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Parliament hosted the Sixth Session of the National House of Traditional Leaders to debate the speech made by President Jacob Zuma during its opening on the 3rd of March this year. In attendance were the majesties and traditional leaders from various traditional houses and councils.  This debate was also extended to provincial traditional councils.

The Deputy Chairperson of the House, Chief Sipho Mahlangu, made general introductory remarks stating, among other things, that the President in his speech raised many pertinent issues. One of which was the issue related to the sinking of Mendi. “We are grateful for the centenary of those who perished. And for the tribute that was paid to the hardship and suffering faced by those who perished in this disaster,” he said.

But as the Traditional House, we are saddened by the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission never considered those who were affected by this tragedy. “We want to establish whether those who went to war did so voluntarily or were coerced to do so. We also want their families to get a form of compensation. It is saddening to learn that those who participated in the war were give coats as remuneration,” he said.

“It is also time we assesses the effectiveness of the traditional councils to determine whether they operate at the level they were expected to,” he said. “And we want to know whether these structures were established for compliance with legislation or to improve service delivery as envisaged. The sad reality is that some of those who serve in these structures don’t get paid, they are volunteers. If ever they are getting paid, what they receive is below the minimum living wage. Traditional councils are democratic structures. They need space to evolve to be able to do what they ought to do,” he said.

“Today, we request the President to ensure that there is a synergy between our councils and the various departments of government and municipalities. There should be a good working relationship and a Memorandum of Understanding between these entities. If that can happen, some of municipal functions can be performed by the traditional councils.

“We also call for our active participation in the National Council of Provinces to work together to ensure that its law-making process is constitutional. Some legislation doesn’t pass muster because we were not involved in conducting public participation which is an inherent requirement of law-making. “We need to amend our legislation and give more powers and functions of law-making processes to traditional leaders. If this institution remains grossly incapacitated as it is now, its dignity will continue to be at stake.

“We should not hide the fact that it is not the first time that we had such a debate. We had a similar debate before. But of great urgency to our institution is the recognition of the traditional leadership and authority of the Khoisan,” said Chief Setlamorago Thobejane, the President of Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa).

“We are all aware that the Khoisan were the first victims of colonialism. But very little has been done to address this injustice. In this regard, we are calling on government to ensure that there is legislation that recognises the traditional leadership of the Khoisan. The dignity of the Khoisan must be restored. No one must feel to be less important than others. If we address that, that will be a foundation to build equality. 

“But most of all, the building of the capacity of our institution is critical if we are to respond optimally to our responsibilities. Our status has been diminished. Without restoring its dignity, it would be difficult to speak of rural development and it will be difficult for it to have any significant influence in its jurisdictions. Currently, this institution has been driven by the traditional councils that are not well capacitated,” he said.

“The existence of this institution is solely based on the will of the people and when there is no effective leadership, it will perish. We cannot continue to operate on meagre funds. We need to be better off than where are today. And due to lack of support, we have been rendered a white elephant,” he said.

The Agricultural Parks that government intend establishing must empower rural communities, so that when we speak of agriculture we are not making reference to white farmers. “Government must supply us with sufficient help to develop the agricultural sector in rural areas. And we cannot fight poverty if this sector is neglected. If we are to promote agricultural development, we need to harness the skills and know-how of rural communities to develop a thriving agricultural sector in these areas. We need to revive former industries and cooperatives in rural areas, especially in former homelands and do so with the urgency it deserves. We need to organise rural women, for instance, to produce uniforms for local schools as a means to resuscitate rural economies and to create employment opportunities,” he said.  

“The mining beneficiations in rural areas leave much to be desired. The granting of mining rights is not coordinated and often sidelines our communities. We should make sure that our communities are the principal beneficiaries of mining activities in their respective areas. And we should not prioritise the interests of investors above that of those who have a birthright to their land.”

As long we don’t have land, we would not achieve all that we are talking about, he said. “We cannot continue enduring suffering when we have land. This is our land, let it be utilised to restore the dignity of our people,” he said.

“Land is a thorny issue and there is no way we cannot talk about it,” said Chief Malesela Dikgale. “You can think about Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian environmentalist who was executed over the land issue, and the never-ending strife of the Palestinians. All these conflicts revolve around the land issue. We do not say this will happen here. But they show how contentious the land issue is and how it is linked to the dignity of a people.

“It is now apparent that the policy of ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ has failed dismally,” he said. “How can we buy our own land? Land was central to our liberation struggle and it is incomplete without its attainment. As an institution we support the amendment of the Constitution allow the expropriation of land that was illegally possessed, without compensation.

“We don’t say this to cause confusion and mayhem. We don’t support land grabs. We are against that. Anyone who promotes them must face the full might of the law. We want this to happen within the law, hence we call for the amendment of the Constitution to come with laws that will govern the expropriation of ill-gotten land.

“The Constitution guides us to fulfil our aspirations. I am deeply concerned about our President’s announcement that the Constitution must be amended to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. We have seen what happened in Zimbabwe, we don’t want to see that here. What will be different in South Africa if we do so? What measures will be placed to ensure that there is no land corruption, land violence like in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“We must find a day,” stated the President, “where all ministers could meet with our traditional leaders to listen to your concerns. That is not a very difficult thing to do. We indeed need to do things differently. We don’t want you to feel that you are not being treated with respect, as was the case in the past. There are many things that we need to discuss. Some of the inputs that are written we can study them and try to address weaknesses where they exist. Consensus is not beyond our reach,” he said.

“Our liberation struggle stalwart to which we dedicate this year, OR Tambo, influenced the consensus culture that is now embedded in our movement. If government is aware that these are things that worry the traditional leaders, we need to find consensus to resolve them. We should follow OR’s philosophy of consensus-seeking mechanism to resolve some of the problems that you have raised. He (OR Tambo) stressed that there is no problem that has no solution. As government, we must find a way to find solutions to the problems faced by the traditional leaders,” he said.

He also stated that traditional leaders have a critical role to play in our democracy and in the realisation of radical economic transformation. “We fought for freedom to enjoy what God has given us, such as the land. If you dispossess people of their land, you take away the means of their survival.”

The cause of the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality is a direct result of our dispossession of our land which constitutes the means of production. “Hence we need fundamental change in the ownership of our land, systems, structure and management of our economy in favour of the poor and majority who are Africans. It is land that will bring back the dignity of black people in this country – and that will help us achieve reconciliation,” he said. 

By Abel Mputing

30 March 2017