White man's justice is not the only way - Zuma
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma has tacitly endorsed the controversial Traditional Courts Bill, telling chiefs not to buy into the legal practices of the white man.
Speaking at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament yesterday, Zuma said Africans had their own way of solving their problems through traditional institutions.
"Let us solve African problems the African way, not the white man's way," he said to cheers from traditional leaders.
"Let us not be influenced by other cultures and think that lawyers are going to help. We have never changed the facts. They tell you they are dealing with cold facts. They will never tell you that these cold facts have warm bodies."
Zuma said there was no need to involve law enforcement agencies in issues that could be solved by chiefs and urged leaders to fight attempts to undermine cultural dignity and retain traditional integrity.
"We are Africans, we cannot change to be something else," he said.
He said the traditional court system, which is being debated in the context of the controversial proposed Traditional Courts Bill, should not be undermined.
The bill would offer the prospect of access to justice to 18-million citizens who reside in rural areas. But it has been criticised by women's rights groups, who claim it will disempower millions of rural women because it will not allow them access to the formal justice system when they have been wronged.
Zuma said he supported the bill but said the government had realised there were genuine concerns that fell outside of a proper legislative framework.
"Our view is that the nature and the value system of traditional courts of promoting social cohesion and reconciliation must be recognised and strengthened," he said.
Without the proper legislative framework, however, traditional courts would be open to abuse.
Recently minister for women Lulu Xingwana raised a concern with the Traditional Courts Bill as it stands saying the traditional courts have to be more progressive.
As the bill will operate in the rural areas, she believed that women - specifically rural women - needed to be consulted and that the bill lacked of an "opt-out clause", where a person can choose not to go to a traditional court, but rather to a magistrate's court.
"In cases of eviction or domestic violence, traditional courts are not equipped or have the necessary expertise to handle these cases," she said.
In its current form, its constitutionality has been brought into question as it would prohibit legal representation in courts.
The bill also did not contain provisions to ensure women could participate in the courts.
It also restricts access to justice by denying community members, who fell within the jurisdiction of the traditional courts, to opt out and approach a court of law.
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