The role and future of traditional leaders in South Africa


Traditional authorities play an important role in South Africa. Not everyone is, however, prepared to recognise them as role players. In government circles, on the one hand, a tendency exists to marginalise the role of traditional leaders and, on the other hand, a White Paper process is under way to spell out the role of traditional leaders in the future dispensation. Traditional authorities are seen by their communities as leaders through and by the people. In some instances it is even stated that they receive their authority from God. Research done in the Province of the North West, the Northern Province and the Province of KwaZulu-Natal illustrates that in many of the communities in which traditional leaders serve they are regarded as leaders and they are also seen as symbols of unity in the community. The idea that the system of traditional leadership may be abolished was met by fierce resistance. Traditional leaders are recognised in terms of section 211 of the 1996 Constitution. The Constitution also recognises the possibility that national and provincial legislation may provide a role fo r traditional leaders at national, provincial and local level. Some of the findings of the above-mentioned research programme illustrate that traditional leaders were used as political tools in the past and that they should refrain from participating in party politics. Findings also highlighted the fact that the fragmented legislation dealing with the recognition and functions of traditional leaders (caused by the apartheid system) should be rationalised. Some confusion still exists as to the role of traditional leaders vis-á-vis local government and it is recommended that the respective roles should be clearly spelled out. Traditional communities resent interference in their own affairs without them being consulted. In some respects rural women fe lt that they are not part of the decision-making process and that in some instances they are not allocated land. They, however, express the need to be consulted before any changes to their position is made. Traditional leaders have an important role to play in development at grassroots level. Traditional communities themselves need to be consulted when development is planned and a proper mechanism should be implemented to ensure that rural communities also benefit from rural development schemes.