COALITION OF TRADITIONAL LEADERS
PRETORIA: OCTOBER 17, 2000
We have had many important meetings of our coalition. During some of them we had to find the strength to forge a unity which survived the challenges before us. In some of them, we had to identify a difficult path amongst many obstacles. However, I believe that this meeting is perhaps one of the most difficult of all, because we find ourselves in an anti-climatic stage in which it seems that the wind has been taken out of our sails. This is a very dangerous time because we run the risk of losing our direction and weakening our unity. We have not yet arrived at any safe harbour and we should not have a perception of security merely because we find ourselves in a momentary stage of quietness.
We have all received reports of the development which took place a week ago on October 12. We have read about the promises made by the President. It is not for me to add to such reports and to the reports which those involved in the technical committee are to deliver to this meeting. However, I can outline my own reaction to them and my reading of the present situation. After the joint technical committee finalised its report to the President, I urged our delegates to convey to the President their request that we could all meet with him to discuss the report and find a way forward. I felt that it was important that the report be received and discussed by the same group of people who established the joint technical committee during our meeting of September 30. However, during the night of October 11, the President convened the joint technical committee in his office for the following morning at nine o’clock.
The President undertook to identify, formulate and implement an interim solution which could restore and or preserve the powers and functions of traditional authorities. This is a major step forward. It is particularly important because clearly during the meeting the President disregarded the argument advanced by Mr Titus that our powers have already been obliterated and, therefore, there would be little or nothing to do in order to preserve them from the advent of the new municipal system of governance. The President indicated that he did not care whether the powers had already been obliterated by virtue of the Constitution or would be obliterated only once municipalities assume their offices. He accepted that the obliteration of such powers took place or is imminent, which is what Minister Mufamadi has consistently denied for the past four years.
His acceptance finally vindicates the positions and complaints we have put forward on numerable occasions in the past six years. It is saddening that it took so long for the obvious to be recognised, but it is also heartening that finally the truth emerged. Moreover, the President went much further and made a firm and unqualified commitment that he would restore the powers of local government which have always vested in traditional authorities, irrespective of when their obliteration may have occurred or is likely to occur in the future.
He promised that he would work on an interim solution to be implemented before elections. He confirmed this matter when speaking in the NCOP last Thursday.
Immediately after the meeting, our delegation had the presence of spirit to capture the firm commitment given by the President in a letter which they wrote right there and then to the President’s Director-General, Rev. Frank Chikane. I praised them for having taken this precaution. This letter, which we should all become intimately familiar with, purports to memorialise an oral agreement between the President and traditional leaders. In commercial practice, a letter of this nature would become a correct record of an oral agreement if the recipient does not correct any misunderstanding as soon as he receives it. A week having gone by, one must assume that the President did not object to its language.
Our delegation also received confirmation from the Reverend Chikane that the President saw the letter, for he even asked for some of his words to be changed from the original draft which had been previously submitted to Reverend Chikane. Therefore, this letter represents where we stand and what we can hope for. This letter is our point of strength, but also highlights the weakness of our position.
During the meeting the President indicated that he would have gone ahead with having the elections proclaimed no matter what. He did not allow further discussion on the matter because, having given his firm commitment and word of honour that the problem would be solved before elections, he felt that any further complaint by traditional leaders and request that the elections be postponed, would be tantamount to an attack on his personal integrity and good judgement. Simply put, he indicated that traditional leaders would have no grounds to object to the proclamation of the election date because he had given his word that he himself would solve the problem.
Therefore, he indicated that any reaction to his decision in this respect should be conveyed to his Director-General, which our delegation did by writing the letter signed by Inkosi MB Mzimela. Also in this respect, it seems that there has been a major step forward, because by bringing Reverend Chikane into the equation, Mr Titus and his department have been moved more to the margin and the matter is more firmly centered with the Presidency.
However, this letter also shows the weakness of our position. The elections are going ahead. There is now universal consensus that once municipalities are in place a broad range of our powers will be obliterated. Municipalities will be established in less than two months. All we have is the promise of the head of State that this problem will be solved. This promise has not been captured in the press statement which the Presidency issued after the meeting with the joint technical committee on October 12. Reference is made to the President working on a solution, but no specific language has been used in the statement. The press statement is consistent with our letter and contains no contradictions, but it does not go far enough to identify what exactly the President has promised to do. This means that any minor concession granted by the President could be deemed consistent with its language.
I am delighted that there is a glimmer of hope and I concentrate all my prayers in hoping that it shall come true. The President has all my support and I hope that he will have the strength, wisdom and internal support to fulfil his promise and to do so in terms of our understanding for what is needed and what he committed himself to. However, I come from the experience of having signed a solemn Agreement for Reconciliation and Peace on this very subject matter. That agreement, which contained the promise of international mediation, was dishonoured in spite of bearing the signature of the then Head of State, FW de Klerk and the new Head of State, former President Nelson Mandela. So for me, doubts are not created by any mistrust of the President, but it is a question of "once bitten twice shy". It becomes difficult to believe easily any promises you are given when you were once deceived as I was by President Mandela in a matter where he not only promised verbally but where he actually appended his signature.
Also on that occasion, we accepted to participate in the elections because we had received a promise on which we relied and which we took at face value. Therefore, you will accept and perhaps excuse me if I take the attitude of once bitten, twice shy. The difference in this case is that at least this time around the promise made to us will need to be fulfilled before elections. Before elections we will know whether the problem has been solved or the promise has once again not been fulfilled, while in 1994 it was only after elections that we had to bear the pain of witnessing the breach of such a solemn promise, only to see this problem being dragged out for another six years until this point, until this time.
It is essential that we maintain our unity. It is vital that we maintain the pressure as high as we can. We cannot allow the wind to be taken out of our sails because we are far from having reached any safe harbour. All we have now is the certainty of the obliteration of our powers against the promise that something will be done to redress this problem. The adequacy of what may be done, the sufficiency of what may be delivered, and the equity of any ensuing compromise will entirely be in the eyes of the beholder. Objectively, we are in a weak position. We have given away our leverage and our point of pressure by not objecting to the proclamation of the election date.
It is true that, technically speaking, we have not agreed to it because, in terms of the letter written by Inkosi Mzimela, our agreement to the election will only materialise if and when the President makes good on his commitment to preserve the local government powers of traditional authorities. It is true that unless the problem is solved, we can claim that we never agreed to the proclamation of the election date and the resulting elections. However, we have gone too far and the leverage is lost. The bottom line is that we have positioned ourselves in having to wait and hope, which can give the false perception that whatever bone is thrown to us should satisfy us.
We must maintain our strength, we must continue to mobilise, and we must continue to be united to ensure that we do not end up with a bone with no flesh. The matter of local government is very complex and ridden with technicalities and clever trickery which opens the door to any type of treachery. The President himself could be ill-advised by the many people around him who have made no secret of showing their disdain towards the institution of traditional leadership. We may end up with some wishy-washy concessions or meaningless amendments, or even a partial solution which combines some good with an equal amount of evil and problems. It will be very difficult to reject whatever is so generously conceded to us once we have relegated our negotiating position to that of being mere recipients.
If we object to what the President develops, irrespective of the good and reasonable merits of our objection, people will say that we are insatiable, that we want constantly more and are shifting the goals posts. They treated me exactly in that way when I was trying to secure the solution to this very problem six years ago, before the 1994 elections. They kept giving me concessions with no substance, accompanying them by clever campaigns of public relations which made me look unreasonable and as if I was constantly shifting the goals posts when I was forced to reject them. We may find ourselves in the same situation and I pray that this will not be the case.
We must do everything in our power to continue to work with the Presidency and to keep the pressure on. For this reason, I was very pleased when our delegation went ahead in formulating some actual amendments to the constitutional legislation to show the President that a simple solution can in fact be identified and developed without calling for major re-writing of our laws or even the re-demarcation of boundaries. These amendments also have the advantage of showing exactly what we talk about when we contemplate a solution for the problem created by the obliteration of our powers. They benchmark the adequacy of any other type of solution which the President may develop.
Therefore, I was pleased when I heard that these amendments had been developed through the consultation of Inkosi Holomisa, Inkosi Mzimela and Inkosi Hlengwa with the assistance of Mr Peter Smith and Dr MGR Ambrosini. I am pleased that these amendments have been sent to the President and his Director-General as a matter of urgency. There is nothing final about them, but it was important that they be sent in order to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. Obviously, if they are serious about developing a solution to our problem, they must be working on this matter night and day as time is of the essence.
The development of this solution will be an ongoing activity, constantly subject to further refinements. In fact, since these amendments were first formulated, a new version was produced to answer some unsolved technical problems with the first set of amendments, which now have been addressed through the insertion of a consultative role for the relevant House of Traditional Leaders. I think it is important that traditional leaders review these amendments to see how they can be improved upon. Their purpose is to translate into law our proposals, namely those contained in the now famous Annexure E.
It is essential that we maintain initiative, impetus and momentum. We must consider whether, to this end, we should not proceed with the mobilisation of all traditional leaders and all our subjects in a national gathering to show the support that our institution receives. It will be important to highlight how these elections are about the forging of a new system of local government which must include traditional leadership, and that traditional leaders continue to be united in this respect in spite of the political divisions necessarily caused by the impending elections. We need to remain active, vigilant and involved. We cannot accept the position where it now seems that we have nothing left to say and nothing left to do.
We must also continue to express our support for the President to give him the courage and strength necessary to go through with his undertaking. Our enemies are going to become his enemies and he will need to rely on our support to defeat them. For the first time in our history, amaKhosi are called upon to perform a delicate act in a very sensitive political environment. We have less than two months to succeed or fail. We have just a few days within which we must prove the full measure of our worth, diplomatic skills and capacity to succeed. I pray that we can measure up to this great challenge.
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