ANC must lead on chiefs’ bill

2012-06-23 13:37

It is high time the ANC provides leadership on the place, status, function and powers of the institution of traditional leadership in the lives of the people of South Africa.

I make this call not because the people whose interests are affected by the conduct of traditional leaders do not know the role of these leaders.

It is occasioned by the fact that a few within the high echelons of civil and political society are making distorted allegations that insult not only traditional leaders but traditional communities themselves.

These self-appointed champions of rural women and children’s rights spew out invectives at the institution of traditional leadership, accusing it of being an entity that tramples upon the rights of women and children, labelling it as backward, patriarchal, sexist, greedy, anti-democratic, longing for the apartheid past and generally being a nuisance that adds no value to the lives of the people it is supposed to lead.

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 positioned to deal with this national issue once and for all.

We call on the ANC to come out with clear and specific policy resolutions on the role, place, status, functions and powers of traditional leaders in its forthcoming policy conference.

Until such a position is taken, ANC leaders and members cannot pretend to make definitive pronouncements on what traditional leaders should or should not do.

The dignified, stoic 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 forebears.

A single traditional leader, it must be understood by our detractors and opponents, amasses numbers of persons well above those of the membership of some political organisations.

Significantly, the rural women traditional leaders are supposed to oppress, abuse and disempower are often their greatest supporters.

This is because traditional leaders 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.

If need be, though, they are quite capable of demonstrating their support and, you can be assured, such a demonstration would not be pretty.

We do not want to distract government from its important task of building and developing this new nation.

But we can no longer sit idle when there is continued denigration of what defines us as a people – our cultures, traditions, customs and values – in the name of modernity, constitutionality, democracy and gender rights. These new values should, instead, be used to promote our own original ways.

We have long accepted that culture and traditions are dynamic and open to change.

We accept that their strength and relevance depend on their ability to adjust themselves to changing conditions.

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 communities either by promoting the customs of their communities or in their capacity as regents for heirs who may still be incapacitated by age, schooling or other career commitments.

Adjustments are made, while such women lead, to ensure that the imperatives of cultural rituals which demand that men play the leading role are respected without disruption.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa has long called for the discontinuation of outmoded cultural practices.

The media never bother to publish such progressive policy positions as they take away the element of sensationalism.

It is the policy of Contralesa that, because of 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 relationships of children under the age of 18, even if they consent 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 resolution in this regard is that families must be empowered through government grant schemes so as to be able stand on their own when the husband or father dies.

The education of the girl child is one of the calls we make in our national congresses to advance the development of our African communities.

We have called for an end to initiation practices that amount to female genital mutilation.

We call on all who are concerned about the plight of rural women and children to work with us and stop hurling abuse at traditional leaders.

They will be surprised at how much we can gain as partners rather than as the enemies that they have cast themselves to be. The ANCmust do the right thing and give leadership.

» Holomisa is president of Contralesa and an ANC member of Parliament

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