The inaugural Indigenous and Traditional Leaders Indaba took place in Johannesburg last week, with President Jacob Zuma giving the opening address. The indaba, which amongst other things looked at the relationship between traditional African leadership and government, was attended by indigenous leaders, members of Contralesa (the Congress of Traditional Leaders), academics and leaders in government.
As a platform for issues affecting traditional leaders, topics discussed included land ownership and the distribution of resources and economic transformation. President Zuma emphasised the role that traditional leaders can play in land claims because of their knowledge of the history of land ownership in specific areas, particularly areas where their predecessors had been involved in land wars. The president also raised the issue of the abuse of women and children in contemporary South Africa, and how traditional leaders are crucial in fostering peace and stability in communities – Zuma urged traditional leaders to help the country return to an ‘African way’ of life, where women and children are respected.
The role of traditional leaders in post-apartheid South Africa is a contested one. In the early post-apartheid years, the ANC government aimed to suppress the power of traditional leaders as they were thought of as undemocratic (they are not democratically elected and their power comes from their lineage).
For more information on critiques of traditional leadership, see the Custom Contested website.
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