By the people, for the people

2011-03-05 16:04

They might seem old-fashioned and out of place in modern society, but traditional courts are making a comeback.

A pilot project has been running in Daveyton in Ekurhuleni for the past two years and hundreds of cases have been resolved, without the trouble of reporting them to the police and then going through a protracted legal process.

Justice department spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the court ­system used in Daveyton could be implemented nationally where there are traditional authorities.

“We have drafted legislation on the issue of traditional courts. The bill which deals with how these courts operate is being considered by Parliament,” he said.

For Daveyton resident Mmadira Hlatshwayo-Sibanyoni (46), who had a dispute over money with a neighbour, the traditional court meted out swift justice.

The success of these traditional courts is largely thanks to the ­efforts of Daniel Thulare, a ­formally trained magistrate.

Hlatshwayo-Sibanyoni says she is pleased with the service provided by the traditional courts.

“I was swindled into contributing money into a certain account by a member of our community ­under the pretence that the funds would be used as start-up capital for a hawking business at the Fifa fan parks ­during the World Cup. But the traditional court came to my rescue.” She is now expecting the last payment from her debtor.

The Daveyton community was deprived of a magistrates court ­until August 2009 when a decision was made to bring services closer to the people by assigning Thulare, a Johannesburg senior magistrate, to help establish a district office.

Thulare has since established a working relationship with the Daveyton community, and says things are changing for the better. “Previously locals had to use the court in Benoni which was inaccessible because of distance and people found it difficult to attend court cases.”

Daveyton has seven traditional councils empowered to hear cases involving customary law issues. Only cases relating to domestic ­violence and child maintenance are referred to the magistrates office. Thulare said: “We conducted workshops in 2009 and 2010 to ­educate (traditional) leaders on how the law works and even provided them with summonses to call people to appear in traditional courts when a matter has been reported.

“Working together with traditional courts eliminates backlogs and provides swift legal resolution to disputes. The public is happy and people are very thankful for our efforts. It seems we’ve restored the people’s confidence in the justice system.”

Lucky Madikgetla, chairperson of Daveyton Royal Council (and regional chairperson of the ­Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa), said he appreciated the recognition that the ­Daveyton magisterial district had given to the traditional courts.

He said: “What we have here is an example of how community ­involvement in judicial matters can work better.”

» This week more than 200 ­community members gathered outside the magistrates court building, to picket for the ­return of Thulare who was redeployed to Johannesburg as a senior magistrate with effect from Tuesday.

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