This is no partnership

2011-12-15 00:00

THERE have been summits and workshops before between local government and traditional leaders, with the purported aim of enhancing our partnership for the sake of development and service delivery. But, in the end, no summit is going to change a relationship that is legislated to be a certain way.

The rules of our co-operation are set down in the administrative framework, which creates limitations that we cannot go beyond. For as long as these aspects of legislation remain unchanged, this problem will remain the insurmountable obstacle that makes talking about deepening our partnership somehow futile.

Let us therefore be clear about the problem.

The Local Government Municipal Structures Act stipulates the role of traditional leaders within municipal councils. A limited number of pre-identified traditional leaders are allowed to attend and participate in council meetings, but they cannot vote. They are entitled to express a view, but the council is not obligated to take it into account in the decision-making process. Their participation has no binding influence, and their actual role and form of participation is decided by the MEC.

That is not a partnership. Clearly, traditional leaders have become ceremonial figures in local governance.

A clear distinction has been drawn bet­ween the two line functions of the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, with Traditional Affairs enjoying less than 0,2% of the department’s budget. Traditional leaders are subject to the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act, but have no autonomy or budget to perform their functions.

Under apartheid, traditional councils operated on the basis of levies. But our democratic government abolished levies without making any provision to fund traditional councils, leaving them with no administrative capacity. Likewise, there is no budget allocated to the National House of Traditional Leaders or to the provincial houses or the houses at local level.

This has severely curtailed the effectiveness of traditional leadership. If we cannot even employ a secretary or get a phone line, how can we implement even the most visionary development initiatives? This has placed traditional leaders completely outside the sphere of governance. How can we co-operate with local government to promote development, without the means to do so?

Another problem we are faced with is overlapping responsibilities and a lack of clear delineation of roles. The functions and powers of traditional leaders need to be spelt out just as those of municipalities are spelt out. It must be clear just what we are to do within the local municipality, to avoid continuous clashes between municipalities and amakhosi.

This problem began with the dishonouring of the Agreement for Reconciliation and Peace signed just before the 1994 election. The Interim Constitution placed indigenous and customary law on par with provincial law. But the final Constitution left the matter in limbo, allowing legislation to give all the powers and functions of traditional leaders to municipalities.

When the new wall-to-wall system of local government was inaugurated in 2000, a clash was imminent between the roles of councillors and traditional leaders. Thus, on November 30, 2000, on the eve of the local government elections, the Coalition of Traditional Leaders met with a Cabinet committee led by then deputy president Jacob Zuma.

A formal promise was made that Chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would be amended to ensure that the powers and functions of traditional leaders would not be obliterated by the implementation of the Municipal Structures Act and other municipal legislation. The person who signed on the dotted line to execute the government’s promise is now our country’s president. Yet, to date, that promise has never been fulfilled.

In a letter to Inkosi Mpiyezintombi Mzimela, then chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Thabo Mbeki also pledged to amend the Constitution if the powers and functions of traditional leaders were obliterated by legislation. This pledge, too, was never fulfilled.

For decades now, traditional leaders have witnessed the institution of Ubukhosi being sidelined, while the powers, functions and role of traditional leaders are increasingly diminished in the successive waves of local government reform.

This is devastating, for through the system of traditional leadership we had a community governance structure that worked, was fair and produced good results for our people. The government has chopped and changed it into something different and is now grappling with the problems and contradictions it has created.

Rather than recognising and protecting traditional communities as a specific model of societal organisation, the government sought to slot the various components of traditional leadership into the existing legal system developed by Western values and principles. Accordingly, traditional leaders were slotted into the mould of municipal government, land was slotted into the system of centralised government administration, and traditional jurisdiction was slotted into the overall judicial system, leaving indigenous law in limbo. Even the newly appointed chief justice has commented on this anomaly.

Throughout the process of local government policy formulation, traditional leaders have been consulted in a purely perfunctory manner, more for the purpose of letting us know what was going to be done with our institution than to seek our input. Indeed, our input was only sought after draft legislation had been formulated and policies were already established.

In the end, it is our people who suffer. Many families who used to live off the land are now dependent on social grants. Poverty is more visible, more pressing and more of a threat than ever before, and the problem of food security is increasing. Traditional leaders can promote sustainable rural development to address these problems. But we must be empowered by legislation and funding to do what we are capable of doing.

Preventing traditional leaders from fulfilling their role is detrimental to local governance, and to the future of South Africa.



• This is an excerpt from Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s remarks made during the Summit on Local Government and Traditional Leadership held in Umhlanga on Monday.

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