Guest Column

Traditional leaders must defend democracy

2017-04-30 05:58
Premier Pumulo Masualle calls on traditional leaders to use their authority to restore morals in their areas of jurisdiction. Picture: Sanele James

Premier Pumulo Masualle calls on traditional leaders to use their authority to restore morals in their areas of jurisdiction. Picture: Sanele James

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Muthuhadini Madzivhandila 

In the precolonial era, the African governance system was under the control of traditional leaders. That was until the invasion of the African continent by British and European colonialists, whose religious and economic system sought to undermine the existing indigenous political systems in the name of Christianity and civilisation.

This so-called civilisation served to erode African beliefs, ethics, customs and values. Consequently, there was a revolt by the indigenous people that was mainly led by African traditional leaders who felt that their governance powers were being usurped by the colonial regime.

So began the long history of the struggle for freedom from colonial oppression. The political struggle for freedom goes back to the days when African people fought spear in hand against the British and Boer settlers.

Liberation movements were to play a vital role in the history of liberation as they subsequently took the lead in the fight against the colonial regime. The formation of the ANC in 1912 marked a turning point in the narrative of resistance of colonial forces. Its formation was possible through the initiatives of chiefs, community representatives and church organisations. Consequently, traditional leaders continued to play a pivotal role in the fight against the colonial regime within the ANC.

"We are one people"

In 1912, Pixley ka Isaka Seme called on Africans to forget the differences of the past and unite together in one national organisation. He famously declared: “We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies are the cause of our woes today.”

With these words he meant the divisions within the ANC and the woes of the liberation movement, and that only traditional leaders could unite all factions within the ANC.

One critical example of traditional leaders who took the lead in the revolution and the fight against colonial oppression is Chief Albert Luthuli, who became Africa’s first Nobel peace prize laureate in 1960.

Chief Luthuli was president-general of the ANC from December 1952 until his death in 1967. Though he was a latecomer in politics, Luthuli was a most respected African leader who had the ability to unite people.

It therefore goes without saying that traditional leaders have a critical role to play in the current political developments within the ANC.

The ANC is currently under attack and standing on shaky revolutionary ground. Now is the time for the institution of traditional leadership to stand up and defend the liberation movement that some of the former traditional leaders stood for during difficult times.

The current divisions and factions within the ANC can be resolved if kings, chiefs and other traditional leaders within the institution of traditional leadership rise up to defend the ANC, not an individual.

Protecting African culture and ethics 

The role of traditional leaders is indeed to lead their people, to protect their culture, traditional ethics, customs and beliefs. They have a duty to remind their communities of the origin of the African people, centredness and location.

In leading his people, Luthuli was always democratic and consulted his people before any decision could be taken. He was honest, transparent and accountable to his people. These are the values that our current traditional leaders should echo with one voice and remind the governing party of promoting what Chief Luthuli stood for when he led a united ANC.

Traditional leaders command more constituencies than any other political party. The collapse of the economy and downgrading of South Africa to junk status affect the poorest of the poor, most of whom reside in rural areas under the leadership of traditional leaders.

It is time that traditional leaders’ voices be heard in defence of their subjects and communities.

We need their voices to be louder than before in defending our democracy.

How can we be sure that our democracy is safe when we have all sorts of political drama, corruption, a high unemployment rate and abject poverty?

How can we be sure that all these attacks on democracy and the ANC are not attempts to take us back to colonialism, which will erode the powers of our traditional leaders who are the custodians of African culture and ethics?

Traditional leaders are keeping in mind that they are Africans who have the responsibility to protect African culture and ethics – hence the need to promote Afrocentric practices.

Traditional leaders must take over the baton left by Chief Luthuli, defend democracy, defend the ANC and speak with one voice towards any attempt to bring back African colonisation.

Madzivhandila is a researcher and administrator who heads the Siyabuswa campus of the University of Mpumalanga

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