About Us

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, the sole and authentic representative of the progressive traditional leadership of South Africa, conveys its felicitations and hearty congratulations to the African National Congress and its new leadership, elected at the historic 52nd National Conference held in Polokwane, Limpopo, in December 2007.

We join the millions of fellow South Africans in expressing the hope of the achievement of a better life for all under the banner of a strong and united leadership collective of the ANC. As traditional leaders of the toiling and marginalised rural masses of the African people living in communal lands, we pledge our commitment to working closely with you as you seek to implement Conference resolutions which will uplift their living conditions.

We will, however, be in a position to make a meaningful contribution to your endeavours when our longstanding concerns are addressed. The purpose of this memorandum is, therefore, to apprise you of such concerns. It is our hope also that on this particular occasion our discussion will render it unnecessary for these concerns to be ever raised again.

The Formation of CONTRALESA

Contralesa was formed in 1987 by some of the traditional leaders of the erstwhile homeland of KwaNdebele, under the auspices of the United Democratic Front, with the material and political support of the ANC. It was due largely to the resistance of these traditional leaders, as part of the mass democratic movement, that the apartheid programme of homeland-style independence was derailed.

Since its formation, through to the unbanning of political organisations and the advent of constitutional negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid regime, Contralesa enjoyed good working relations with the ANC. The future role and place of the institution of traditional leadership under a democratic government were assured, to the extent that the ANC’s Constitutional Guidelines stated that, “The institution of traditional leadership shall be transformed to promote the democratic interests of the people”.

Relations started to deteriorate, however, when the ANC failed to support the participation of traditional leaders or Contralesa in CODESA. Before they were eventually invited to the talks, traditional leaders had to undergo the humiliation of appearing before a committee to justify their call for inclusion in the negotiations on the future of their fatherland.

The Interim Constitution

As a result of the traditional leaders’ participation in the Constitutional Talks the interim Constitution was much more clearer on the role of traditional leadership in the new era of democracy than does the final Constitution. Under the former all legislatures were obliged to refer relevant draft legislation to the appropriate House of Traditional Leaders before they could be passed into law. At the local level heads of traditional authorities were automatically members of municipal councils having jurisdiction over their areas of rule.

Traditional authorities were allowed to continue to perform their tasks and exercise their powers as local government structures and as courts of justice.

The Final Constitution

The final Constitution, unlike the interim, was made without the full participation of traditional leaders. This was due to the fact that the government failed to establish the National House of Traditional Leaders before its finalisation. A comprehensive submission made by Contralesa to the Constituent Assembly was never taken into account when the relevant provisions were considered for adoption.

The result of such exclusion was the dilution of the provisions found in the interim Constitution. Government is now no longer constitutionally obliged to establish Houses of Traditional Leaders. Nor does the Constitution make it compulsory for the legislatures to refer relevant Bills to a House. The Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act of 2003 does, however, oblige legislatures to refer such Bills to a House.

Chapter 12, the chapter dealing with the matter of traditional leadership, is often ridiculed by commentators, as the shortest and vaguest in the Constitution. It says virtually nothing about the role and powers of traditional leaders.

Chapter 7, the chapter dealing with the local government sphere, has practically taken away all the powers and functions which historically belonged to traditional leaders. In this particular regard, President Thabo Mbeki gave a solemn undertaking to the Coalition of Traditional Leaders (comprising Contralesa, the National and Provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders and the Royal Bafokeng), on the eve of the 2000 local government elections, that if the Constitution or any other law took away the powers and functions of traditional leaders, the Constitution or any such other law would have to be changed so as to restore such powers and functions.

As a consequence of such undertaking then Deputy President Jacob Zuma, together with Minister Sidney Mufamadi, concluded an agreement with the Coalition to the effect that Chapter 7 would be suitably amended to address the traditional leaders’ concerns. No such amendment was ever done, however. Naturally, we do feel a sense of betrayal.

On the judicial front, the Constitution acts as if African courts of traditional leaders do not exist. The chapter dealing with the courts of the land makes no mention of these courts. Yet, it is common knowledge that millions of rural South Africans are serviced by the courts of traditional leaders in the administration of criminal and civil justice. In spite of recommendations by the South African Law Commission that these courts be fully recognised and given the requisite resources, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development has failed to take the action necessary to promote them.

Renumeration oF Traditional Leaders

Traditional leaders of all ranks, i.e. kings, iinkosi (chiefs) and iinkosana (headmen), are, like politicians in government, public office bearers. They are entitled to be remunerated in a manner commensurate with their responsibilities and status. The truth, however, is that in this regard traditional leaders are discriminated against. The best that they receive is a basic salary without the concomitant allowances such as medical aid, motor vehicle allowances, pension benefits, etc. Due to lack of uniformity in the manner in which provincial governments treat the institution, some traditional leaders have been provided with motor vehicles, while others have not. Needless to say, this gives rise to resentment and annoyance on the part of those who do not get this form of support.

In yet another meeting with then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki in April 1999, the Contralesa leadership was assured that traditional leaders of the same rank would be remunerated equally. Indeed officially recognised kings, iinkosi and some of iinkosana, in some of the provinces, were paid the same basic salary in accordance with their ranks. It is common knowledge, though, that not all of our kings are accorded the same treatment, benefits, allowances and privileges. Some have motor vehicles provided by government, while others don’t; others have palaces built and maintained by government, while others have no such; others have their children and queens maintained and/or educated by government, while others enjoy no such services. The Remuneration of Public Office Bearers Act provides for the President of the Republic to determine what allowances and benefits are to be enjoyed by traditional leaders in addition to their basic salaries. We do not know why he has to date not exercised this prerogative.

While the kings and iinkosi receive salary increases annually, iinkosana (those who get salaries) do not receive such increases on a regular basis. This is not only absurd, but grossly inhumane.

Some of us are members of the national and provincial legislatures. We know that a great deal of party caucus time is spent on members’ complaints about the inadequacy of the salary packages they receive. They make the correct point that for them to be able to discharge their responsibilities as public representatives they need to be properly remunerated. The same imperatives apply to traditional leaders. It does not help for our detractors to be accusing traditional leaders of being concerned only about their well-being. They have needs and family responsibilities like everybody else. Besides, it is demeaning and undignified for traditional leaders to be forever complaining about their welfare; it is un-African.

Service Delivery in Communal Areas

The continuous failure by the ANC and government to deal adequately and finally with this matter of the role, place and powers of the institution in modern-day South Africa has a negative effect on service delivery in the communal areas. Every minister, councillor or state official knows that the co-operation of traditional leaders, of all ranks, in the implementation of government programmes is of vital importance for its meaningful and sustainable success.

The last time the ANC engaged Contralesa in meaningful political engagement was while it was led by what was called the Leadership Core under the late Mr Walter Sisulu. Subsequent meetings were convened only when major crises arose, after which no follow-up discussions would be held, in spite of constant reminders on our part.

All the problems that have bedevilled relations between the ANC, and later the government, are a result of the failure by the ANC to engage the organisation in political discussions. The two organisations have ended up second-guessing each other, and in the process accumulating presumptions and prejudices against each other.

Several pieces of legislation dealing with traditional leadership have been passed. Almost all of them give recognition to the relevance of the institution even in this era of modern democracy. These laws have facilitated the reconstruction, democratisation and transformation of tribal authorities into traditional councils and the establishment of the National, Provincial and (in some provinces) Local Houses of Traditional Leaders.

The Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, (the blue-print on traditional leadership for the whole country) provides for various departments of state to devise legislation in terms of which they must facilitate the participation of traditional leaders in their work. Thus far only the Department of Land Affairs has come up with relevant legislation. Yet, all departments active in the communal areas are forever calling on traditional leaders to assist them with their programmes.

The structures that have been set up are no better than the “toy telephones” of old. They are, to varying degrees, hardly taken seriously, even by the government that set them up. An abiding scandal is the fact that the National House of Traditional Leaders, fourteen years into democracy, has still not been provided with a debating chamber. It does not even have offices decent and large enough to accommodate members and staff. Members of all the Houses are regarded, except for the Chairpersons and their Deputies, as part-time members who get paid travelling and sitting allowances, with no salaries.

The traditional councils are in some areas “white elephants”, except that most of them are in appalling states of dilapidation and neglect, having last been attended to with funds provided in the apartheid era. Ward councillors, ward committees and community development workers have been installed in these communal areas without any regard for the existing indigenous officers who work hand-in-hand with traditional leaders. As a result confusion and needless rivalry reign between the new and the original

For the communal area citizens government and its services continue to be far, distant and expensive to access. We make the suggestion that the traditional council facilities be reconstructed and used to house government offices which deal, on a daily basis, with rural citizens. It does not make any sense for these South Africans to be forced to journey to the urban areas to access government services in an era where they own the government. Towns, as they exist, were built where they are by whites for their own convenience, at places where they gathered. Rural masses gather at their civic centres, the Great Places.

We are encouraged by the Polokwane National Conference resolutions which place emphasis on rural development, land and agrarian reform. As historical custodians of communal land we look forward to working together with the ANC government to ensure that this particular resolution is implemented. Needless to say, mutual respect between traditional leaders and political leaders is key to the achievement of such a goal.

It is incumbent upon the ANC to wipe out this phobia afflicting Africans in terms of which they despise their own institutions in favour of those of whites. Our government at all levels and in all spheres, is housed in buildings and structures that were occupied by our erstwhile oppressors; yet we behave in ways which suggest that we are ashamed of our own institutions.


We invite the current leadership of the ANC to revisit the origins of the organisation. The ethnic clashes and wars engulfing Africa were predicted by the founders of this glorious movement, when they called for the unity of Africans under the benevolent guidance of their traditional leaders. The institution continues to be best placed to deal with tribalism, which continues to manifest itself like umlilo wegquba – the fire that rages underneath the surface of the cattle-kraal cow-dung without being noticed. Tribalism is best dealt with by tribal leaders, rather than politicians. As we advance towards the 100th anniversary of the ANC in 2012 the House of Chiefs (as it was then called) needs to be re-established. This is after all the African Century which implies that mazibuy’emasisweni – the cattle, hitherto on loan, must be returned to their original owners.

Naturally, this document cannot purport to exhaust all the issues that require our common attention; it is merely a basis for a political discussion.