Indigenous laws in spotlight

NEWLY appointed Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo has called on academics and law students to engage in debate on how to develop indigenous laws or customary laws.

Ngcobo was addressing law students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal yesterday on the development of African customary law within the parameters of the Constitution.

He said unlike the old apartheid government, the Constitution recognised indigenous laws.

He described those laws as a dynamic legal system that has its own values and norms such as ubuntu.

Ngcobo said previously indigenous laws were described as "immoral and was not given full recognition".

"Indigenous laws were relegated by the minority. The ruling minority imposed its own standard of reasonableness and morality on the majority," Ngcobo said.

"And in such settings the context and minority of this concept came to be determined among other things by prejudice that the ruling minority has toward black people."

He said that communities should play a significant role in the development of indigenous laws.

He also stressed the need for a fundamental change in the way indigenous laws are perceived.

"Courts must try to develop indigenous laws instead of striking them down."