Documenting the 'unwritten' law of the Royal Bafokeng

Like many other tribal authorities on the African continent, South African traditional authorities have, for centuries, governed themselves through customary law. Customary law has lived through different epochs, from colonialism to the current constitutional democracy, where it presides over personal law matters such as marriage and inheritance.

Over the years, a considerable number of researchers from different disciplines have conducted research on the customary laws of African ethnic groups. Considering its dynamism and adaptability, customary law remains relatively unwritten and warrants further research, which is what a research project – led by Dr Gerard Hagg and his team in the Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery programme – is aiming to achieve.

In November 2012, the Royal Bafokeng Nation (RBN) commissioned the HSRC to conduct a baseline study of all existing customs, values, principles, laws, rules and procedures pertaining to governance among the Bafokeng. The aim of the study is to document these elements in ways that could guide future generations.

The study includes looking at traditional and corporate institutions of governance within the Bafokeng to understand how they work and how they relate to each other. This phase of the research is limited to the documentation of official and living customary law, as well as current customary practices.

As a result of limited available literature on the subject, the research team augmented desk studies with individual and small-group interviews. The interviews covered the following customary issues:

  • Traditional authorities
  • Succession and inheritance
  • Bafokeng social structures
  • Marriage and family law
  • Property
  • Allocation of liability for loss
  • Courts
  • Gender and youth.

In addition, HSRC researchers utilised participant observation by attending important events such as Pitso ya Kgothakgothe (the annual general meeting) and Dumela Phokeng (regional community consultative meetings).

The study is nearing completion and in January 2014, a comprehensive report of the research will be submitted to the RBN.

Mapping the historical route of the liberation struggle

A roneo printing press found by the police during the 11 July 1963 police raid on Liliesleaf, which will form part of the Liberation Heritage Route. The press was used to duplicate liberation struggle pamphlets.
Credit: Historical Papers, University of the Witwatersrand

The South African National Heritage Council (NHC) has commissioned the HSRC to conduct research that will contribute to the identification and recording of the life histories of unsung heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle, and to identify and provide the stories behind these historical events that will eventually become a Liberation Heritage Route (LHR).

The LHR is intended to comprise a series of sites that express the key aspects of the South African liberation experience, says project leader Dr Gregory Houston of the Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery programme, and would be visited by tourists and others interested in the history of the liberation.

‘These sites are linked together by a common historical narrative of the liberation struggle and experience, and consist of historical evidence of events and activities associated with the history of the struggle. Included are the Wesleyan Church where the ANC was formed in 1912, the Sharpeville Massacre, Lilliesleaf Farm, Johnny Makhathini House, the Langeberg Rebellion, the Bisho Massacre, and Victor Verster Prison. Some of these sites are well documented, while others are not. There is thus a need for research to add historical evidence of the significance of the latter sites,’ Houston says.

This is a huge task as the liberation struggle has given rise to hundreds of heritage sites throughout the country. Houston explains that many of the sites have a specific geographical location and/or structure(s), while many others do not. There are numerous events that cover a wide geographical area such that no single site or structure can be identified that epitomises these events, such as the 16 June uprising in places such as

Cape Town and Soweto, which drew thousands of activists over wide geographical spaces and resulted in the deaths of many. He foresees the creation of a series of liberation struggle memorials throughout the country consisting of plaques that contain the history of resistance and repression in that community, as well as the list of names of people who died during that event or series of events.

Houston says it could entail creating centres of memory or reflection in each province and/or major city that would serve both as repositories and resource centres for memory on the liberation struggle.

ASSAf recognises top South African scientists

Top scientist: The President and chair of the Academy for Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Professor Daya Reddy, presents HSRC CEO Professor Olive Shisana with the Science-for-Society Gold Medal for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society for her contributions to the understanding and containing of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) recognised top South African scientists at its prestigious annual awards ceremony in Pretoria on 23 October 2013.

ASSAf annually awards up to two ASSAf Science-for-Society Gold Medals for outstanding achievement in scientific thinking to the benefit of society. This year, HSRC CEO, Prof. Olive Shisana, was recognised for her contributions to understanding and containing HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Shisana is also honorary professor at the University of Cape Town and immediate past president of the International Social Science Council. Prior to this she served as the HSRC’s executive director of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS and Health, and was previously the executive director, Family and Community Health, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. Shisana is an authority on HIV surveillance, having been a principal investigator for several second-generation surveillance systems for HIV. She was one of the founders of the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as the Maternal and Child Mortality Surveillance. Her recurrent national household surveys on HIV/AIDS prevalence, practices and attitudes have greatly influenced the HIV/AIDS campaign in our region. She has served on many national and international scientific committees and advisory boards, such the Ministerial Advisory Committee on National Health Insurance, the US Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Methodological Challenges in HIV Prevention Trials, the Emory University Global Health Institute Advisory Board, the South African National AIDS Council and the chair of the Nelson Mandela 46664 Board. She has recently been appointed to head the South Africa BRICS (the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Think Tank and is chair of the Council of BRICS Think Tank and co-chair of the AIDS 2016 Global Conference (hosted in South Africa).

The prize in the category Life and Earth Sciences was awarded to Prof. Landon Myer from the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town. Prof. Cornie Scheffer, founder of the Biomedical Engineering Research Group (BERG) at Stellenbosch University received the prize in the category Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation.

At the same event, the Sydney Brenner Fellowship was awarded to Dr Anna Coussens, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cape Town.

Spatial trends of unemployment: Policy implications for South Africa

Ms Gina Weir-Smith

Gina Weir-Smith
South Africa’s income inequality, as reflected in the Gini coefficient, increased from 0.64 in 1995 to 0.69 in 2005 and to 0.70 by 2008. A study by Gina Weir-Smith, a geographical information system specialist in the Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation programme, did a study
to determine whether segregation increased between the unemployed and employed since 1991, and to identify structural breaks in municipal economies through changes in the industry composition.

She compared the spatial distribution of two population sub-groups, followed by a statistical analysis of segregation based on unemployment statistics for district municipalities. Census data from 1991 to 2011 was used to provide a detailed geographic coverage of the country, and then compared that to the industry composition of municipalities since 1996 to identify structural breaks in the local economy. The findings showed that the dissimilarity between unemployed and employed increased in metropolitan areas and at the same time decreased in some rural areas. The industry composition of local municipalities shifted over time and in 2011 the majority of the labour force was employed in community services.

Weir-Smith concluded that increased dissimilarity means that the employed and unemployed has become more segregated over time. This could lead to decreased social cohesion, lack of access to labour opportunities and a mismatch between skills and labour demand. This increased inequality need to be addressed by broad policies supported by specific interventions that is targeted at the most needy people.