When the colonial forces invaded Limpopo province in the 1800s in a quest to loot and occupy the fertile lands and valleys by force, they were met with fierce resistance.
Under the command of gallant leaders such as Kgoši Sekhukhune of the Bapedi-Marota and Khosikhulu Makhado of the VhaVenda kingdoms, warriors faced up to the rifles and cannons of the invading forces with just spears and courage in defence of their ancestral lands.
Many years later, under the democratic government, traditional leaders continue to play a critical role in Limpopo’s political landscape. Hence, a big chunk of the 2017/18 budget of the province’s department of co-operative governance, human settlements, co-operative governance and traditional affairs (CoGHSTA) went towards the traditional affairs portfolio of this institution.
The portfolio was awarded R496-million of the R2.58-billion budget. An amount of R350-million went towards administration, R290-million for co-operative governance and R1.4-billion towards human settlements.
“Eighty-five percent of Limpopo’s population lives in rural areas which are under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders. The province hosts and supports 185 traditional authorities, including two kings and one queen,” said CoGHSTA MEC Makoma Makhurupetje.
As per the recommendations of the Nhlapo Commission, there are three recognised leaders. King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana leads the VhaVenda and Kgoši Thulare Victor Thulare is king of the Bapedi-Marota (although there is a case lodged in the High Court by the current Acting Kgošikgolo Sekhukhune which prohibits government from officially recognising him pending finalization of the case). The Queenship of Modjadji is under the regency of Prince Mpapatla Modjadji. The Modjadji queenship was restored by national government last year after it was relegated to a chieftaincy under apartheid rule in 1972.
“As we reflect on the activities of the year gone by, we marvel with pride in the addition of the Balobedu Queenship in the province,” Makhurupetje said during the tabling of her budget speech at the Provincial Legislature in Lebowakgomo.
“We are currently busy addressing the Modjadji Queenship Office staff and other tools of trade. We are also putting frameworks in place on how to better support other kingships, such as the VhaVenda and the Sekhukhune Kingship.
“The department would like to build more capacity in supporting the work of traditional leadership in our province. We will continue to allocate R5-million to each of the kingships and the queenship,” she said.
Makhurupetje said in addition to this, they “are working on a model to ensure that the kingships and the queenship have their own separate establishments and budget, so that they are able to manage their own affairs”.
During the opening of the House of Traditional Leaders in Limpopo last April, provincial premier Chupu Stan Mathabatha revealed that 30 members of the house were trained by Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta) in collaboration with the University of Pretoria for a period of six months in 2015.
The training, said Mathabatha, was strategically tailored in strategic and operational management, programme and projects management, public financial management, service delivery and problem -solving.
He further revealed that mining giant Anglo Platinum has appointed the Development Bank of Southern Africa to train all 185 senior traditional leaders in the province on a programme known as Visionary Leaders, and that 43 of them had already undergone training.
But at a recent Critical Thinking Forum organised by the Mail & Guardian in Polokwane, Kgoši Sešego Sekororo II of the Limpopo House of Traditional Leaders decried what he saw as a lack of recognition of traditional leaders in municipal councils.
“Traditional leadership [and] participation of traditional leaders in municipal councils is still a quagmire. We don’t have a say, and the law says traditional leaders must or may participate and not [just] warm the seats,” said Sekororo.
But Makhurupetje said government does recognise the critical role played by traditional leaders. “The role of traditional institutions in governance is centred on [an] advisory role and the upholding of values and culture of traditional communities,” she said. “Traditional leaders work with municipalities in promoting public participation, social cohesion, dissemination of indigenous knowledge systems and contributing towards the system of cooperative governance.”
In his budget vote speech in Parliament last year, Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des van Rooyen said government would embark on efforts which seek to position traditional leadership as key players in local governance, while contributing to the Back to Basics programme.
Makhurupetje said the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders as well as Local Houses of Traditional Leaders in all the province’s five districts do offer advice to District Municipalities.
“As part of our cooperative governance system, traditional leaders are also represented and participate in municipal councils in line with [the] provisions of Municipal Structures Act of 1998,” she said.
According to the MEC, the Intergovernmental Framework Act (IGR) also affords representation and participation of traditional leaders in district and provincial IGR Forums. “At a community level, headmen and women are also represented in ward committees,” she said.
To further empower the institution of traditional leadership, CoGHSTA has committed an amount of R42-million for the purpose of reconstituting 185 traditional councils, king and queen councils, and provincial and local houses.
“In the financial year, concluding the process [involves] appointing the remainder of 638 headmen and women as well filling vacancies in the traditional offices. Another big chunk of funds will pay salaries of headmen,” said Makhurupetje.
She said the department has set aside an amount of R22.5-million for the refurbishment of traditional councils in the province.
“Currently, 19 traditional councils have been identified to be refurbished with the allocated amount. An amount of R10-million was allocated for procurement of furniture for the traditional councils,” she said.
Makhurupetje said CoGHSTA has in the 2017/18 financial year allocated an additional R70-million for the refurbishment, furniture and construction of new offices. She said two offices of the kingship and queenship and 30 new traditional offices will be built.
However, the institution of traditional leadership has been plagued by a large number of disputes over the rightful candidates for the respective thrones. Makhurupetje said that out of 1 244 claims and disputes lodged with the Commission of Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims (CTLDC) nationally, 548 were from Limpopo.
She said the high volume of cases received, coupled with the department’s limited research capacity, had contributed largely to the delay in finalising the cases before the stipulated December 31 2015 deadline. She added that 367 of the 548 cases received had been finalised and that 83 cases are now at report-writing stage.
“We still have 98 cases to finalise, and our target is to finalise [them] all by December 2017,” she said. Makhurupetje said the provincial house of traditional leaders has resolved 21 of the 26 cases referred to it since it was constituted in 2012.
Despite this progress, the MEC agreed that there is still much work to be done. This includes the development of policy on headmanship, the reconstitution of traditional councils, finalising the bill on initiation schools and building a chamber for the House of Traditional Leaders.
She revealed that the operational budgets of the local and provincial houses of traditional leaders have been increased from R3-million to R5-million with effect from the beginning of the 2017/18 financial year.