Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Role and Place of African Customary Law and Traditional Leadership in Constitutional Democracies – Civil Society Perspectives

“As you start walking, the way finds you”, this was the quote which opened the recent workshop on ‘The Role and Place of African Customary Law and Traditional Leadership in Constitutional Democracies – Civil Society Perspectives’. The objectives were to learn from African regional system and experiences about African Customary institutions and leadership, and to understand civil society perspectives including those of women, youth, elders, rural communities, and activists  around the relevance and place of culture, its institutions, and leadership in post-apartheid South Africa then to explore strengthening the ‘Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill, 2015’. The South African Parliament has enacted the Bill which will provide for the recognition of traditional and Khoi-San communities, leadership positions and for the withdrawal of such recognition. The workshop was organised and hosted by Natural Justice with the support from OSISA and the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

Dr. Albert Barume & Mr. Stan Henkeman
The workshop began with a framing by Natural Justice’s Lesle Jansen, followed by a session setting out the issues around the Bill by Dr. Ademole Jegede, University of Venda. A keynote address on ‘Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their customary institutions within the African regional system’ was then presented by Dr. Albert Barume, United Nations Expert Mechanism on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Expert Member of the African Commissions’ Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Dr. Barume outlined how Africa is currently “re-booting” itself, and shifting from the decades long perspective of building culturally homogenous nation states to recognizing and respecting cultural diversity and allowing it to flourish within a democratic system. He outlined how traditional values and institutions are beginning to be realized with the legal and policy frameworks of the African Union, and that the AU’s ‘Agenda 2063 – the Future we want for Africa’ highlights the importance of African culture and traditions for development. Mr. John Nakuta, Director Human Rights Documentation Centre, Namibia then discussed experiences from post-independent Namibia regarding traditional authorities, their constitutional and statutory recognition, power, duties, functions, government support and challenges. He outlined the importance that traditional authorities be apolitical, must be consistent with all human rights and guard against tribalism.


Panel Discussion: Mr. Zenzile Khoisan, Ms. Constance Mogale, Mr. Henk Smit, Mr. Ivan Vaalboi & moderator Mr. Delme Cupido (OSISA)

During the second day of the workshop civil society perspectives on culture and traditional leadership were shared through a series of panel discussions, these included youth, women, elders, a traditional healer, and activists. Issues that surfaced included recognition for the Khoi and San, restitution and restoration, land, whether the bill undermines or promotes culture and custom, political objectives of the bill, that the bill may reinforce apartheid boundaries, and concerns around elite capture. The bill provides for the long overdue recognition of Khoi and San people, and the bill has currently been passed from government to Parliament. There will shortly be public consultations on the bill and the discussions from the workshop will be further developed into a policy brief for submission.


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