Ulundi: June 2, 2000

This meeting of the amaKhosi of the Kingdom of KwaZulu Natal has been called following the historic meeting held between the President of the Republic of South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki, and the amaKhosi of KwaZulu Natal, on May 16, 2000. We are here to listen to a report of that meeting and to consider the way forward. There are positive elements emerging from that meeting, but they are far from giving the reassurance that traditional leaders need. We have come from a past in which we have received many assurances and many promises, none of which has ever come to pass.

In our present position, one does not wish to doubt the good intentions of President Mbeki. However, we need to assess objectively and dispassionately what has been offered to us, to determine whether it meets our needs or is just another form of window dressing or a further technique to delay facing the issues. Thus far, traditional leaders have been dealt with through the technique of rolling-over the issue, while setting in place one measure after the other which corrodes their powers. It is like digging the ground out from beneath our feet, while giving reassurances on the surface.

During the meeting with the President, traditional leaders demanded a response to the memorandum which they had previously submitted to him. In that memorandum, and in further submissions, amaKhosi posed a clear and simple question: once the municipalities are established in the area of traditional leaders, which institution is going to exercise the powers and functions which, until now, have been exercised by traditional leaders, but which have been listed as powers and functions of municipalities in the Constitution? A similar question has been put to the President by certain members of Parliament and he replied in writing that such powers are to be exercised by municipalities only.

I do not wish to comment on what happened at the meeting, for I was not there because of an official commitment I had scheduled in Germany, where I met with the Minister of the Interior of that country. AmaKhosi should be receiving direct reports from those who were there. I only wish to comment by stating that the formal outcome of the meeting is a letter from the President to Inkosi Mzimela, the Deputy Chairman of our House of Traditional Leaders and the Chairman of the national House of Traditional Leaders. The statement issued by President Mbeki is a promising one, but, as often happens with matters of this nature, one needs to read between the lines and cut through the often rosy language to determine exactly what has been promised. One must look for hard commitments and unconditional statements.

It is significant that, during the meeting, President Mbeki justified his failure to answer to the memorandum previously submitted by our amaKhosi by stating that the publication of the Discussion Document towards a White Paper on Traditional Leadership and Institutions on April 11, 2000 was, in effect, his response. Effectively, he stated that such Discussion Document was the way he chose to reply to the concerns expressed by amaKhosi. However, even a cursory comparison between the documentation of amaKhosi and such Discussion Document clearly shows that the Discussion Document is not at all responsive to the points and concerns raised by amaKhosi. In fact, the discussion document does not contain anything concrete and, if at all, is a list of questions, supported by several theories and hypotheses about what traditional leadership should or should not be.

In the aforesaid statement that he issued after the meeting, and addressed to Inkosi Mzimela, the President heavily relies on this Discussion Document. The statement itself purports to embody a mutual agreement that the President would have reached with Inkosi Mzimela. In this meeting, we need to hear from Inkosi Mzimela whether it is in fact correct that things went as far as to have reached an agreement between the President and amaKhosi. If that was not the case, it is important that amaKhosi correct any misunderstanding. In fact, if the letter of the President does not correctly restate the existence of an agreement, it should be corrected, for, unless corrected, it will stand as it is as the record of what was in fact agreed.

The letter of the President calls for amaKhosi to provide a response to the discussion document by the deadline of June 30, 2000. There is a strong suggestion that such response should be a joint one from all amaKhosi nationwide. This would be in line with the call that the President made during the meeting that all amaKhosi unite in a single position. As you will know, for years I have made a similar call because I believe that only if all traditional leaders act with unity of intent and under one common understanding of our objectives and strategies, only in that case will we be able to make any significant progress.

In his letter, the President makes an undertaking which could be important or meaningless, depending on how one reads it. He states that the actual establishment of new municipalities in areas under the control of traditional leadership will not proceed until discussions based on the inputs received from traditional leaders have been held. If read in good faith, this statement means that municipalities will not be established and elections will not be held for their establishment in our areas unless we have agreed to it.

However, if one reads this language as a lawyer would do, giving the words their technical meaning, one realises that the actual establishment of new municipalities takes place after the elections. It is the provincial government which carries the responsibility of establishing municipalities. Moreover, strictly speaking, the language employed by the President suggests that the only precondition to the establishment of municipalities is that the matter be discussed with traditional leaders. Our agreement would not matter for as long as we have been consulted, and there is no prerequisite that any agreement with us be reached.

Therefore, we are once again in that no manís land between promises and undertakings. We know from past experience that even when we exacted a firm undertaking, signed, sealed and delivered, such as the Solemn Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation which the then President FW de Klerk, President Mandela and I signed, even on that occasion, the promises were breached and the promised international mediation was never held. Therefore, we must hear the report of our delegation to know exactly what the letter of the President means and to what extent we can rely on it. It is an important assessment which we must make.

In fact, in the subsequent paragraph, the Presidentís letter makes reference to the possibility of amending national legislation, or even the Constitution, but subjects such a possibility to an agreement to be reached. Once again, this may be a very important concession if read in good faith, because it is of great policy and political significance that the possibility of amending legislation and the Constitution has ever been mentioned so preeminently and so publically by the President. However, from a technical viewpoint, this statement does not bring much substance toward the resolution of our problems, because obviously both national legislation and the Constitution may always be amended if one reaches an agreement to do so.

The fact is that the President has not yet reached the conclusion that a problem does indeed exist. He does not yet seem to have accepted that traditional leadership would be adversely affected by the ongoing process of local government transformation. He has not recognised that, in order to solve this problem, legislative amendments are necessary. Therefore, there is a long string of "ifs" attached to the mention of the possibility of amending the legislation and the Constitution.

If there is recognition that a conflict does indeed exist between the powers of traditional leaders and national legislation. If there is willingness to solve this conflict in favour of traditional leadership rather than municipalities, which point has never been publically stated. If there is agreement on how the national legislation is to be amended. If there is the political will and the time to make such an amendment. However, no matter how qualified the statement of the President may be, it is important that he has made it. It is a step forward, even though once again we remain in the no manís land between promises and undertakings.

However, if the second paragraph of the Presidentís letter correctly restates the agreement he reached with traditional leaders, the President has extracted from amaKhosi a very important concession. That paragraph suggests that traditional leaders have agreed to support the process currently underway on the basis of a joint responsibility. This means that traditional leaders will be supporting the demarcation of municipalities, which is explicitly mentioned in the letter of the President, as well as the elections of new municipalities, which are indirectly referred to as the implementation of the Municipal Structures Act. This is an important matter, since our provincial government has already objected to the demarcation process, which, inter alia, has split several traditional communities into separate wards.

However, the letter of the President clearly states that this agreement, and the consequent concession on the side of amaKhosi, is subject to the other aspects of the Presidentís letter. Therefore, if one wishes to be hopeful and read this letter on the basis of the good faith that the President has meant to show to traditional leadership, one may reach the conclusion that the President has accepted, that unless an agreement is reached, traditional leaders are not required nor expected by him to support the demarcation process nor to participate in elections, or other aspects relating to the implementation of the Municipal Structures Act. Therefore, it seems that everything hinges on our response to the Discussion Document of April 11, 2000. The problem is that such Discussion Document does not address any of our concerns.

The Discussion Document openly recognises that the issue is not settled, but it has no wisdom to offer. It states that traditional leadership and municipalities operate within the same functional and jurisdictional areas and that powers and functions of traditional leadership institutions are similar to those exercised by municipalities. It does not venture to unravel this issue and merely states that "the relationship between the functional areas of elected local government councillors on the one hand and traditional leadership and traditional institutions on the other still have to be clarified". Over and above this statement, nothing else is mentioned in respect of the matters of concern raised by traditional leadership.

This element alone clearly exemplifies how the Discussion Document is in no way responsive to the issues put forward by amaKhosi to the President, but merely restates the questions. This puts amaKhosi in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, the President states that he has responded to our questions and that progress must be made by our commenting on this response. On the other hand, the document to which he points as containing the response, contains nothing but questions, and we are not in the position of commenting on this response.

We have left it to the President to indicate how he feels the problem of traditional leaders should be solved. We have done so because, for many years, we have put forward many proposals, advanced many initiatives and placed before several government departments clearly structured ideas which could accommodate traditional leadership in a two-tier model of local government, which meets the constitutional requirement of wall-to-wall municipalities.

During this meeting of amaKhosi, we must be very blunt and honest with ourselves. We need to identify our objectives and assess clearly what has been offered to us in the way forward. The risk of violence and intimidation is far too high. It is when people are not blunt and are not open, trying to hide issues under the carpet, that the risk for violence becomes the greatest. We must avoid violence at all costs. For this reason, we should not create expectations which cannot be fulfilled and then create disappointment, triggering the cycle of violence.

Issues cannot be ignored, nor can they be hidden under techniques aimed at not addressing them. By not responding to a question, the question does not go away, but disappointment and anger is created. Therefore, we must be blunt and outspoken to avoid the conditions under which violence may erupt. It is important that people are not demoralised suddenly when they realise that, once again, we are faced with beautiful words which express promises which are not going to be fulfilled. We must be flexible in what we demand, but honest in recognising the measure of what is being offered to us.

Traditional leaders have always been flexible and we are not against the electoral principle nor the fact that elected municipalities are to be established in the areas of our jurisdiction. We just need to have clarity on the relationship between their powers and our powers. This relationship can be structured in several different ways and it can be required that, in matters identified by traditional leadership or when a traditional leader so demands, decisions of a municipality be taken only in consultation with the traditional leader concerned. We are flexible on how our powers and functions can be accommodated, provided that there is recognition that they are being threatened, and there is a clear indication of the political will to resolve the conflict between municipalities and traditional leadership.

Obviously, we should apply our intellect, resources and efforts in responding to the Discussion Document referred to by the President. Our exercise will aim at showing how such document is not responsive to the issues we have raised and how its very premises are inadequate to maintain dialogue on this important issue. For instance, one of its premises is that our full range of powers and functions is the product of the manipulation of our institution during colonialism and apartheid. The theory is that, when colonialism and apartheid sought to govern our people, they resorted to indirect rule and gave us powers which we did not have before.

While this may be marginally true in respect of certain statutory functions which colonial and apartheid governments imposed on traditional leadership, surely this is not true in respect of the bulk of our powers and functions which are rooted in our indigenous and customary law. However, this theory is employed as the premises on which the Discussion Document moves, to support the implicit statement that, since our powers and functions are the product of colonial and apartheid manipulation, by taking them away from us we would be restored to our original dignity and role, effectively as ceremonial figures.

Once again, traditional leaders are confronted with complex technical issues. Some of our opponents believe that traditional leaders are almost like children who can be defeated because we cannot adequately cope with the intricate technicalities of this debate. We must prove them wrong. We must concentrate our energies to hold people up to the promises they have made and the expectations they have created. For too long our country has suffered because of irresponsible promises made, which have raised expectations which could not be fulfilled. We shall not allow amaKhosi to become just another victim of this way of handling crises.

We wish to believe that the promises made to us are real and we will exact the full measure of their fulfilment. We must liaise with amaKhosi in other provinces to create a united front and ensure that we can move away from the no manís land between promises and expectations. We wish to trust on the good faith of our interlocutors, but we must be ready to accept that we might be taken for a ride down the garden path. On other occasions we have been dragged along in discussions while the process moved ahead relentlessly against us. We must send the word out that, this time around, either amaKhosi stand together, or together they fall.

We were disunited in the past and we all fell. This time around, if we are to fall again, there will not be a second chance to rise. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our nation and we owe it to our posterity to ensure that, at this critical juncture of our history, our presence in the process and our contributions reflect the dignity of our institution. We must leave no stone unturned to avoid losing forever the important role which we have inherited from history and which we must serve to fulfil the destiny of our nation and the mission of our Kingdom. Now more than ever, amaKhosi must show their noble nature and the strength of their spirit. May God almighty inspire our action, strengthen our arm and support our results. We represent the nation and, if we are to fail, we will forever be cursed by history for having relinquished that which was never ours to lose or give away.

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