnapping of girls into marriage – ukuthwala – as Chief Mandla Mandela does, to those who silently endorse it, such as Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana.

Many rural communities organise against repressive patriarchal practices, resisting forced unpaid labour, refusing to pay tribal levies, and in countless ways refusing to be docile subjects of chiefs who are given absolute power by this bill.

Legal researcher Dr Simiso Mnisi reminds us that ordinary rural Africans shape and reshape custom, culture and practice all the time. She calls this living custom.

Living custom enables culture and custom to continue to work in the interest of those who own it.

Academic Mamphela Ramphele has also challenged the false opposition often held up in conservative culturalist arguments between “foreign” legal systems at work in the rest of the country and “indigenous” legal systems that will be protected in the proposed bill.

She points out that our specific legal framework is home-grown.

We created our Constitution and legal framework. We did not import it from anywhere else. This is why it is the most progressive Constitution in the world and is globally recognised as such.

The creation of this document was achieved with the full knowledge of the brutality that laws can enable.

If there is any competition or doubt, it arises from various systems emerging from the same space that laws are meant to regulate.

The bill will bestow the final say on the chief presiding over a dispute.

It is a backlash against innovative applications and manifestations of culture by the majority of communities that are refusing to be held hostage.

Progressive chiefs do not need the bill in its current form to enshrine the chieftaincy of state-recognised royalty, elected leaders or other leaders who may contest the legitimacy of the ruling indunas and chiefs.

It takes power away from most rural folk and enshrines a feudal order that has no support.

I grew up in a part of the country that suddenly became a homeland at the end of one school year. Homelands benefit only those in power and their cronies.

In a democracy, all of us should have the same rights. Those who are rushing this homeland bill through require our complicity, our averted gaze.

But we can stop this bill from going through by ending the secrecy, publicly challenging it and holding our government accountable. We need to remember that the state works for all of us, not just the urban folk.



Happy Birthday, Tatom’khulu Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

As so many people choose to do what is right for 67 minutes today all over the world, I hope that we all remember that you have lived your life as a revolutionary who thought that justice could triumph, even as many in our county and the world would rather pretend that you are a teddy bear, benign grandfather figure. Here’s to your most revolutionary self and much love on your birthday.

Privacy, Zuma Presidency and Polygamy

I will admit right of the bat that I wish that when the president of the republic makes front page news almost weekly, it would be for more politically refreshing reasons. I have wished this about all presidents of a democratic South Africa, and while interesting news can also be infuriating news, I’d rather read about something Zuma did that involves more than his love and sex life. I am not so delusional that I expect a feminist president when none was really in the running (although I did vote nationally for the one person I do interpret as Pan-Africanist, feminist, humane, unbought, Patricia de Lille).

I do expect the President to demonstrate some modicum of respect for the ideals that the highest office (in the country I pay taxes in) stands for. I expect not to have my intelligence insulted every week by the president and his praise singers in the ANC Youth League. I expect to wake up to months of newspaper reading without powerful men in the SACP-ANC-COSATU alliance badgering us with opportunistic talk of ‘culture’ to do their dirty, dirty gender work. When the ANC was re-elected into power, all of us did not suddenly hand over the mantle of being African cultural spokespersons to these men. If most Africans of any ethnicity are women, why do these men deign to consider themselves sole custodians of a culture they plunder for personal gain? This is truly filthy business, even for politicians of the sort we are mostly saddled with.

I am exhausted by Zuma and his antics. I am embarassed by him even though I did not vote for him again (I voted for him when I put my X next to the ANC in my previous national ballot papers, but that was before the rape trial), held no high hopes for this presidency given all that had gone before, and even though I am no nationalist (I will choose ‘loyalty’/’allegiance’ to the continent’s people everytime over loyalty to the nation state). I am most exhabusted by news of Zuma’s sex life – I wish I could say leave the details out of the news because I’ve heard more than I would want to. It is stunning that he really seems to think that power comes with no responsibility. Let him get married to as many women as he likes – as long as they consent. Let him even have multiple sexual partners in and out of wedlock.

However, he is the President of the country and what he does in his private life can have relevance for all of us, for HIV/AIDS policy, for gender relations, for the rise of misogyny in varied guise. The personal is political, and privacy is a function of privilege, and Zuma has both some institutional and significant class priviedge as the man at the helm.

What the president does is a matter of national importance. The talk of his privacy is nonsense – he is not a private citizen. And if he wants to carry on like he is, so that we are all constantly invitated to think about his sex life, then he must deal with the consequences of seeming to embrace living recklessly while in the Presidency. He cannot have it both ways – speak about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, about gender equity (even if some of us know better than to trust him) and then choose a life that suggests the opposite.

We do have a right to require consistency in the President, whether we voted for him or not. We also do have a right to ask him to step down, again, whether we voted for him or not.

Wassup with Zuma’s parly

I know that all eyes are on the Union Buildings with Jacob Zuma as the fourth president of a democratic South Africa, but there is something very puzzling going on in the new parliament.

First of all, Baleka Mbete, formerly the Speaker of Parliament before briefly becoming the Vice President of the country has been getting quite a bit of mixed attention. I was not watching, since some of us have day jobs that require us to occasionally be in specific classroom X on certain days of the week, but according to various media reports, she remained sitting after her name was mentioned along with other MPs for swearing in.

This was then followed by much speculation in the local media for days on end. Was she miffed that anything short of a vice presidential appointment was a demotion? Was she demonstrating diva behaviour by throwing her toys out of her cot? Was this just demonstration that women who throw their lot in with the violent men never get rewards?
And on it went, as analysts and commentators wrote and spoke and foamed at the mouth.

No matter what the real deal is for you, the fact of the matter is that she seemed like the most powerful woman in the country over the last few years. It no longer looks that way – no matter what position she continues to hold within her party. I may be wrong, and breaking news could tell us another story in a few weeks. But I am not holding my breath.

Ms Mbete is nobody’s doormat. That bit is clear from afar, so I am not writing her off by any stretch of the imagination. However, her current position (as unclear as it is – and nowhere near parly) can only make us wonder about the drama behind the scenes.

Then there is another woman who has been powerful in various ways over the last few years: the feminist former deputy speaker, Nozizwe Madlala Routledge. She, too, is nowhere to be seen in the new parly, having resigned quite suddenly (it seems from a distance) as the new order started dishing out seats and responsibilities that would decide who is who in the new regime. Although, Madlala Routledge’s departure was also much discussed, it has completely died down now and things seem to have gone back to normal. Again, my mind is working overtime trying to work this one out.

I couldn’t help thinking that something very sinister is up with the new dispensation. These are not two small childish women (as they were condescendingly called in some press) and their resolute refusal to tow the line – whatever the real line and story is – is not a small matter. It makes this blogger very curious about what is going on in the ruling party. We may not know for a very long time, given the tendency in politics to be loyal to a party that has taken the wind out of your sails.

It is precisely because I think that both exercised agency – they were not just responding – that I am perturbed and a little more than concerned.

As if the untoward mystery and demotion/(self)absenting of these women was not bad enough, the ANC fell far short of meeting its 50/50 gender parity in parliament. Again, very little was said by the usual commentators and analysts – apart from a handful of gender and feminist folks, some of whom said the strangest things this time round – even though a 50/50 split still means women are under-represented. I insisted in commentary at the time, that one after the other these signs are showing us that we are entering the age of the big men.

Now, as if South African women do not have enough problems, we have to deal with the indignity of a ministry of women, youth and disabled people. This last fact has had me so incredibly depressed I could barely do more than put a foot in front of the other, take care of admin, and do practical stuff for weeks. Yes, I still talked to and hung out with the people l love. But I could not write.

Even though I am far from a Zuma fan, and I had my reservations about his administration long before he was officially in power, I did not expect to be so deflated so early in his presidency. Yes, it is depressing that women are once again the problem in this country. No self-respecting Black person would consent to a ministry of Black people because it would be clearly recognised as racist rubbish reminiscent of and hankering after Bantu Affairs. Women are the majority in this country. We are not in power. And so it that we get a special little ministry as though we are some odd interest group or annoyance. On what planet is the women’s minister different from a Sebe in so far as she accepts such a post?

I really was hoping against hope that the Zuma administration would prove me wrong – but the signs so far, long before 100 days in office -are more worrying than anything I could have predicted. I did not vote for Zuma in the presidency, but there was never a question that he would be president. I can live with the fact that I am not in the majority because I like living in a democracy, even when what I want does not happen. I still hoped against hope that there’d be a few pleasant surprises early in his administration.

I guess South African feminists had better brace ourselves for more bizzarely offensive posturing on gender affairs. Eish.

2009 Elections: wassup with COPE? (Dandala)

What is up with COPE and their presidential candidate? I have read the justifications in the papers and listened to discussions of this on radio and tv, and I still don’t get it. Why does COPE think that having Bishop Dandala as presidential candidate is a good thing? How does this move make COPE more attractive?

As far as I can tell, there are a few broad arguments in favour of Dandala’s election, and I find them all unconvincing. Then I have a few additional reservations of my own about putting my X next to COPE now. I am not saying that I was ever sure I’d be voting for them. But I was considering them for my national X, along with the two other liberation movements I had not considered seriously before. Terror Lekota’s face would have tempted me to put my national X for COPE, for I certainly will NOT be putting it next to Zuma’s face, so my national vote is up for grabs. How I feel about Zuma as state president is no secret, as I have noted numerously in public writing, here and elsewhere. But Lekota’s face I could have lived with, even if I knew the ANC would win anyway.

Before you send me lots of comments about how reactionary I am to say this, let me say upfront that I don’t care who thinks I am reactionary for not voting for Zuma. I won’t vote for a proud misogynist homophobe just to prove I am not reactionary. I am still torn about voting ANC privincially and eventually locally.

Many of my friends have already told me how absolutely dodgy I am to like Terror. And maybe I am dodgy. Maybe it’s nostalgia from when he was Free State premier and he kicked butt. Maybe it is because he is convingly anti-ethnicist and I just love it when he refuses to be bullied by people who claim to speak one language better than he does. I liked that when people were pulling the Xhosa trip when he said “uZuma akabhadlanga”, Terror retorted “that’s nonsense, I speak Xhosa as well as the next person”. He said he meant Zuma has no sense; they said he meant he was stupid. In English it sounds the same, but ngesiXhosa I am convinced it is not the same thing. Akabadlanga is closer to saying someone is crazy than to claiming that they are stupid. Maybe I like that Terror says he has changed his mind about various things, and he may keep changing his mind – like he did before when he moved from BC to ANC. All of this is perfectly fine because we are human beings, and we live in a democracy. But Terror is not going to be president, so that is a moot point.

The last thing I am going to say about Terror today is that he had a lot to do with COPE entertaining me in the first place. As can be seen from previous posts, I like being entertained in the run up to the elections.

With all due respect to Bishop Dandala, why should I vote for him? First of all, I don’t think just because Zuma is deemed “immoral”, that the best way to counter that is having a man of the cloth. I think that makes for predictable, boring politics. Give us someone we can believe in, who has charisma and who grabs and keeps our attention. You are not going to get me to vote for anybody based on a morality argument. That argument belongs in a religious community not in a secular state.

I want a president that is ethical, whether he is moral or not. Frankly, I don’t know what is moral and what is immoral. I do know what is oppressive, violent and as a result wrong. The language of morality is irredeemably religious and extremely shortsighted. Moral people have no problem with the death penalty, or throwing their lesbian daughters out of their homes when they come out.

I don’t care about Zuma’s morality. I care about the political implications of his actions and words. Morality is one of those fuzzy concepts like “taste” or “decency”. These fuzzy concepts can be made to mean anything, and historically they have worked in the most oppressive ways – against slaves, against Blacks, against the Irish, against the Jews, against lesbians and gay men, etc. As far as I am concerned, “moral regeneration”, “family values” and talks about morality, when they are not faith confined, are just conservative rubbish. I don’t even talk morality in church. Leave that kind of stuff to the ACDP.

I am an active Catholic, so this is not even about not believing in religion. Nor is it about that silly business of factionalism and denominations between people who identify as Christian. I would say exactly the same thing about a Catholic bishop, or an Imam or a Rabbi, for that matter.

Secondly, I like living in a secular state. Religion is a personal choice, and I cannot see how a priest in the presidency does not send the same kinds of worrying messages that a soldier in the presidency does. The only cool thing about a priest in the presidency would be the fact that the president goes drag sometimes. Let’s keep the uniformed people from powerful regulatory institutions (church, army, police) out of the presidency, please.

Thirdly, Bishop Dandala was the head of Methodist Church of Southern Africa until recently. The Methodist Church’s stance on termination of pregrancy and same sex marriage is unclear to me. I recognise that members of any faith community differ – just like I am feminist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-reproductive technologies even though I have not left the church I was raised in. The Catholic church has policies that oppose termination, contraception and artificial insermination, but it also has a sterling record of fascist top leadership. (That was a trick “but”.) I am a walking contradiction in this regard, but my religious political hope comes from people like Sister Bernard Ncube, Father Smangaliso Mkatshwa and Archbishop Mpilo Desmind Tutu. So, I am not judging Bishop Dandala on what he chooses to believe in his heart. Nonetheless, a presidential candidate who wants my vote needs to tell me in a straightforward manner how he feels on abortion and lesbian marriages.

Fourthly, I am not sure that a “new” political face is the best way to go at this point. I am all for change, but too much change at once needs much explanation/clearly articulated direction. Change in an uncertain direction leads to insecurity. People don’t vote for parties they are unsure about. Did COPE not have enough headaches from the Affirmative Action controversies? Are they really as clueless as they pretend to be about how many Black votes that confusion has cost them? Do they not realise how pissed off many professional Black women are about the affirmative action PRACTICE at COPE which reinforces the national standard? Do they really have to make everything new?

Maybe they do, but then this will affect voter confidence. People won’t vote for COPE if they’re not really sure of what COPE stands for. This new kid on the block has a lot of potential, but COPE will need to do a lot to recapture the November excitement. If it manages to do that again, then the party stands a chance of double digit percentages in the polls.

There are many voters whose voting choices are unclear for the first time. COPE is neither giving me hope, nor making me feel particularly excited right now.

2009 elections: where are the COPE posters?

It is hard to go anywhere in Johannesburg these days without seeing all sorts of election posters.

The ANC started way ahead of everyone else with the trendy youngsters vote ANC posters. That’s not what the posters said. (That’s just what I call the posters.) ANC election posters are almost always boring, plain, predictable. The two notable exceptions were the trendy youngsters vote ANC” ones and before that the very first 1994 posters with Madiba surrounded by the rainbow children. Visually the Mandela ones were really cool, but I am battling to find the images I mean online. It is easier to find the usual “Mandela for President” one that you see everywhere now. I have since lost my 1994 poster, otherwise I’d have posted a pic. I still have a pin with the one I mean, so maybe I’ll post that pic closer to the elections or whenever I remember.

The UDM had those cool billboards on the M1 north and south with Holomisa that we could not miss as we sat in traffic. The enviromentalist in me really liked this approach because you had visibility that was kinder on the environment. It was much later that UDM paper posters went up on street poles, but there are fewer of these than for the other parties. I am also quite chuffed by Holomisa’s new status as the rabble rouser in the lead up to the elections. I like being entertained in the lead up to elections. Most of the time political figures make me very tired, so excitement is good. I still have no idea who the other people in the UDM are. Once I saw the vice president on what must have been his most inarticulate day ever. At least I hope that was an off day and that he doesn’t always sound like that.

The DA posters are very strange. Nobody I know can figure out whether the faces are people we are supposed to know, or whether the DA’s narrow reading of race and identification has led to random faces chosen to stand in for phenotypically African, phenotypically Indian, phenotypically coloured, etc. It is more than interesting that the white person on the posters is identifyable as the DA leader, Helen Zille. What? They could not get some of the known Black faces to be on the posters? Instead we have anonymous random Black faces for the different kinds of Blacks, and an identifiable white person. The DA posters reveal the real elephant in that party’s room: the equation of race with phenotype and the slippery sloap that leads to.

But this posting was actually supposed to be about COPE’s strange relationship to election posters. I have been wondering aloud about first the absence of COPE posters, and now the boring ones we have started to see on street poles in the last week. Is this a clue of things to come from COPE? How can the new kid on the block be so overwhelmed so soon?

The late COPE election posters are dull beyond measure. COPE seems to be competing with the ANC for boring. The colours are the same as the Zuma ANC ones all over the show. Now, the ANC can afford to have boring posters because they will win the election, as the default party that most South Africans will vote for. COPE should be trying to do something else.

What happened to all that excitement over young people organising for COPE? I expected that there would be some funky electioneering from their end, but this was not to be. Where is my entertainment, COPE, where, where, where? First the delays over an election strategy, then the missing COPE posters, then the debacle over leadership and the presidential candidate. It is all confusing. And you don’t want to be confusing in the run up to the elections because that will cost you badly.

For its own sake, I do hope that COPE gets its act together and starts having more interesting visibility in the run up to the elections. There was almost tangible excitement leading up to the November convention and the launch of the party in Bloemfontein. It would be a damn shame if COPE remained just plain boring when it counts. And here I mean boring in both senses — the general English one and the ‘black’ one.