LGBT people protest in Johannesburg in 2012 against traditional leaders’ efforts to restrict LGBT rights.

LGBT people protest in Johannesburg in 2012 against traditional leaders’ efforts to restrict LGBT rights.

The controversial Traditional Courts Bill, which could have led to legal discrimination against women and LGBT people in rural areas, has been dropped by Parliament.

The bill sought to create a parallel system of justice in which traditional leaders in rural areas would be able to unilaterally decide on matters and hand out punishments on the basis of traditional and cultural law.

Civil Society groups expressed concern that granting broad powers to traditional leaders and chiefs through the bill could lead to discriminatory actions and rulings against LGBT people and women.

In 2012, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) backed a call to remove the term “sexual orientation” from the discrimination clause in the Constitution.

Hundreds of LGBTI people across the country protested against the proposal and the Traditional Court Bill in May that year.

According to the Alliance for Rural Democracy, which opposed the bill, people in the rural areas who would have been affected by the law raised “many examples of abuse in the name of custom” at public hearings.

The bill was also criticised by the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana and failed to receive sufficient support from the provinces.

At a recent meeting, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) select committee on security and constitutional development was told by a parliamentary law advisor that the bill was unconstitutional.

A member of the committee, John Gunda, told SABC News: “We couldn’t approve the bill because it is unconstitutional. It doesn’t serve South Africa well. So we asked questions for clarity and in the end we said to the department they must go back because this bill cannot be amended. It is impossible to amend it, this bill needs to be rewritten right from the beginning.”

The Alliance for Rural Democracy said that the bill was “quietly” removed from the parliamentary schedule after the meeting on Wednesday last week under the explanation that it had lapsed in terms of parliamentary rules “to avoid embarrassment.”

It described news of the bill’s demise as “a massive victory for the thousands of people in rural parts of the country who spoke out against the bill during provincial public hearings.”

The bill could theoretically be revived by the new Parliament after the next elections, but in light of the lack of support for the legislation this is unlikely.

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