LUNCH TIME SEMINAR SERIES: Access to Justice and Human Security: Cultural Contradictions in Rural KZN and Their Implications for the Traditional Courts Bill

25 Jul 2017 - 11:30


Access to Justice and Human Security: Cultural Contradictions in Rural KZN and Their Implications for the Traditional Courts Bill

Dr Sindiso Minisi-Weeks 

Date: Thursday, 10 August 2017
Time: 11h30 - 13h00 (light refreshments from 11h15)
Venue: All Africa House Seminar Room, Level 2, All Africa House, Middle Campus, UCT

ABSTRACT: For most people in rural areas, traditional justice mechanisms provide the only feasible means by which to access any form of justice. While these mechanisms are popularly associated with restorative justice, reconciliation and the maintenance of harmony in rural communities, this ethnographic study grounded in the political economy of rural South Africa reveals how historical conditions and contemporary pressures have and continue to strain traditional justice mechanisms' ability to deliver the high normative ideals with which they are notionally linked. In areas such as Msinga access to justice is made especially precarious by the reality that human insecurity (as a composite of physical, social and material insecurity) is high for both ordinary people and the authorities who staff the local justice forums, cooperation between traditional justice mechanisms and the criminal and social justice mechanisms meant to be provided by the state is low, and competition from purportedly more effective 'twilight institutions' (such as vigilante associations) is rife. Further contradictions are presented by profoundly gendered social relations premised on a delicate social trust that is closely monitored by one's community and enforced through self-help measures like witchcraft accusations in a context in which violence is, culturally and practically, a highly plausible strategy for dispute management but not for conflict resolution. 
All of these contextual considerations compel Dr. Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, in her forthcoming book, to ask: 

  • Of what justice can we reasonably speak in such an insecure context? 
  • What if the adjudicative justice to which traditional justice mechanisms provide access is not (and cannot realistically be) what people are really looking for or needing from these forums? 
  • What access to justice solutions are viable under such volatile human conditions and what is necessary to realise them? 

In her seminar, Dr. Mnisi Weeks will discuss her book’s exploration and responses to these challenging questions that cast doubt on the adequacy of even an improved version of the Traditional Courts Bill as that of 2017. As does the book, the seminar will end with a vision and call for access to justice in rural South Africa that takes seriously ordinary people's circumstances and the traditional authorities' lived experiences as documented in this detailed study. The author proposes a cooperative governance model that would maximise the resources and capacity of both traditional and state justice apparatus for delivering the legal and social justice (namely, peace and protection from violence as well as mitigation of poverty and destitution) that rural people genuinely need.

BIO: Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is Assistant Professor in Public Policy of Excluded Populations in the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston, USA. She previously served as a senior researcher in the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town, where she worked on the Rural Women’s Action Research Programme (RWAR), which is now the Land and Accountability Research Centre. At RWAR she was involved in work that combined research, advocacy and policy work on women, property, governance and participation under customary law and the South African Constitution. She holds a BA and LLB from the University of Cape Town and received her DPhil in Law (with a focus on socio-legal studies) from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Prior to Oxford, she clerked for then Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Dikgang Moseneke. She co-authored “African Customary Law in South Africa: Post-Apartheid and Living Law Perspectives”, published in 2015 by Oxford University Press Southern Africa.

Click here for directions to Middle Campus.

Please RSVP to Thiyane Duda: Tel: 021 650 3360.