Stop abusing of traditional leaders

2012-06-15 00:00

IT is high time that the African National Congress, as the ruling party, gave leadership to the nation on the place, status, function and powers of traditional leadership in South Africa. This urgent call I make because a few within the high echelons of civil and political society are busy making seriously distorted allegations, which insult not only the traditional leaders, but African traditional communities themselves.

These self-appointed champions of rural women and children’s rights on a regular basis spew out invective towards the institution of traditional leadership, accusing it of being an entity which routinely tramples upon the rights of women and children, labelling it as backwards, patriarchal, greedy and anti-democratic.

This unwarranted assault on the one remaining truly African institution in post-colonial, post-apartheid South Africa can no longer be tolerated. The ANC is strategically positioned to deal with this national issue once and for all. As a liberation movement, it has done all that was necessary to appease the beneficiaries of colonialism and apartheid by entrenching the value systems and institutions that promote their interests in democratic South Africa. We call on the ANC to come out with clear and specific policy resolutions on the role of traditional leaders in its forthcoming policy conference.

The dignified silence of the general body of the country’s traditional leaders must not be misconstrued as an acceptance of their displacement from the life of the people of their fore-bears. A single traditional leader, it must be understood by our detractors and opponents, amasses support that is well above that of some political organisations. Significantly, the rural women we are supposed to oppress, abuse and disempower are the greatest supporters of traditional leaders because they are the pillars of their communities, the people to whom they appeal for support and security. Our opponents must not make it necessary for traditional leaders to prove their strength in ways which modern formations use when they wish to show their mass appeal.

We have long accepted that culture and traditions are dynamic and amenable to change. It is for this reason that over the years, in colonial and apartheid times, some of the cultural practices for which we are insulted, have been gradually and systematically discarded or changed.

We continue to have women traditional leaders leading their traditional communities, either in terms of the customs of those specific communities or in their capacity as regents for heirs who may still be incapacitated by age, schooling or other career commitments.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) has long called for the discontinuation of a number of outmoded cultural practices. The media, most of which are friends to our opponents, never bother to publish such progressive policy positions. It is the policy of Contralesa that, due to the abuse of the practice of ukuthwala, as a form of initiating a marriage, by certain communities and individuals, it should no longer be followed. We oppose the entering into marriage of children under the age of 18, even if they consent by themselves.

With regards to the cultural practice of ukungena, in terms of which a widow is assigned one of her late husband’s brothers to be her new husband, we have come to accept that the practice is no longer necessary. Our recent resolution in this regard is that families must be empowered through the many government grant schemes, so that they are able to stand on their own when the husband and father dies.

The education of girls is one of the calls we make to advance the development of our African communities. And we have called for an end to initiation practices, which amount to female genital mutilation, as they no longer serve any useful purpose.

We call on all who are concerned for the plight of rural women and children to work with us and stop hurling insults and abuse at traditional leaders, for we may turn out to be more equipped than they are at such conduct. They will be surprised at how much we have to offer.

The ANC must do the right thing this time around and provide leadership.

• Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa is president of Contralesa and an ANC member of Parliament.

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