Are traditional leaders of South Africa still relevant and needed today?

imageWhile the unity efforts of the African Union on the Political front are making steady progress it is of serious concern that our Traditional Leaders are becoming more and more muted. My observation is not as widely spread as I would have liked, but for the sake of this article and possible debates henceforth I will concentrate on the South African Traditional Leaders.

It is regrettable that the Traditional Leaders, who enjoy Constitutional privileges and support, are becoming more invisible in the South African landscape. This then brings out the following questions:
i. Are Traditional Leaders a dying breed?
ii. Are Traditional Leaders Traitors?
iii. Are Traditional Leaders merely Glorified “Grant Receivers”?
iv. What is the difference between Our current Traditional Leaders and the Bantustan/Homeland leaders of the apartheid era?


In the current lifestyle of South Africa, the elected politicians are the ones that are seen to -be interacting with the communities in terms of development, service-delivery and plans. The councillors are the ones calling community meetings to outline government plans and reports. The role of the Headmen, Chiefs, Paramount Chiefs and Kings is clearly diminished when it comes to these nation building interactions.

The people’s cries for water are never supported by the Traditional Leaders and as such we experience violent protests led by sometimes misguided youths. I have yet to see a community going to their Traditional Leader to complain about water.

We have to bear in mind that the Traditional Leaders claim authority over their subjects and the land where we see kilometres of pipes carrying this vital commodity from “their” rivers, bypassing their communities and going to the privileged groups on the other side. DOES THIS DEPRIVATION HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED BY A COUNCILLOR (a salaried contractual employee). The Councillor being a subject of the same Kingdom or Chieftaincy whose tenure is limited to an elections term should be taking the cue from the Local Traditional Leadership.

The system of the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) by the Municipalities and the fan-fare of road shows are never led by the Custodians of the Land and related values, i.e. Chiefs and Kings.


For the comfort of their Offices and Palaces, that are sponsored and/or financed from the government coffers, are the Traditional Leaders looking at which side is their bread buttered (and by whom ?).

The Traditional Leaders are supposed to be the sons and daughters of our gallant Chiefs and Kings that fought the colonialists who were hell-bent on stealing our land and resources. By standing by, watching and being silent while the government is taking tortoise steps towards restoration of land to the indigenous people draws the conclusion of their traitorship.

I am yet to hear a voice of the multiple Kings and Chiefs of the then Cape Province (now divided into the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces) disputing the Land ownership of TRANSNET and SANRAL. These two Parastatals are the now owners of the land from which their subjects have been evicted inhumanly in the Western Cape.

Did your forebears not fight the Van Riebecks from that side of the country? What were they fighting for? The latest inhumane evictions happened under the noses of the multiple Xhosa/Gcaleka/Pondo and Bhaca kingdoms by a municipality named after King Sabatha Dalindyebo.

Is this an endorsement of these inhumane actions? Do King Sabatha Dalindyebo’s children feel nothing when their Grandfather or Great-grandfather’s name is associated with these inhumane actions by the elected municipal politicians?

The RONDEVAL FARMS in Mpumalanga, is another case in point. The land is under “claim” and the people are being evicted and chased away (from the graves of their fore-fathers) while the Chiefs and Kings silently watch, lest they lose their “pay cheques” and “4 x 4 SUV’s”.


I have on numerous occasions heard of complaints from our Traditional Leaders for parity in GRANTS or ALLOWANCES received from the Central or Provincial Governments. His Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini seems to be the benchmark that these complaints or comparisons are based on.

For the sake of this article, I will give His Majesty, King Zwelithini credit. His Majesty seems to be the only one who every now and again will call an ‘imbizo’ and His subjects will attend. Yes, it is regrettable that one of his last ‘imbizo’s resulted in a spate of violence meted against fellow Afrikans from outside our borders and He again followed that up with an explanatory or reconciling one. How many other Traditional Leaders voiced their opinions on the violence that engulfed the country?

If by any stretch of imagination Traditional Leaders feel that their ‘imbizo’s do not get the deserving coverage in the media, they should take that up with the Editors’ Forum and other Authorised organisations. Even the so-called small political parties get coverage in our media.


The jury is out and unfortunately ONLY our Traditional Leaders can show the nation if they are different. As a word of advice: the sooner the better. As leaders and custodians of our Afrikan pride, you cannot afford to have your roles being taken by young and reckless youth who are feeling the heat of unemployment and other economic deprivations in dusty and dry townships and villages while some of you are at the forefront of Wold Cup and Olympics campaigns while dining with “celebrities” or becoming ‘honorary’ endorsers of the wastefulness of our government and businesses.

It is true that for some of Your Subjects, the apartheid era of self-governing Bantustan leadership was “better” than today’s House of Traditional Leaders or CONTRALESA – I am referring to people that proudly say “voetsek” to a White Person after the Transkei ‘independence’ knowing full well that there would have been no ‘apartheid’ inspired repercussions and it made men to feel like real men. Your Majesties, why is it that after twenty years of democracy the land has still not been restored to the people, even better, to Your Kingdoms, where you would be the custodians like your forefathers.

Lets hope this article awakens our consciences and fulfil the Afrikan dream of prosperity and unity.


Also read : Open letter to King Zwelithini
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