Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
On Thursday 7 February in Cape Town, I found myself sharing a platform with the Minister of Health the Honourable Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang to address a workshop on “traditional leaders leading the way to a world without Aids”.
There was, you will not be surprised to hear, absolute consensus that traditional leaders have a major contribution to make to bring about an Aids-free generation. After all, traditional leaders are the closest to the hopes, needs and aspirations of the people in traditional communities.
Amakhosi are the veins that carry the blood of our nation.
Where government everywhere is prone to setting up committees and establishing policy units (and the ubiquitous reviews!), local leaders contemplate and deliver action. It is action that makes a material difference to an isolated, troubled or hungry community, not words.
And this is why, friends, my frustration boiled over on Thursday. First, let me take you back to 20 September 2002, when we inaugurated the KwaZulu Natal Traditional Leaders HIV/Aids Task Team.
This was an ambitious project which co-opted amakhosi as respected father figures in their communities. The initiative was inaugurated amid the government controversy whether or not to supply HIV-positive pregnant women with Nevirapine which, as a registered medicine, had been proven to limit mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus. You will recall that KwaZulu Natal, under the premiership of Dr Lionel Mtshali, was the first province to roll out Nevirapine to those who needed it.
But my point, of course, is the KwaZulu Natal Traditional Leaders HIV/Aids Task Team. My appeal, as Traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu nation, was to amakhosi as community figures who are in a position to inspire right attitudes and right action. I urged amakhosi to talk openly and encourage unhindered discussion about HIV/Aids in their communities in order to help eradicate the stigma associated with the disease.
In particular, I urged amakhosi to share their wisdom and perspective to encourage their people to make informed decisions about staying HIV-negative or protecting themselves and others if they are HIV-positive.
My appeal to amakhosi was to educate their communities about prevention and those in the communities who are already afflicted by the disease about the ways to improve the quality of their lives through physical exercise, balanced and nutritious diet, and vitamins and immunity boosters. I also encouraged amakhosi to bring in qualified doctors to assist people with contraception and medicines.
Dr Tshabalala-Msimang and her then provincial counterpart, Dr Zweli Mkhize were both present at the launch of this Task Team. Nearly six years on, as we met in Cape Town at yet another, albeit laudatory workshop, we have simply not been able to fulfil the task we set out to do. On Thursday, I once again, set out the chronology of the humiliating and steady erosion of the powers and functions of traditional leaders.
The former Deputy President, Mr Jacob Zuma together with representatives of the Coalition of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, concluded on November 30 2000 that chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would need to be amended to prevent the obliteration of the roles and functions of traditional leaders.
In the meantime, a long process of negotiations ensued, which included the White Paper process, and was finalised in the National Framework of Traditional Leadership and Governance Act No 41 of 2003. This enabled provinces to pass their own legislation pertaining to traditional leadership.
Also, it will be recalled, that in a letter to the then National Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders, Inkosi Mzimela, President Thabo Mbeki pledged that if the powers and functions of traditional leaders were obliterated by the Municipal Structures Act and other legislation, he would amend the Constitution. Neither this, nor the earlier 2000 undertaking, was fulfilled.
As with any institution, when one begins to tamper with the form, the substance will ultimately change, too. This is precisely what has happened in KwaZulu-Natal when the Traditional Leadership and Governance Act was passed in 2005 which failed to address the obliteration of the powers and functions of traditional leaders.
The present legislative framework is proving to be an unmitigated disaster for the institution. Traditional Leaders, who are subject to the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act, have no autonomy or any budget to perform their functions.
To add insult to injury, in Parliament last year, the Minister for Provincial and Local Government Mr FS Mufamadi said that the House of Traditional Leaders in all provinces, bar one, were content with this state of affairs. Only the KwaZulu Natal House of Traditional Leaders (the “Perfidious Albion” of South African politics?) was not. This “ghost”, he said, needed to be personally “exorcised”. Anyway, to date, the grand exorciser has not come up to the Garden Province to drive out the alleged demons.
That nonsense aside, the practicalities are serious. We, as traditional leaders, cannot even hold a meeting without the Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs approving the budget to hold the meeting. The new legislative arrangements seem to be intent on destroying and abolishing traditional authorities, leaving traditional councils with no administrative capacity.
This has placed traditional leaders and the institution of traditional leadership completely outside of the sphere of governance altogether. We are, frankly, a council with no official function, no structures and no administrative capacity: an empty shell of an institution.
How on earth then can we begin to combat HIV/Aids which is ripping through our communities like a whirlwind? We can have workshops until the ‘trumpet sounds’ and our Lord comes again, but without the means we are like a car without an engine. Who cares if the car is an Austin Martin or a Fiat Opal if it cannot move?
It is sometimes useful to juxtapose the debate within a broader context. I would like to mention, as I have before, the Ashanti of Ghana. There the central government has realised that it cannot do without traditional leaders working at the level of local government and, as a result, the institution is playing a key role in combating the HIV/Aids pandemic on the ground where no national government can conceivably reach.
Christiane Owusu-Sarpong, a member of the Traditional Authority Applied Research Network (TAAR) Ghana team observed: “In a country such as Ghana, where the central government has realised that it cannot do without traditional leaders at the level of local government; where traditional leaders have taken it upon themselves to modernise the institution to meet the needs of their people in today’s world; and where the so-called ‘modernity’ has hit hard with new social, economic and health problems, chiefs and queen mothers are regaining a lot of authority as partners in development.”
In 2002, Don Ray, a Canadian professor leading the TAAR project first observed King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, leader of Ghana’s Ashanti people, speaking out about HIV/Aids. He said: “We’ve seen that it has become much more common for chiefs in many parts of Ghana to become involved in the struggle against HIV/Aids, and that really is a sea change”.
For all the eloquence about an African Renaissance, there has been no such sea change in South Africa. The government seems content to pay lip service to the idea of continuity of African traditions through the institution of traditional leadership. Yet our government forgets that by constraining the capacity of amakhosi to serve their communities, it ultimately curtails the potential of the communities concerned.
I have dedicated my entire life to the preservation of traditional leaders in our communities. I have challenged the old colonial and later apartheid attitudes on the subject. Paradoxically, it is the democratically-elected government that has imposed some of the most serious constraints on amakhosi. I will not rest until they are eased and until our communities ripe the benefits of a thriving institution of traditional leadership.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP