SAFM had an interesting discussion with the Secretary General of Contralesa yesterday, Chief Xolile Ndevu. Contralesa represents the interests of traditional leaders in South Africa, and is taking the National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete, and Parliament to court, over what it sees as its failure to recognise the rights of traditional leaders. According to Ndevu the congress is seeking immunity from prosecution for decisions made in the course of traditional governance. While Chapter 12 of the Constitution recognises the status and authority of traditional leaders and customary law, decisions taken by leaders are still subject to the rules of the Constitution – Contralesa believes that traditional leaders should be governed by their own rules, not that of the Constitution. According to Chief Ndevu, the issue of customary law was first dealt with during the Codesa negotiations in the early 1990s, but that in the implementation of the final Constitution traditional leaders lost some of the independence that they had fought for during the Codesa talks. It is this independence they are trying to regain.
It will be interesting to see what transpires in the courts. South Africa is an amazingly diverse country, but a relatively young democracy, and one it would seem that we are still trying to get the lay of the land of.