April 2, 2003

Discussion on traditional communities

The standoff between government and traditional leaders over their role in the new dispensation appears to be far from being resolved. The disagreement saw President Thabo Mbeki being confronted April 1, with a renewed call from traditional leaders for government to honour its promises by amending the constitution and returning community land to restore the rights of traditional communities.

Before opening the sitting of the House of Traditional Leaders in Cape Town, chairman of the house Mpiyezintombi Mzimela told Mbeki that there should be no further delay for constitutional and legislative changes to ensure future governments and officials "will be compelled to respect the rights of our communities". Mzimela distributed a message to "put the record straight" about the negotiations with government, saying traditional leaders had allowed the constitution to be written without the inclusion of powers, duties and functions for traditional leaders. They had also allowed municipal elections to proceed after promises from government to deal with these matters.

"We have received promises over a period of several years from former president Nelson Mandela, Mbeki and Deputy President Jacob Zuma that relevant sections of the constitution will be amended to provide for the powers and functions of traditional authorities in local government," said Mzimela. He said traditional communities were treated badly by successive governments through the colonial era to apartheid, and had played a part in dismantling apartheid. They should be rewarded for creating liberation. Mzimela said the problem now was to ensure that all traditional communities in the country received the respect and recognition they deserved. "This will not be easy because we perhaps trusted too much and relied on promises that our communities would receive proper recognition in the constitution and the laws of our country."

Mbeki said government was keen to resolve all issues involving traditional leaders "as quickly as possible". "Obviously we cannot celebrate our 10th anniversary of liberation in a situation (in) which we have not met our constitutional obligation to resolve all matters that attach to issues of the institution of the traditional system of government," he said. Government wanted to achieve a result without confrontation, said Mbeki. He did not understand what was meant by an impasse between government and traditional leaders. "I don't believe such an impasse exists," he said.

Mbeki said the Communal Land Rights Bill was being redrafted " to take into account the various observations" that have been made, including those of the traditional leaders. Once the bill was tabled there would be further opportunity to make additional comments. The bill was intended to improve the tenure rights of about 13million people on communally owned land in SA, mainly in the previous homeland areas, and to give legal recognition to customary and other communal land tenure systems. "I must emphasise that the government seeks finalisation of this matter through a process of discussion and without unnecessary confrontation," said Mbeki.

He said it was no use for democracy and liberation to seek to abolish the institution of traditional government. "I am confident that we engage in these processes so as to give more meaning to our fundamental rights as articulated in our constitution, and that the important institution of traditional leadership gains the necessary institutional capacity to contribute to the realisation of the goals spelt out in that constitution." (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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