Traditional leaders warn Parliament: Don’t touch our land

The National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) has told Parliament that while they support land expropriation without compensation, the 13% of land owned by traditional leaders must remain in their hands.

It was the third day of land hearings in Parliament and traditional leaders were clear on what they wanted: they support proposed amendments to section 25 of the Constitution, but not if it meant that land owned by traditional authorities would also be expropriated.

Nkosi Sipho Mahlangu, the chairperson of the NHTL, made a submission before MPs suggesting that the land — which is held in a trust by the rural development minister — should instead be transferred to traditional communities as a form of security of tenure. He proposed that the communities, along with their traditional councils, would then decide how the land should be divided.

But it was Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, the chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, who gave MPs a warning that if the 13% was expropriated, then the threat of violence may loom.

“We want you to be sensitive to this, please, we don’t want to really take up arms to defend the 13%, because you are our democratic government and we put you there. We trust that you do that. Please, don’t turn the spear to us,” Nonkonyana said.

Nonkonyana was answering questions from MPs after Mahlangu concluded the NHTL’s submission to Parliament. He said that if land owned by traditional authorities was expropriated and owned by government, then it would be almost as bad as the land being in the hands of colonists.

“It’s unfortunate our government has the following system of governance. You are successors to colonialists. Perhaps, we didn’t make it crystal clear. We must make it very crystal clear. That is the reason why … we are saying Chapter 7 and Chapter 12 of the Constitution need to be revisited. [It is] because you are biased, because it is a western system of governance,” Nonkonyana said

“If you say that we must take the 13% of our land to you, you are saying we must take it back to the successors of colonialists — yourselves. By extension, you are undermining what our ancestors did …. There have been wars here of resistance. The 13% was a legacy left by our forebears. How can we then give it back to you?,” he continued.

Chapter 7 of the Constitution deals with local government, while Chapter 12 sets out the constitutionality of traditional leaders. The NHTL added in their submission to Parliament that both should be revised.

But already the traditional leaders have been guaranteed by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Minister Zweli Mkhize that their land would not be affected by land reform amendments if they are made to the Constitution.

The leaders at Parliament assured MPs that their communities were treated well on the land they held, but there have been concerns from community members that the leaders do not always act in the interests of their communities.

Friday marks the final day of the hearings in Parliament. 

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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