December 5, 2002

SOUTH AFRICA: Mbeki Calls For Wide Consultation Between Govt, Traditional Leaders

President Thabo Mbeki maintains that there is a need for wide consultation between government and traditional leaders, so as to define the role of the latter in a democratic South Africa.

Addressing the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) conference in Johannesburg, President Mbeki said in the process of building a democratic South Africa, many questions - including the role of traditional leaders - had to be answered. 'We have to do more work to define more precisely the role and place of traditional leaders,' he acknowledged, adding that everyone had to be involved in that process. He added that a draft White Paper on the role of traditional leaders was already in the public domain for everyone to add their views and emphasised that it was not a final decision that government wanted to impose onto traditional leaders. 'It is a basis for discussion...it needs to be changed wherever such an action may be required,' he explained, expressing his hope that traditional leaders would participate in the process.

He said it would be good that governments throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region heard a united voice spelling out perspectives of what ought to be done and interventions that had to be made to address the challenge. Furthermore, President Mbeki reiterated his displeasure at continuous threats of violence by some traditional leaders who were dissatisfied with the draft White Paper. 'We know what political violence can do... we cannot resume the slaughter of our people like it was the case during the apartheid era,' he warned.

In response to that, the Contralesa leadership assured the President that they condemned any type of violence by people who failed to address their grievances in a democratic manner. 'Contralesa is committed to peaceful resolution of any issue irrespective of how much we disagree and differ with government,' they affirmed.

On allegations that traditional leaders were excluded in the processes of the African Union (AU) and its socio-economic blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), President Mbeki said it was the responsibility of the traditional leaders to ensure that they were not invited to participate in both programmes. 'Instead,' President Mbeki implored,' they should be saying 'this is what we are going to do in the regeneration of Africa. It's in their participation that in truth our traditional leadership will redefine itself and will cleanse itself of the dirt that befell it during apartheid'. He added that everyone was welcome to make a meaningful contribution to the regeneration of the continent and said that if left to political principals, both programmes would fail.

The four-day conference seeks to discuss issues such as human rights, democracy and development. Traditional leaders from the SADC countries, including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, are also attending the gathering. (BuaNews, Pretoria)

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