Summit on Local Government and Traditional Leadership
Remarks By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan
Chairman: Zululand District Local House Of Traditional Leaders Traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu Monarch and Nation


Coastlands Hotel Umhlanga: 12 December 2011 


The Hon. MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Ms Nomsa Dube; Traditional Leaders and Government Officials,


Recognising the importance of a Summit of this kind, I, like other Amakhosi, sought to prepare for today's meeting. Unfortunately, the programme and agenda for this two day Summit was still being decided by the Department late on Thursday afternoon. It was therefore difficult to know how to prepare, and we were left to guess at what the Department wishes to discuss. 


This is somehow not an unusual occurrence. There have been summits, workshops and consultative processes 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 cooperation are set down in the administrative framework, which creates limitations that we cannot and may not 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. Section 81 of 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 do not carry the authority of councillors.


In terms of subsection 81(3): "Before a municipal council takes a decision on any matter directly affecting the area of a traditional authority, the council must give the leader of that authority the opportunity to express a view on that matter." That is not to say that the council is obligated to act on this view or even take it into account in the decision-making process.


In terms of subsection 81(4), "The MEC for local government in a province, after consulting the provincial House of Traditional Leaders, may by notice in the Provincial Gazette (a) regulate the participation of traditional leaders in the proceedings of a municipal council; and (b) prescribe a role for traditional leaders in the affairs of a municipality." Traditional leaders may thus participate in municipal council meetings, but cannot vote and cannot expect their participation to have any binding influence.

Moreover, the MEC will determine what their actual role is and what form their participation will take.


To me, that does not sound like a partnership. Traditional leaders have become ceremonial figures in local governance, barred from taking any decisions or even having a vote in the decision-making process. Thus we can gather in a Summit like this to talk about closer cooperation, but in the absence of a framework that allows real partnership, there is little that can be achieved.


When the Acting Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Honourable Nathi Mthethwa delivered the 2011/2012 budget to the NCOP in June this year, a clear distinction was made between the two line functions of the Department. Indeed, the Minister first spoke at length about the Department of Cooperative Governance, before speaking briefly about the Department of Traditional Affairs. The Minister prefaced this section with the following words: "The strategic role of the Department of Traditional Affairs is to assist the institution of traditional leadership to transform itself to be a strategic partner with Government in the development of communities."


That makes it clear who is the dog and who is the tail. But even the form of this assistance to our institution "to transform itself" is unclear.

Traditional Affairs enjoys less than 0.2% of the budget of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. In terms of the 2011/2012 budget, our Government spends more money providing "strategic advice" for the media development of provincial and local government than we do building capacity and developing policy around traditional affairs.


Moreover, Traditional Leaders, who are subject to the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act, have no autonomy or any budget to perform their functions. We cannot even hold a meeting without the Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs approving the budget to hold the meeting. Traditional councils are left with no administrative capacity.


Under Apartheid, traditional councils operated on the basis of levies. But under this democratic Government, such levies have been abolished. In their place, no provision is made to fund traditional councils. Indeed, there is no budget allocated to traditional councils; there is no budget allocated to the National House of Traditional Leaders; nor to the Provincial Houses, nor the Houses at local level. This issue of our Houses having no budget has severely curtailed the effectiveness of traditional leadership.


I have spoken in the national House of Parliament about the absence of a budget for our Local House, which forces me to ask my wife to provide refreshments whenever we meet. The Honourable Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Honourable Mr Sicelo Shiceka was shocked to hear this. Yet still the status quo has not changed. 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 and leadership completely outside of the sphere of governance altogether. We are, frankly, a council with no official function, no structures and no administrative capacity: an empty shell of an institution. If traditional leaders are to cooperate with local government to promote development, then we must have the means to do so.


Another problem we are faced with is that of overlapping responsibilities and a lack of clear delineation of roles. Amakhosi have raised this issue on numerous occasions, pointing out that the functions and powers of traditional leaders need to be spelled out just as those of municipalities are spelled out. It must be clear just what we are to do within the local municipality. Without that, there will be 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, which expressly stipulated that the institution of traditional leadership, the status and role of the Zulu King and the constitutional position of KwaZulu would be protected in the provincial constitution of KwaZulu Natal. While the interim Constitution of South Africa placed indigenous and customary law on the same level as provincial law, the final Constitution left the matter in limbo, allowing legislation to give municipalities all the powers and functions of traditional leaders.


The matter came to a head in 2000, when the new wall-to-wall system of local government was inaugurated. Due to the lack of clarification, a clash was pending between the roles of councillors and traditional leaders. Therefore, on the 30th of November 2000, on the eve of the Local Government Elections, a delegation of the Coalition of Traditional Leaders led by the Honourable Inkosi Patekile Holomisa had a day-long negotiating meeting with an ad hoc Cabinet Committee led by the then Deputy President, Mr Jacob Zuma, and comprising all the relevant line function Ministers, including the Minister for Local Government and Traditional Affairs.


A formal agreement was entered into in terms of which traditional leaders undertook not to boycott the Local Government Elections in consideration of the formal promise received 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.


Nine years later, on the 26th of August 2009, a Member of Parliament, Mr Peter Smith, asked President Zuma in the National Assembly when Chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would be amended as promised on the 30th of November 2000. President Zuma's response was that the undertaking that was made to amend the Constitution was merely a recommendation and not a solemn agreement. And he added that the Cabinet did not accept that recommendation.


I immediately pointed out that I too was in Cabinet at that time, as the Minister of Home Affairs, and while I incessantly raised the need to discuss and implement this promise, I could not remember it having been discussed in Cabinet at all. I then stated in Parliament my distress over seeing my country governed through deception. Traditional leaders delivered on their promise and supported the elections, and the person who signed on the dotted line to execute Government's promise is now our country's President.


President Thabo Mbeki also pledged that if the powers and functions of traditional leaders were obliterated by the Municipal Structures Act and other legislation, he would amend the Constitution. He made this pledge in a letter to Inkosi Mzimela, the then Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders. But it was never fulfilled. The legislation passed in

2005 failed to address the obliteration of the powers and functions of traditional leaders and the present legislative framework is proving to be an unmitigated disaster for our institution.


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. The Coalition of Traditional Leaders fought hard to ensure the survival of the powers and functions of traditional leadership through the various waves of local government reform.

Unfortunately the debates, vision and cohesiveness of that Coalition did not carry over in any significant way into parliamentary activities.


As with any institution, when one begins to tamper with the form, the substance is changed. As traditional leaders, we had a community governance structure that worked, was fair and produced good results for our people.

But Government sought to chop and change it into something different and is now grappling with the problems, contradictions and difficulties it has created. In the end, it is our people who suffer.


Traditional leaders have participated in a number of consultative processes relating to their position in local government structures. But our input was only sought after the draft legislation had been formulated and policies were already established. In the end, the massive input provided by traditional leaders did not produce any tangible change to what had already been decided, in spite of numerous promises having been made at the highest level of government that the aspirations of traditional leaders would be accommodated.


In the entire long 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. Rather than recognising and protecting traditional communities as a specific model of societal organisation, Government has 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.  The newly appointed Chief Justice has remarked about this anomaly.


There are many and diverse problems faced by our communities. 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.


On 19 July 2011, the Acting Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Honourable Nathi Mthethwa spoke at the Jewish Centre in Durban and made the following statement: "Strong relations between elected representatives and traditional leadership are the cornerstone of service delivery." Those are visionary words. But unless the partnership between local government and traditional leadership is changed in real terms through amending legislation, no number of summits or talk shops will be able to create those strengthened relations.


I take no pleasure in coming here today with a message that seems so divisive. But I feel we must be honest with one another if we are to create a genuine partnership. In the end, preventing traditional leaders from fulfilling their role is detrimental to local governance, and to the future of South Africa.