Traditional leaders have had their hands tied - Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Legislation demands very little of municipal councils as regards their interaction with traditional leaders

Meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team Led by His Excellency the Deputy President With His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation

Remarks by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation
And Author of the Ingonyama Trust Act

Kwakhangelamankengane Royal Palace: 6 October 2022

His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation, King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini;
His Excellency the Deputy President of the Republic, Mr David Mabuza MP;
The Honourable Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs,
Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma MP;
Representatives of the Royal Family and representatives of Government.

I must express my appreciation to His Excellency President Ramaphosa for establishing the Inter-Ministerial Task Team to meet with traditional leaders across South Africa and to engage with us on matters affecting rural development, social justice, land reform and the good governance of our communities.

Thank you to you, Your Excellency, for accepting the responsibility of chairing this Inter-Ministerial Task Team, and for seeking to meet with His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation. We are grateful for the presence of the Honourable Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, for this enables us to go straight to the heart of these matters.

His Majesty our King has invited me to be present for this meeting, not only because I serve as the traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, but because I have championed the institution of traditional leadership for almost seven decades, since I took up my own position as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan. My approach to traditional leadership was shaped by my mentor, Inkosi Albert Luthuli, who encouraged me to take up my hereditary position, for he had seen how traditional leaders were able to uplift their communities.

At the time, I was preparing to do my legal articles, under Mr Rowley Arenstein, and as a young activist in the ANC Youth League I of course sought the most powerful avenue through which to make my contribution to our liberation struggle. Inkosi Luthuli convinced me that taking up my position as Inkosi was in fact the right decision. Our liberation struggle was not just for political enfranchisement. It was a fight for freedom from poverty, underdevelopment and hopelessness. Traditional leaders were at the forefront of that fight, and I was privileged to become a part of it.

Over the past seven decades, I have seen how traditional leaders have served their communities, ensuring social justice, good governance and the wellbeing of families. They have led development projects and brought people together in cooperative ventures. Yes, they have been the custodians of our culture and identity. But traditional leaders are so much more than ceremonial figures representing our culture. They are the vanguard of development.

Tragically, however, the institution of traditional leadership has not been given its rightful place within our democratic society. In many ways, traditional leaders have had their hands tied, so that no matter how visionary their leadership or how viable their solutions, implementation is just not possible. The worst culprit is the lack of funding to traditional councils and the absence of a budget for traditional houses.

The fellow culprit is the continued absence of a single piece of legislation in which the role, powers and functions of traditional leaders are defined. Indeed, the role, powers and functions of traditional leaders continue to overlap with those of municipal councils, and legislation is such that the municipal council takes precedence.

As much as we would like to say that there is a partnership between traditional leaders and municipalities, this is simply not the case. In some municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, the institution of traditional leadership is respected and there is engagement with traditional leaders. But the reality is that legislation demands very little of municipal councils as regards their interaction with traditional leaders.

In terms of Section 81 of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act (Act 117 of 1998), the provincial MEC for Local Government has the discretion to prescribe a role for traditional leaders in the affairs of a municipality. As it stands, only 20% of traditional leaders may attend municipal council meetings, and none of them may vote.

They are not on par with municipal councillors and cannot expect their participation to have any binding influence. The municipal council is obligated to allow them to speak. But it has no obligation to take their voice into account when decisions are made. Traditional leaders, however, are obligated to participate so that, when decisions are made, Government can say that the people were consulted and participated.

That is not a true partnership.

Your Excellency, if we are to see real development and the efficient use of land, if we are to see families fed and poverty being alleviated, we need to empower traditional leaders to play the role they are meant to play – the role they have always played. To do that means putting in place funding mechanisms and defining the role, powers and functions of traditional leaders in legislation.

I know, Your Excellency, that as you travel from province to province, the Inter-Ministerial Task Team will hear these issues raised again and again. In KwaZulu-Natal, there is a unique situation because of the Ingonyama Trust Act, which I piloted as the last piece of legislation of the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly.

The Act, as you know, created the Ingonyama Trust and placed in it all the bits and pieces of land left to the Zulu Nation after generations of conquest, colonialism and apartheid. The Act maintains this land as communal land under indigenous and customary law, administered by traditional leaders. His Majesty our King is the sole Trustee.

Over the many decades that I have fought for the protection of the institution of traditional leadership, I have seen several promises broken by Government, including the commitment made by the ad hoc Cabinet Committee in November 2000 that Chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would be amended to protect the role, powers and functions of traditional leadership wherever there was a clash with the role, powers and functions of municipalities. The Constitution was never amended.

Because of such broken promises, I have become quite wary of commitments made to traditional leaders. My greatest concern is the commitment made with regards to the land of the Ingonyama Trust.

In 1997, the Ingonyama Trust Act was comprehensively debated in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature and in Parliament. Amendments were made to the satisfaction of all parties and, in April 1997, the KwaZulu-Natal Ingonyama Trust Amendment Act was signed into law. That Act has by now been legitimately in place for almost three decades. It has been recognised and respected by the Constitutional Court.

And yet, there is still uncertainty over Government’s intentions with regards to the Ingonyama Trust. In July 2017, at its 5th National Policy Conference, the ANC noted (and I quote) “…the KZN ANC has been moving for the repeal of Ingonyama Trust”.

It was not long before a Panel, chaired by the ANC’s former Secretary General and former Head of State, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act be scrapped or amended in a way that would transfer the land of the Zulu nation to Government, to be administered not by Amakhosi, but by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. Our King would be stripped of his authority and prevented from exercising his royal duty as custodian of the land. He would effectively be reduced to a ceremonial figure within a kingdom that is no longer a kingdom.

This call against the Ingonyama Trust Act emanated from the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change. Yet in its deliberations, the Panel had failed to engage with the Ingonyama Trust Board, with His Majesty the King, with the National House of Traditional Leaders, with the Provincial Houses or even with CONTRALESA. And it made no attempt to speak to the originator of the Ingonyama Trust Act to better understand why the Act is in place and why it is needed.

In light of the Panel’s recommendation, the Ingonyama Trust Board invited former President Motlanthe to address the Board and Amakhosi to explain the Panel’s reasoning. But the invitation was never accepted. Instead, during the ANC’s Land Summit in May 2018, Mr Motlanthe launched a scathing attack on traditional leadership, calling traditional leaders “village tin-pot dictators”.

Not a single leader in the ANC spoke up. No one contradicted Mr Motlanthe or called him to task. A few days later, during Questions to the Deputy President in Parliament, you were asked, Your Excellency, about Mr Motlanthe’s accusation against traditional leaders. You neither contradicted nor corrected it, but confirmed that a draft Bill was in place to remove land that is administered by traditional leaders.

We were therefore grateful when, on 6 July 2018, His Excellency President Ramaphosa came to see His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini in Richard’s Bay to discuss the matter of the expropriation of land. The Chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board, the Hon. Mr Ngwenya, and I were both present at that meeting. In our presence, the President made a commitment to His Majesty that the land under the Ingonyama Trust would not be touched. It would remain under the Trust and not be expropriated by Government.

Yet the debate was not silenced. Eighteen months after the High Level Panel’s recommendation to scrap the Ingonyama Trust Act, a Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture declared in its Report that the Ingonyama Trust Act is (and I quote), “a clear violation of the Constitution”. It recommended that the Act be repealed and that (and I quote), “Government should immediately assume responsibility and custodianship of the Trust land and administer it on behalf of its citizens.”

After His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini’s passing last year, there have been endless comments through the media about the fate of the Ingonyama Trust land. Within the national discourse, many voices are baying for the Trust to be dismantled, for the Act to be repealed and the land to be expropriated and given to the State.

And this is why, at the age of 94, I am still serving in our country’s national Parliament. As the author of the Ingonyama Trust Act I am determined to ensure that the Trust is protected, so that future generations may receive the benefit of having enough land to live on, to raise a family and produce food. This traditional way of life is crucial to the survival of our rural communities, particularly in the present economic climate as food security becomes more and more uncertain.

I believe that Amakhosi, as the custodians of our communal land, should have an influential voice in the national discourse on land reform, expropriation, and land use. Yet there is no real partnership. We are engaged only in a perfunctory way. This is not anecdotal, Your Excellency, but is backed by investigative reports.

In December 2020, the Public Protector released a Report on (and I quote) “a Systematic Investigation into Strengthening Relations Between Traditional Leadership and Local Government for Quality Service Delivery at Grassroots Level.” The Public Protector had taken it upon herself to investigate relations between Government and traditional leadership because of the number of complaints raised by communities during public hearings.

The Report made Findings against Provincial Departments of maladministration, improper conduct and prejudice. It was found that Provincial Government had violated the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act.

Heads of Department of CoGTA in several provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal, were given 90 days to put measures in place – in compliance with legislation – to promote partnerships between municipalities and traditional councils, to support and strengthen traditional councils to fulfil their functions, and to provide information to traditional leaders and councils on their assigned role and functions in terms of Section 20 of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act.

This speaks to the decades-long struggle of Amakhosi for proper recognition and support from Government.

Over the past seven years, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has spent R7.4 million in legal battles with Amakhosi over leadership disputes. This should not be the domain of Government. Traditional leadership disputes should be handled by the National House of Traditional Leaders, by the Provincial Houses or District Houses.

Instead, CoGTA in KwaZulu-Natal interferes and takes side, increasing the tensions. Very few Amakhosi can afford to take Government to court, and without the financial capacity to fight Government interference, Amakhosi are defeated.

Why are millions of Rands being spent to interfere in matters that rightly belong in the domain of traditional leadership? That money would be far better used to create capacity and provide resources to Amakhosi, Traditional Councils and Traditional Courts.

It is unthinkable, and yet a fact, that under a Black government structures like Traditional Councils and Houses of Traditional Leaders are not funded. I remember an embarrassing incident when I was Chairperson of the Zululand District House of Traditional Leaders. I was asked to go to Pietermaritzburg to appear before the Provincial SCOPA to account on the budget. And there was nothing to account for, because there is no funding provided to the House from Government. There is no budget allocated at all.

Under apartheid, Traditional Councils were referred to as Tribal Authorities. Each Tribal Authority was allocated a budget from Government and we had to account for income and expenditure. Funding was also received though traditional fees. In the Buthelezi Tribal Authority, budget meetings were standard, and we even generated additional funds by operating businesses.

Under an ANC Government, many traditional fees were abolished. But so too was the concept of Government funding. Removal of all funding makes no sense, unless the intention is to make Traditional Councils dysfunctional. Likewise withholding funding from the Houses of Traditional Leaders only makes sense if the intention is to make them purely symbolic.

It is unthinkable that an apartheid government allocated funding to traditional structures of governance, however paltry; yet a Black government withholds funding completely. Questions need to be asked. Such as why Traditional Councils receive none of the income when cell phone towers are erected on the land they administer. Or why Traditional Councils receive not a cent as sand and stone is extracted from their land and sold to the building industry.

These are uncomfortable questions. But they must be asked, because the end result is the impoverishment and neglect of our people.

Perhaps everything that needs to be said can be summed up with the words of Amakhosi during the Land Governance Summit of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Executive Committee in March this year. In their presentation, Amakhosi said (and I quote), “The land issue will continue to be always a challenge as long as the Government of the day does not want to be clear in recognizing and acknowledging the role of Amakhosi.”

Your Excellency; Honourable Minister; my intention is not to be contentious. But if we are to have a frank and open discussion that will yield good governance for all our people, the facts must be laid on the table.

I believe it would benefit us all for a clear and unequivocal statement to be issued by Government that the Ingonyama Trust Act will not be repealed, that communal land will remain under the administration of amakhosi, and that the role, powers and functions of traditional leaders will finally be defined in legislation.

I would be tremendously relieved to see that happen in my lifetime. But this fight for the institution of traditional leadership precedes me and it will continue after I am gone. My greatest hope is that it will cease to be a fight and that, at some point, a true partnership will be created through legislation.

I thank you.