Addressing the annual opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL), in Parliament recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa commended the leaders for their contribution in the fight against the Covid-19 virus.

The hybid sitting of the NHTL was attended by traditional leaders from across the country, including the recently recognised Khoisan leaders (following the passing of the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill), the Parliament’s Presiding Officers, as well as representatives from neighbouring Botswana.

The President hailed the NHTL, the provincial houses and the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) for their management of the customary initiation process during the pandemic.

He said: “As hard a decision as it was to make, you agreed that we suspend initiation in all provinces when the pandemic was at its height, and as a result, we were able to ensure that fewer people were exposed to the virus.

“I would like to express my gratitude to you as traditional leaders for joining the government to fight the pandemic. You worked with us to ensure that communities observe regulations and protocols, including with respect to funerals and other gatherings.

“Traditional leaders, through their structures and working with the government, conducted rigorous awareness campaigns and monitoring, helping to ensure that illegal initiation schools were closed down,” said President Ramaphosa.

Traditional leaders assisted with the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the distribution of food parcels together with various stakeholders, and the NHTL partnered with the Solidarity Fund to implement the Farming Inputs Voucher project, which helped mitigate the impact of the pandemic on traditional farming communities.

“I have further been advised that the Department of Traditional Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development now have a Memorandum of Understanding in support of agricultural projects in rural communities.

“The Invest Rural Master Plan, which aims to unlock the potential of traditional communities, was launched in Phokeng on the 25th of February 2021. The master plan is expected to capacitate traditional leaders, traditional councils and communities to fight rural poverty and foster self-sufficiency,” the President said.

On the matter of powers and functions of traditional leaders, President Ramaphosa said broad consultations that were agreed to last year will need to be conducted.

He also confirmed that plans to host the Presidential Summit on Land were still in place, and encouraged each provincial house to have their its engagements to inform the process leading up to the summit. The consultations would include the broader society, such as youth formations, women’s groups and people living with disabilities.

“We remain committed to hosting the Presidential Summit on Land and it is critical that we resuscitate the initial plans to convene provincial engagements beforehand. The institution of traditional leadership must be at the forefront of both land reform and the agrarian revolution,” said the President.

He also described government’s partnership with traditional leaders as “sacrosanct” and for the two to ensure “respectful, functional and progressive relations”.

The Chairperson of the NHTL, Ikosi Sipho Mahlangu, said the President’s address to the traditional leaders was very encouraging and confirmed the reality that it was not going to be business as usual.

He assured the President about the support of the NHTL to the government: “We are going to work differently, we are going to work together with government and with speed, our people are getting impatient,” said Ikosi Mahlangu.

By Sakhile Mokoena

 4 March 2021