President Jacob Zuma on Thursday announced the findings of the long awaited commission on traditional leadership disputes and claims, naming the seven “kingships and queenships” to be officially by recognised in South Africa.
Critics however said the commission has failed to address disputed traditional authority boundaries, an issue that has caused conflict among rural communities, many of whom have been placed under the authority of traditional leaders they do not recognise.
The recognised royal houses are the AbaThembu, AmaXhosa and AmaMpondo in the Eastern Cape; the AmaZulu in KwaZulu-Natal, the Bapedi ba Maroteng and VhaVenda from Limpopo, and the AmaNdebele of Mpumalanga.
When it was set up in 2004, the commission’s mandate included examining challenges to the claims of traditional leaders, as well disputes around traditional authority boundaries and the resultant division or merging of tribal communities.
According to Aninka Claassens of the law, race and gender unit at the University of Cape Town, the failure to deal with disputed traditional boundaries has meant the burning issues for communities on the ground remain unresolved.
The commission falls under the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, of 2004, and reinforced apartheid legislation that created artificial boundaries through the Black Authorities Act (BAA), according to Claassens.
Entrenched apartheid boundaries
“Why did they create a commission to decide on these matters, when subsequent legislation has worked to entrench apartheid divisions,” said Claassens.
“They have not dealt with the problems created by the fact that new law entrenched apartheid boundaries.”
The announcement followed parliamentary hearings last week on the repeal of the BAA.
The M&G has reported how over 40 people from rural communities came to express their deep unhappiness with the increasing power given to traditional leaders.
In their submissions they criticised laws that reaffirmed or extended the power given to traditional leaders by the apartheid state, including the 2004 Communal Land Rights Act, the 2005 Provincial Traditional Leadership Act and the 2008 Traditional Courts Bill, which is currently before Parliament.
Claasens said that in rural areas, traditional authorities have significant power over people which could lead to abuse.
Community members cannot obtain ID books, child-care grants or pensions without a signed letter from the traditional authority and people who do not support that authority do not get their letter, explained Claasens.
The president told reporters that this part of the commission’s work, which took seven years, dealt only with “paramountcies, kingships and queenships”.
The next phase would probe the next layer of traditional leadership such as that of principal traditional leadership and headmanship.
He could not indicate when this next phase would be complete or whether it would deal with the issue of traditional boundaries. One of the King’s formerly recognised through the commission is abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. He was the subject of a long-running court battle for terrorising his subjects. Last year he was convicted of culpable homicide, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, kidnapping and arson and sentenced to fifteen years in prison in the Mthatha High Court.