South Africa: civil rights groups, activists team up against Traditional Courts Bill

Date: October 4, 2012
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Name of story: Traditional courts bill impairs rights of women – The New Age
‘No debate’ on controversial bill – The New Age
‘Sacrificed for Mangaung’ – The Star
Bill will oppress, Land NGO – The New Age

Name of journalist: Sabine Clappaert
Francis Hweshe
Gaye Davis
Siyabonga Mkhwanazi

Date : 06 June 2012 – 21 September 2012

Country : South Africa

Theme :                                       Justice system, culture and tradition, land

Skills : Perspective, sources, images, language

Genre : News, news analyses

GEM classification :Gender aware except the “Bill will oppress, Land NGO” article

This thematic media highlight analyses media articles that reported about (in)famous South Africa’s Traditional Courts Bill. The draft law sparked debate in 2008 an outcry in 2008 when the country’s National Assembly fist tabled. Critiques are opposing the bill arguing that it will strip millions of rural people’s rights. This media highlight analyses the four articles from a gender perspective.

Traditional courts bill impairs rights of women- The New Age
The headline is relevant to the story and it mirrors the content of the article fairly.

‘No debate’ on controversial bill – The New Age
The headline, partially a quote is also relevant to the article. The use of “No debate” and “controversial” in the headline draws the attention of the reader read more.

‘Sacrificed for Mangaung’ – The Star
This headline is relevant and reflects the essence of the story. It entails a new twist to the bill that perhaps some politicians would like to use the bill to appease “traditional leaders in the run-up to the Mangaung [African National Congress Party] leadership elections.” The reporter needs to be commended for putting the headline in quotes because it is opinionated.

Bill will oppress, land NGO – The New Age
This headline reflects the gist of the story as well. The headline draws the attention of the reader by not pre-emptying the article’s content. Although the bill is directly linked to rights issues, very few readers might have linked it to land rights issues hence wanting to read more after coming across an article with such a headline.

Traditional courts bill impairs rights of women- The New Age
The article uses four female sources. Considering that people’s concerns regarding the bill largely lean against rural women, quoting only female sources in the story could be justified. Women are better placed to comment on issues that will affect them and their fellow rural women. Nevertheless, the article sidelines the voices of officials leading the formulation of the statute. The civil rights groups and activists are accusing political leaders for bulldozing a law that will impinge on rural people’s rights particularly women. It could have been fair therefore if the reporter had included the voices of those being accused to defend their course. In this case, the reporter could have quoted the Justice Minister who has been spearheading the bill. In addition, the writer could have also included or interviewed King Goodwill Zwelithini. Interviewing King Zwelithini could have informed the reader what the “influential traditional leader” thinks about the draft law.

‘No debate’ on controversial bill – The New Age
The article uses three female and two male sources. The reporter should be commended for letting women – the majority of whom would be affected by the bill – speak for themselves. The article is also fairly represented as both sides of the story are given space in the article.

However, the journalist could have introduced one female source in the story by her name as opposed to simply calling her a woman activist. Unidentified sources negatively affect news story’s credibility.
In addition, denying people to debate the bill is equivalent to denying them their freedom of expression rights. Perhaps, the reporter could have also interviewed a political activist to comment to comment on this.

‘Sacrificed for Mangaung’ – The Star
The article quotes five sources. Although the article is drawn from multiple sources, the story is missing other expert voices that would have commented on the Mangaung suspicion. For instance, the reporter could have interviewed a political commentator to assert the suspicion that rural women are being “sacrificed for Mangaung”.

Further, the reporter simply introduces the first source as a parliamentary official and no reason is given for not revealing his/her identity. Anonymous sources negatively impacts on news story’s credibility and journalist ought to desist from using them.

Bill will oppress, land NGO – The New Age
The article is single sourced and gender blind – only a man is quoted in the story. The reporter could have at least interviewed a gender activist to comment on how the bill will impact on women’s land rights. Due to patriarchy tendencies, women in the country do not have equal access to land compared to their male counterparts. This means that the bill will disproportionally affect women and the journalist could have used this story to highlight what the draft law would do to rural women in as far as land issues are concerned.

Traditional courts bill impairs rights of women- The New Age
The article uses gender neutral language.

‘No debate’ on controversial bill – The New Age
The article uses gender sensitive language as well. The writer uses strong verbs, adjectives and phrases. For instance, he describes the bill as “controversial” and he also writes that “Mogale (a source in the article) stuck to her guns.” The latter paints a picture of how the activist stood her ground despite the intimidation from authorities at the event.

‘Sacrificed for Mangaung’ – The Star
The article also uses gender sensitive language. The use of “sacrifice” in the headline draws sympathy from the reader that rural women’s rights are being trampled upon because of some people’s political ambitions.
Bill will oppress, land NGO – The New Age
The article uses gender sensitive language.


Traditional courts bill impairs rights of women- The New Age
The article features an image of a woman watering a garden. The picture is relevant to the article. However, the caption fails to fully underpin the image to the gist of the story.

‘No debate’ on controversial bill – The New Age
The article uses an image of two women either charging or reacting to a situation. The picture and caption are relevant.

‘Sacrificed for Mangaung’ – The Star
The article hardly uses an image

Bill will oppress, Land NGO – The New Age
The story is accompanied by a headshot of the only source in the story making it relevant.

Story angle and perspective

Traditional courts bill impairs rights of women- The New Age
Overall, the article highlights how the pending law would “impair” women’s rights. The reporter manages to do this by featuring voices of activists condemning the draft law. The article has wider perspective and depth because the sources are not only bashing the bill but also giving reasons for their views against the bill. The reporter should also be commended for giving a brief background of the bill. This informs the reader the genesis of the bill, its proponents, who is opposing it and why and why the bill has not been enacted since it was first drafted in 2008 among other things.

‘No debate’ on controversial bill – The New Age
The article reports on the bill’s public hearing event held at parliament. Although the story does not give a comprehensive report of the proceedings, it highlights that the Parliament’s Select Committee did allow people to debate the draft law. The writer brings to the public domain that the event did not fulfill its mandate of giving people a platform to express their views on the draft law. But despite the committee’s rejection to subjecting the bill to debate, the reporter managed to capture a few contributions that activists made at the event. According to the article, contributors opposed the draft law and demanded that it should be withdrawn. In its current form, the sources in the article argue that the draft law will subject “millions of rural South Africans to a second class justice system” which is subject to abuse by traditional leaders.

‘Sacrificed for Mangaung’ – The Star
The article brings a new and political twist to the traditional courts bill issue. The story reports to the effect that perhaps the ruling African National Congress Party could be using the bill to woo support from traditional leaders in the run up to Mangaung leadership elections. Although the story’s perspective is opinionated, the information presented in the article somehow proves that some politicians could be bulldozing the draft law for selfish gains. The reporter writes that the Women’s Parliament first agreed that the bill be withdrawn but a subsequent resolution made “no mention that the bill be withdrawn.” The contradicting resolutions came against the background of Justice Minister’s stand that the bill will not be withdrawn. The reporter then links the bill to the Black Administration Act whose expiry date has been extended. The story reports that the only sections remaining of the Act relate to traditional courts. Further, the writer quotes unidentified parliamentary official who said that the expiry date for the bill could keep on changing as it has been “a norm”. It is following all these issues that the reporter based the article’s perspective that the government could be “stalling on with drawing the controversial draft law” in order to appease the traditional leaders.

Bill will oppress, land NGO – The New Age
This article largely informs the reader that the pending law will strip people under a traditional leadership of their land rights. The source in the article argues that the bill is in conflict with other existing pieces of legislations and would create a parallel legal system.

From the analysis above, reporters should be commended for highlighting various ways through which the pending law will strip the rights of millions of rural people particularly women. Further, the media has widened the reportage of the issue by exposing numerous ways through which the bill if signed into a law will strip people’s rights. In numerous instances, the media reportage has included the bills timeline – a thing that fully informs a reader regarding the pending law. The media has also been objective in reporting the issue by presenting the pro and cons of the bill. This ultimately leaves the reader to make an informed judgment regarding the bill.

However, all the articles analyzed are silent on how the bill will impact on lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersexual (LGBTI) community. Activists have also sounded an alarm that the LGBTI community’s rights will be impinged upon if the bill is passed into a law. Although the country’s constitution recognizes the rights of gays and lesbians, most traditional leaders in the country continue to view them as un-South African. Many lesbians in the country have suffered violence and some even killed because of the sexual orientation. It could have been important therefore if the journalists had included this dimension in the respective stories. Ensuring that the LGBTI community is fully recognized and respected in the country cannot be left to chance and the media has a duty to sensitize people regarding LGBTI issues.

Training exercise
– Design a media campaign that would be used to oppose the bill and sensitize South African citizens about the traditional courts bill.
– If you were assigned to write a land rights story, which other sources would you have interviewed and why?

Other training resources
SADC Gender Protocol 2012 Barometer – Constitutional and legal rights chapter
Africa: Transformative leaders must recognise LGBTI rights – an opinion and commentary piece published by Gender Links
African customary law and gender justice in a progressive democracy
PRESS RELEASE: Civil society organisations in alliance to stop the Traditional Courts Bill



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