Integrated Rural Development Strategies
 Urban Renewal and Land Reform Indaba 2011
The Role of Traditional Leaders in Sustainable Rural Development

  Keynote Address By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party
Inkosi Of The Buthelezi Clan
Chairperson: Zululand District House Of Traditional Leaders
And Traditional Prime Minister Of The Monarch And Zulu Nation


 

The Edward Hotel, Durban: 23 November 2011

 

I have lived in Mahlabathini for more than 80 years and the responsibilities of my various leadership positions have caused me to spend a great deal of time driving through this part of South Africa.  Over time I have noticed a change in the landscape that worries me.

 

Where once the land in our rural areas was cultivated and productive, much of the land now lies fallow. Subsistence farming has largely been abandoned and people are purchasing their food rather than growing it. 

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, for the problem of food security is increasing.

 

It was therefore a moment of great concern when the Director General of Land Affairs announced in 2008 that at least half of Government's land reform projects have failed to permanently improve the quality of life of their beneficiaries.

 

Since we obtained democracy in 1994, significant efforts have been made by Government to rectify the injustices of the past which saw rural development wholly neglected and people being removed from fertile land. Seventeen years into democracy, we should see a vastly improved situation in terms of rural development, agricultural development and land reform. Why then is food security an increasingly alarming problem?

 

I wish to thank the Harvard Training Institute for organizing this Indaba on Integrated Rural Development Strategies, Urban Renewal and Land Reform. I appreciate their foresight in securing contributions from Government, Traditional Councils, the private sector, NGOs and the academia. This issue demands a holistic approach and it would not benefit our discussions to have traditional leaders talking amongst themselves, while government officials talk amongst themselves, and the academia talks in a different corner. We need a cross-pollination of ideas.

 

As I speak, I am therefore aware that I am not simply preaching to the converted. Traditional leaders are quite aware of the limitations placed on us by legislation when it comes to making decisions on issues that affect our own people. But in a venue such as this, it is worth pointing out not only how traditional leaders can promote sustainable rural development, but also how preventing us from fulfilling this role is detrimental to the future of South Africa.

 

Throughout the next three days, as we consider our strategy to promote integrated rural development, our discussions will no doubt touch upon issues of conservation and the sustainable use of our natural resources. This is unavoidable, not only because of the heightened public discourse as we approach COP17 here in Durban, but because sustainable development demands that we take into account the present and future realities of our climate, environment and resources.

 

I have maintained a lifelong interest in issues of conservation. My position as the traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu Nation saw me drawn into this field at an early stage, when talking about protecting our fauna and flora was deemed frivolous and below the stature of a political leader. In 1953, shortly after my installation as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan in the Mahlabathini District, I was approached by Dr Ian Player who was the senior conservator in the Natal Parks Board.  He worked as a ranger in the game reserves in the northern part of KwaZulu Natal.

 

At the time, there was controversy among the amaKhosi and the people in the Hlabisa District concerning the so-called "corridor". It was difficult for our people to understand why a stretch of land could be reserved for animals when they themselves so desperately needed land on which to live. In my capacity as Undunankulu, I was asked to intervene and speak to the people. During many meetings we attempted to resolve the dispute, and I appealed to my fellow compatriots, the amaKhosi and their clansmen, to understand the importance of what we would be preserving by protecting our game and having game reserves.

 

Persuading our people about the importance of conservation was made more difficult by the mindset of the Apartheid regime that game reserves were the playground of white people only. This created contempt for the notion of reserves. Yet conservation and game reserves were a part of Zulu heritage as far back as King Shaka kaSenzangakhona, who set aside land for wildlife and instituted rigorous rules around hunting. The biodiversity we enjoy in this province today is largely due to his foresight.

 

But when it comes to conservation and rural development, there is always a conflict of competing needs. Our democratic Government of today faces a similar dilemma of how to reconcile the vast and competing needs of South Africa in a manner that is just, equitable and beneficial to our long-term future. And as with every problem, the solution is constricted by budget. Working within the allocated budget, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform must choose between purchasing more land for emerging black farmers, or purchasing less land in order to free up funding to support these farmers.

 

There is, of course, a danger in giving prime agricultural land to people who have no means or capital to make the land productive, or sustainably productive. But social justice demands that land reform be expedited. How do we find the balance? I believe that one of the overlooked tools to solving this problem is the contribution that traditional leaders can make within their communities.

 

Today many of our communities in KwaZulu Natal are able to embrace projects of sustainable development simply because of their background of self-help and self-reliance that has been championed by traditional leaders. Our people are not backward. I recently attended a lecture delivered by the Prince of Wales, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, at the University of Cape Town, and I was pleased to hear him speak about honouring the traditional methods of farming within our rural communities.

 

There is a trend of throwing the baby out with the bath water when we try to modernise agricultural methods. We sometimes feel it is only progress if we replace labour intensive practices with machines. But machines are expensive and difficult to maintain. They require new skills training and decrease the number of jobs available. I am not saying mechanisation is bad. But I am saying that there is value in considering how we might return to old farming methods that require greater manpower.

 

As I have said, our people are not backward when it comes to working the land. We have reason to be immensely proud of South African farmers. Our country relies on some 600 high quality, large farms to produce our food and export earnings. Our farmers are often highly skilled and internationally respected.

 

Indeed, the Government of the former Soviet State of Georgia has invited South African farmers to buy fertile land at very low prices in exchange for taking their expertise and knowledge of modern farming methods to Georgia. Georgia's State Minister for Diaspora, Mr Davitaya, has said, "Boers are some of the best farmers in the world." 

Initially, his Government sponsored representatives from the Transvaal Agricultural Union South Africa to visit Georgia to discuss agri-cooperation. Since then, South African farmers and investors have paid their own way to travel to Georgia and map a path for emigration.

 

This successful exchange program is controversial, because it sends a clear message to our Government that farmers are not valued as highly in our own country as they ought to be. One cannot discount the impact of the hate speech case against the President of the ANC Youth League, who went to great lengths to defend his right to sing "Shoot the Boer, Shoot the Farmer" at public gatherings. In light of the high incidence of farm murders and violence against our farmers, even debating whether we can sing songs like that is unethical and obtuse.

 

Also controversial is the issue of land expropriation without compensation, which the Youth League President has also championed, saying, "If they don't want to give the land over to us, we must take it without their permission." It is not surprising that AfriForum has laid a criminal charge against Mr Malema for incitement to sedition. 

Having labelled whites as "thieves", he has taken the fissure of racial tension and opened it into a chasm. We must not be surprised to see productive, skilled and valuable farmers leaving South Africa.  This is a serious concern for food security.

 

I do not envy the new MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Meshack Radebe. The onerous challenges facing his Department demand a leadership of courage and innovation. On behalf of the Inkatha Freedom Party, I wish him strength and wisdom. I also hope that he will see the value in strengthening the partnership between his Department and the various structures of traditional leadership. This partnership must also be strengthened within the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

 

Within the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the mandate of Traditional Affairs is to "Promote and coordinate research and information management and the development of policies and legislation on traditional affairs. (And to) Coordinate institutional development and capacity building programmes to enhance efficiency and effectiveness within the institution of traditional affairs."

 

However Traditional Affairs enjoys less than 0.2% of the budget of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which suggests that "traditional affairs" is really an afterthought.  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.

 

To traditional leaders, this is not surprising, for we have witnessed the institution of traditional leadership being sidelined for decades while the powers, functions and role of traditional leaders are increasingly diminished. There is an unspoken attitude within Government that sees traditional leadership and all its institutions as remnants of the past which are bound to fade away as modernity and development march in.

 

It has been frustrating for us to witness the deterioration of government's commitment to Amakhosi over the years. In 2005, President Thabo Mbeki spoke to the National House of Traditional Leaders and said, "Traditional leadership is an institution of our people, and as such, government stands ready and willing to collaborate with you so that it becomes stronger and is better able to serve our people." But just five years later, President Zuma said, "Traditional leaders have a key role to play as partners with government - government will work closely with traditional leaders in the implementation of government programmes?".

 

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.

 

On the 30th of November 2000, on the eve of the Local Government Elections, a delegation of the Coalition of Traditional Leaders 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.

 

At that time 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.

 

The need for a constitutional amendment arose because, although the interim Constitution 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. Today Section 80 of the Municipal Structures Act enables traditional leaders to attend council meetings, but does not even extend to them the vote. This does not reflect the spirit of cooperative governance that we sought to achieve. It is not a genuine partnership.

 

In 1995, under the leadership of its then Minister of Local Government, Inkosi NJ Ngubane, this Province put forward a comprehensive draft White Paper on Traditional Leadership which began from the premises of the unity of a traditional community as a specific model of societal organisation. That premise leads to the conclusion that the jurisdiction of traditional leadership should be primary rather than residual, on the basis of the principal of subsidiarity, which means that on matters regulated by indigenous and customary law, other laws should not apply unless and until there is a constitutional imperative.

 

As traditional leaders, we had something 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.

 

I am not suggesting that the institution of traditional leadership is or should have remained static. Nothing is static at any given time and nothing could be static during these rapidly changing times. The issue is whether necessary change should come from within or should be imposed from without. The institution of traditional leadership has not been allowed to change and progress from within on the strength of community dynamics, demands and changing times. Instead, change has been forced onto traditional communities in a top down and uniform approach, which is pregnant with unforeseeable, long-term problems.

 

Since 1994, South Africa has been obsessed with uniformity, which is one of the reasons indigenous and customary law has been ignored, as it is necessarily diverse from one province to another. Wanting to regulate traditional leadership and jurisdiction into a uniform mould is wrong and smacks of forced acculturalization. It also carries the consequence of having to mould a new institution on the basis of the minimum common denominator given by places and realities in which the institution does not work as well as it does in KwaZulu Natal, or does not have equally strong and effective traditions. We find all this wrong, and cannot help objecting to it.

 

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. This is similar to how the old Apartheid regime used to deal with us.

 

The fact is that traditional communities are specific models of societal organisation built around indigenous and customary law, the law which shapes daily life and the organisation of society. 

Traditional leadership has the expression of the self-governance of the community in respect of both executive and judicial matters, and communal property as the binding factor of the community and their shared ownership and interest. There cannot be one without the other and one cannot be separated from the other.

 

Unfortunately, instead of following a unitary policy and legislative approach which would recognise and protect traditional communities as a specific model of societal organisation, our government has taken a piecemeal approach in which it 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. 

This is the same approach used under indirect colonial rule and indirect Apartheid oppression, except that both such foreign systems had a much greater respect for our African law than is the case for our own Black Government.

 

Under Apartheid, traditional councils operated on the basis of levies. 

But under a 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 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 rural development initiatives?

 

I have focused largely on agricultural aspects of rural development. 

But rural development encompasses infrastructural development, skills training, social assistance, education, investment and environmental policies. One aspect worth considering in this venue is that of financial assistance to entrepreneurs and emerging farmers.

 

As Minister of Economic Affairs and Chief Minister in the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, I founded the KwaZulu Finance Corporation, and through it I founded the ITHALA Bank, to give access to loans to those whom commercial banks would not assist, as they could provide no security. In this way, many valuable development projects and businesses were started. Today, unfortunately, Ithala Bank has lost its vision to corruption and has been pillaged by the greed of the rich and privileged.

 

Following the global economic recession and the continued high prices of food, fuel and electricity, small businesses are hard pressed to stay afloat. South Africa's high rate of unemployment demands that we create an environment in which small businesses can prosper. Rural development depends to a large extent on the contribution of civil society and business. I am always pleased to see businessmen approach traditional leaders with development proposals, for such partnerships have less bureaucratic red tape and greater community buy-in.

 

Just as I brought the community of Hlabisa on board with conservation initiatives in 1953, traditional leaders are uniquely positioned to ensure that communities embrace the development projects of today, and also benefit from them. It is vital that communities take ownership of development initiatives, in order for them to be sustainable. I believe we can improve the track record of success in rural development by empowering traditional leaders to become part of the decision-making process in a real and substantive way.

 

On 19 July 2011, the Acting Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Minister Mthethwa, spoke at the Jewish Centre in Durban. In his opening statement, he said, "For many years the affairs and institutions of traditional leadership remained in the periphery of development. That situation often led to marginalisation of traditional leaders and their institutions with regard to meaningfully influencing the critical policy and programmatic matters pertaining to development .The consequence thereof has been that the communities that live under traditional leadership, most of whom reside in rural areas, have had their development needs not given the necessary and sustained attention as they ought to be given."

 

He made the statement that, "Strong relations between elected representatives and traditional leadership are the cornerstone of service delivery." Those are visionary words. But unless traditional leaders are empowered by legislation and funding to do what we are capable of doing, communities in our rural areas will continue to bear the brunt of underdevelopment and development initiatives that fail to truly uplift our people.