11 May 2018 Photo Supplied
Lecture explores African cultural practices that violate human rights
om the left: Prof Beatri Kruger, Associate Professor, Free State Centre for Human Rights; Prof John Mubangizi,Dean, Faculty of Law; Dr Nadine Lake, Programme Director, Centre for Gender and Africa Studies; and Dr Tracey Feltham-King, University of Fort Hare.

The practice of certain customary rites and rituals in South Africa has come under the spotlight as violating the rights of women and children. In collaboration with the University of the Free State (UFS) Faculty of Law and the Free State Centre for Human Rights, the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies invited Prof John Mubangizi, Dean of the Faculty of Law, to present a lecture on “gender-related cultural practices that violate human rights” on 8 May 2018 on the Bloemfontein Campus. The lecture formed part of the Gender and Law module, an elective offered in the master’s programme of Gender Studies.

Customary practices under scrutiny

Prof Mubangizi discussed the various cultural practices which violate the rights of women and children such as polygamy, lobola, ukuthwala, virginity testing and others. He highlighted that these cultural practices, which are predominantly found in rural communities around the country, are in direct violation of human rights such as the right to life, bodily and psychological integrity, right to privacy and right to equality, among others, which are all provided for in the The South African Constitution. These rites also go against the Children’s Act as well as the international bill of women’s rights, and other human rights legislation.

Western legislation meets customary law

Cultural practices such as hwala which can be described as a mock abduction of a girl for the purpose of a customary marriage, has been subject to debate at both local and national level. This debate culminated into a South African Law Reform Commission Report on the practice of ukuthwala. The case of Jezile v S and others brings theory into reality, putting in stark relief the issues that surround this custom in a constitutional democracy. The Jezile case also highlights the disjuncture between communities’ lived realities and the constitutional imperatives of the right to practise one’s culture, as well as the rights to equality and dignity, specifically for women and the girl child in the context of ukuthwala.

Advocacy and education key to change of mindsets

“Human rights education is the responsibility of all in society, and the government should focus on the development of customary law in the constitution in such a way that it will better serve the communities in rural areas who practise it the most” said Prof Mubangizi. He added that advocacy work would also be required to create awareness, and change mindsets on the human rights violations being perpetuated.

Dr Nadine Lake, Director of the Gender Studies programme in the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies, said: “The lecture is a wonderful opportunity for the postgraduate students to learn and discuss such burning issues. This will further enhance their understanding of gender and human rights as part of their gender and law course.” She was hosting Dr Tracey Feltham-King from the University of Fort Hare, who was on an exploratory visit to learn more about the Gender Studies programme and its offerings at the UFS.