Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize

Address by Minister Mkhize during the Public Dialogue on the Protection of Human Rights within Traditional Leadership Structures and Communities

Address by Hon Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at the COGTA Public Dialogue session on the Protection of Human Rights within Traditional Leadership Structures and Communities, Moletji Traditional Council, Polokwane, Limpopo

29 March 2019

The MEC for COGHSTA, Mr Jerry Ndou

Kgosi Kgabo Moloto of Moletji,

Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Ikosi SE Mahlangu,

Traditional Leaders,

Chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Movement, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa,

Leaders from Civil Society and Faith based organisations

Academics, researchers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to address this public dialogue session, which is also one of the important ways of exercising our democratic right to self-expression as a nation.

I thank Kgoshi Moloto for allowing that this session be held in his area; other traditional leaders and stakeholders for honouring this occasion, the government of Limpopo as well as the organisers for ensuring that everything is in place for today.

We know that public dialogue and engagement is an integral part of our lives as Africans, and we believe that it is also a tradition that is highly regarded here in Moletji, Sekhukhune and other parts of Limpopo to advance public participation in decision-making.

Therefore, we commend our traditional leaders, and all other leaders from various civil society sectors, for this multi-sectoral forum in this traditional setting, which brings a variety in terms of experience and contribution, and which will help us a great deal to move forward in many respects.

We thank all people attending this dialogue, which takes place just a week after we had commemorated the Human Rights Day.

The theme for the Human Rights Month was “The Year of Indigenous Languages: Promoting and Deepening a Human Rights Culture.”

Indigenous languages are our heritage; they foster cohesion in our communities, and are a foundation for our identity as distinct traditional communities, as well as for the institution of traditional leadership itself.

Therefore, language, including sign language, is also a very important right enjoyed under freedom of cultural expression in our constitution.

It is through it that we preserve our history and heritage, it is though it that we engage on daily basis and establish common ground on many aspects of our life; it weaves the communities together.

Ladies and gentlemen

The theme for this dialogue is: “Not In My Culture”, meaning that there is no culturally based justification that we can make for violating human rights and particularly the rights of women in our society.

This is against the principles of democracy and all the achievements that we have made as a society in a democratic dispensation. We have as a nation achieved a lot since our freedom in 1994, particularly in transforming our society to embrace the values of human dignity, equality and democracy, and in advancing gender equality.

One of our greatest achievements was to have a democratic constitution incorporating the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was informed by two important documents in the history of the struggle for human justice, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Freedom Charter.

Apartheid South Africa was one of the countries that refused to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because its policies were based on racial supremacy and oppression.

Therefore, it was a victory in 1994 that we could now embrace this important document in the form of our Constitution of 1996, which contains the Bill of Rights.

One of the most vital clauses in the Bill of Rights is the Equality Clause, or Section 9 of our Constitution. It is important because it necessitated radical transformation and reordering of our society, to ensure that racial, class, gender and all forms of discrimination are permanently abolished.

It also stipulated that actual measures have to be taken to ensure that there is equality in the society; hence, we came with various laws such as the Employment Equity Act, and complementary policies such as affirmative action to address the imbalances of the past.

It is for this reason that in our work places we implemented affirmative action to accelerate equality in that space.

In 1994 for example, the representation of women in Parliament stood at 28% but it is now 43%, provincial legislatures were 25%, now they are 42%, while in local government it is 41%, from 28% in 2000.

In public service, 41% of managers are now women, but it has to increase to 50% and the same pattern has to be replicated in the private sector as well.

We have built and are continuing to build a society where women live as full equals, without any fear of violence, where they enjoy protection, where they are able to play very influential roles, but we still have to do more.

We have opened opportunities for all, including women. With regard to procurement for government work, we also give chance to the previously disadvantaged, including women to tender, so that they can also participate in the economy.

Our aim is also to create black and women industrialists who can have a significant stake in the economy as producers and employers.

We have to spread investment even in the rural areas, so that economic opportunities are evenly distributed and people do not have to migrate to urban areas to look for jobs.

Democracy restored our dignity as a nation, after many years of colonial oppression when many aspects of our lives were regarded as inferior and almost wiped out.

One of these important rights that we enjoy now as a nation is the right to cultural expression, but we must purge all practices, which oppress women and other groups.

It is important to enjoy and preserve our history and cultural heritage, which is also important in our tourism enterprise.

Limpopo is one of the provinces, which still respects and observe their traditional practices. In this regard, I wish to commend the traditional leaders and other stakeholders in this province for ensuring zero or very low mortality in the initiation school every year.

This is in large measure due to the respect that you still show for this sacred traditional practice. This age-old practice is still handled with utmost circumspection that is required, so that it does not result in loss of human life.

This is also due to our respect for African spirituality and healing, one of the areas which was relegated by colonialism. Today we recognise our traditional healing alongside allopathic medicine and affirm the positive role that traditional medicine has been playing and continues to play in our lives over many years.

Traditional leaders should help in the many campaigns that government lead against many diseases such as TB, HIV and AIDS and many others. This is an important contribution to nation building.

Another important right is the right to vote and freedom of expression, which many exercised for the first time in 1994.  The 8th of May presents another milestone in our democracy, as we will be participating in our sixth national elections. I urge leaders to encourage the people to go out in large numbers to elect a government of their choice.

As we transformed our society, traditional leadership is one of the institutions, which had to undergo radical changes, in order to be in line with the prescripts of our democratic constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Through the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, and its subsequent amendment, we sought to transform the institution at all levels and structures among others to progressively advance gender equality.

We want it to promote freedom, human dignity and achievement of human dignity and the achievement of equality and non-sexism. It is for this reason that we have stipulated a threshold for the inclusion of women in the traditional leadership structures, and it is also because of this transformation that we now have women who are traditional leaders and who play a very influential role in our society.

In the Traditional and Khoisan Bill, which have now gone through the NCOP, this threshold also exist, for example that at least a third of the members of the councils have to be women.

Traditional leadership has been playing a very important role in our society, as a protector and benefactor of the vulnerable people in the community. We expect this institution to continue in this role and be the guarantor and protector of human rights as well.

In the traditional communities human rights violation, particularly the rights of women and children is very rife, mostly in the name of tradition, and in some instances people do not have the necessary say in the issues that affect them.

Issues such as customary marriage, divorce, inheritance, land tenure and many others still reflect the lingering bias and oppression against women.

The responsibility of traditional leadership, working with government, is to protect women and say “Not in my Culture.”

All of us have to ensure that women live fulfilling lives in their communities, that they are not abused in the name of culture. They need a more pronounced role in the economy, so that they are able to produce for their families and overcome poverty.

These are issues that we have to ventilate here, to educate and empower one another with the sole aim of building a strong democratic society.

People have to know even their positive rights, that is, those rights where active steps have to be taken to ensure that they are realised, not only those that  can be ensured by ensuring that authorities just refrain from infringing.

For example, in terms of the constitution, everyone has the right to have access to social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependents, appropriate social assistance.

Hence, traditional leaders need to work hand in hand with government departments and authorities to identify and help the most vulnerable and needy among their people.  Members of the LGBT communities and those living with albinism endure abuse in some communities. Some are even killed for nefarious ends, such as mutilation for muti purposes. We must also protect older women, grandmothers, who are accused of witchcraft in some communities and are attacked.

We should also protect young girls and women from practices such as ukuthwala where they are taken away and forced into marriages, or ukungena if women are forced to marry relatives of their late husbands against their will.

These practices are called culture but they constitute serious violations of human dignity.

Traditional leadership and communities have to be a safety net for all vulnerable persons and groups, so that everyone is safe in this country. Our traditional courts should be able to affirm all these rights, and refer matters beyond their jurisdiction to higher courts.

We are continuing to build a democratic society, and it is important that nothing holds us back, not our culture, not our chauvinistic values. This forum should therefore benefit from a diversity of views on these issues and enlighten us more to build this free, equal and democratic society.

We hope that from here we will generate a momentum nationally, which will culminate in a much more deeply entrenched culture of human rights, so that the benefits of freedom are enjoyed by all.

I Thank you!