Khoi-San go it alone

Khoi and San chiefs will remain outside the traditional leaders and governance framework legislation as they continue to pursue self-determination and recognition of their status as South Africa’s original indigenous inhabitants.

The Khoi-San, fractured across several provinces, are seeking First Nation Status under United Nations declarations on the rights of indigenous peoples and the International Labour Organisation convention — similar to the recognition accorded to Aboriginals in Australia or the Saami in the northern reaches of Scandinavia.

During recent parliamentary public hearings on the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Bill, Department of Provincial and Local Government officials admitted that there were “significant differences” between the Khoi, San and other traditional leadership structures that warranted a separate process.

“It is obvious that the existing terms of the Bill was never drafted to cover indigenous Khoi-San structures,” said ministerial adviser Zam Titus, adding that Khoi-San communities were frequently found in urban areas while the Bill primarily applied to rural traditional communities.

Further meetings between Department of Provincial and Local Government officials and the National Khoi-San Council are planned to discuss their quest for self-determination and related issues such as land claims, heritage and language recognition.

“We are a broken community that is trying to revitalise itself,” Chief Joseph Little, chairperson of the National Khoi-San Council, told MPs.

He said lobbying for a constitutional accommodation of the Khoi-San right to self-determination would continue as steps to formalise structures are under way.

At the parliamentary hearings last month MPs agreed to a separate process for the Khoi-San. But provincial and local government parliamentary committee chairperson Yunus Carrim urged the National Khoi-San Council and the National House of Traditional Leaders to forge closer ties.

Meanwhile, the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Bill seeks to set uniform national standards and norms for traditional leadership, democratise such rule and bring it in line with the Bill of Rights.

Initiatives include:


  • Women are to constitute a third of members in the envisaged 32 district tribal councils, of which 25% of members must also be elected;

  • Provisions to allow women to succeed as Nkhosi;

  • A ban on traditional leaders also holding public office and the appointment of a deputy in such cases; and

  • A code of conduct and a commission to settle claims and disputes around leadership claims.

    According to the Department of Provincial and Local Government, about half of South Africa’s approximately 800 traditional leaders and 1 640 headmen may lose their positions because these were irregularly bestowed through apartheid laws and Bantustan administrations.

    The Bill remains steeped in political sensitivities, which have accompanied it since its drafting began more than five years ago. The law has been repeatedly delayed amid what some officials describe as an “overdose of consultation”.

    Traditional leaders’ organisations have criticised it as a betrayal as it failed to formally recognise their powers over communal areas, separate from municipalities.

    Instead the Bill calls on traditional leaders to enter into service agreements with municipalities. Traditional leaders, through national or provincial laws, can “provide a role” in land administration and agriculture, health, social grants, safety and security and tourism, among others. This is in contrast to the apartheid-era tribal authorities where “chiefs” were judges, policemen and administrators.

    In doing so, the Bill leaves open for potential conflict the control of land, which is regarded as the cornerstone of the amaKhosi. The Communal Land Rights Bill, which deals with tenure rights in traditional areas where women are excluded, has yet to be tabled in Parliament following a series of delays over four years.

    Parliament wants to finalise the Bill by October 17, so it can be adopted before the year-end recess. Thereafter each province must enact its own law to give effect to the national provisions.

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