Wednesday 20 June 2012
The Traditional Courts Bill
There’s a widespread expectation that CLP, being an NGO, should ‘engage’ government policy a lot. Regular readers of CLP’s Padkos will not be surprised that we tend to ignore this instruction. It’s not as if we think policy “doesn’t matter” and nor do we “ignore the government” (both of these being recurrent accusations from civil society). As we put it in a statement last year clarifying our position on ‘the land question’ (full version attached): “good government policy is better than bad policy, but the policy terrain and process itself reinforces:
· the idea that a small group of clever experts (including those in ‘civil society’) decide things on behalf of the people;
· the dominance of powerful and rich elite interests;
· the power of the state over the people;
· silencing and ignorance of the real struggles, insights, practices, lives and issues of the masses of the people.
Learning from, and supporting the struggles of, those who tend not to be counted in the dominant systems:
· gives better insight into what it is that actually needs to be dealt with and how,
· strengthens the forces for effective and just transformation, and
· enables us to subject our social and political life to the will of the people
In conclusion: the land, and the ‘land question’, is best resolved in the hands and the minds of the people” (CLP, 2011).
North American activist scholar, David Graeber, nails it in his “tiny manifesto against policy:
The notion of ‘policy’ presumes a state or governing apparatus which imposes its will on others. ‘Policy’ is the negation of politics; policy is by definition something concocted by some form of elite, which presumes it knows better than others how their affairs are to be conducted. By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs” (Graeber, 2004. Fragments of an anarchist anthropology, Prickly Paradigm Press, Chicago.)
Even so, in this edition of Padkos we are sharing two pieces, written by good friends of CLP – Richard Pithouse and Jeff Guy – that pick up aspects of debate sparked by the current government policy process on a “Traditional Courts Bill”. But neither Pithouse nor Guy think and write under the deadening thrall of a state politics – not even a ‘civil society’ politics. What is common to both pieces is the clear and respectful engagement with the reality of the life and history of actual people. So much of the critique of the Traditional Courts Bill, especially from the NGOs/civil society, presents ‘tradition’ as the problem and (either explicitly or implicitly) nominates liberal democracy as the answer. Make no mistake, this Bill is terrible and deserves criticism – at their AGM this year, the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM, Grahamstown) described it as “the next blow to the rural poor” (UPM, Brief Report on the UPM AGM, 3 April 2012). But the thinking of the state (including that part of the state in society called ‘civil society’) gets us nowhere, except to hint at the size of the gap between the state and the life of the people. By contrast, Pithouse’s piece, “Locusts on the Horizon”, explores some of the nuances of what the Bill reveals about the state we’re in and Guy’s piece, “A chief rules by people power”, demonstrates its utter failure to tap into emancipatory strands in that ever-vibrant, always-contested thing called ‘tradition’.