Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Last Friday, I took the decision to withdraw my nomination as the Chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal House of Traditional Leadership (KZNHTL).
In view of the some of the erroneous reports pertaining to my decision I feel it is important to clarify some of the issues.
The ANC have campaigned long and hard for my removal as the Chairperson of the KZNTL since its inception. This personal vendetta has, at times, clouded the issues of substance surrounding traditional leadership which I have addressed on a number of occasions in my online letter. I will return to those substantive issues and offer a glimpse of what could be a bright future for the institution shortly.
First, it is important to evaluate the timeline of events to understand last Friday’s outcome. The former premier Mr S’bu Ndebele and the Provincial Cabinet, of which Premier Mkhize was a senior Minister, took a cabinet decision in early 2008 to try and remove me and my then Deputy by ordering that we should work "full time" or else resign our positions as Member of Parliament and Principal respectively. We were given a deadline of June 1.
We took the matter to the High Court and the Provincial Government lost the case. It was stated by the Judge that the Premier and the Provincial Council had no legal authority to make the order that they had made.
The then MEC for Traditional Affairs, Mr Michael Mabuyakulu, on behalf of the Executive Council, went further to ask for leave to appeal to take the decision to the Supreme Court of Appeal. Their application was again dismissed with costs. These actions clearly underscore the petty political agenda of the ruling-party. It is axiomatic that the campaign to remove me was supported by President Jacob Zuma. I was attacked by the SACP and others for stating this, but it was the President and the Premier who met with amaKhosi to discuss this matter.
By way of anecdotal example, even on Thursday evening, amaKhosi who were intending to vote for the other candidate, were accommodated at the Riverside Hotel with senior officials of the Department of Traditional Affairs in Durban, whilst I was accommodated with my presumed backers at the Royal Hotel on the other side of the city.
One is not downcast however. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "reports of my (political) death have been greatly exaggerated". Times may be changing, but talk of failure and lost credibility is clearly absurd. I took a principled and strategic decision not to stand for re-election as Chairman of the KwaZulu Natal House of Traditional Leaders. My decision, I believe, has effectively strengthened the institution of traditional leadership.
My statement to the KZNHTL on Friday encapsulated my case. It read as follows:
"I have dedicated my entire life, really since my early years, to doing everything in my power to promote the cause of the Zulu Kingdom and foster the unity and prosperity of the Zulu Nation within the greater unity of South Africa. I remain committed to these historical goals, the final achievement of which will only materialise long after the time of my passing. I would never do anything to jeopardise the final realisation of these goals.
We are at a strange juncture of transformation which has created confusion between long-term goals and short-term personal and political gains and benefits. I know that this juncture will be temporary and that traditional leaders of the Kingdom of KwaZulu will again focus on the long-term aspects of their historical mission for the benefit of our nation and all our people.
However, no matter how temporary, confusing and ill-motivated this juncture, it is most pernicious to the achievement of the long-term goals to which I and many others in this House have consecrated our lives.
It is clear to me that at this present juncture the collegial body of traditional leaders of the Zulu Kingdom is not ready to speak with an unanimous voice and express a candidate for the chairmanship of the provincial House of Traditional Leaders which can unify all of us.
Historically, whenever our traditional leadership has been united, our kingdom has prospered. Whenever it has been divided, our kingdom has suffered. Historically, the constant and sole tactic utilised by our opponents to undermine our Kingdom and our Nation has been that of dividing our traditional leadership.
For this reason, I am not prepared to be used as a tool to divide our traditional leadership. Nor am I prepared to preside over a divided House or a divided institution of traditional leadership. For this reason, I have chosen not to make myself available for election as the Chairperson of the provincial House of Traditional Leaders of KwaZulu Natal, a position which I have held since 1994, considering the position I held in the antecedent of this House.
If this House is capable of producing a candidate, any candidate, who can receive the unanimous support of this House, such person ought to be elected in my place, because the unity of our traditional leadership is far more important than me. In the name of such unity, I pledge to cooperate with whoever will be so elected for as long as he or she receives such unanimous support, to which end I pre-announce that I will be abstaining during the voting process."
After the election of the deputy chairperson and the new executive which followed the election of the chairperson, I said:
"I wish to congratulate Inkosi Bhekisisa Bhengu on his election as Chairperson of the KwaZulu Natal House of Traditional Leaders. I know that a difficult task lies ahead for our new Chairperson. At the same time I must congratulate Inkosi M Mzimela who was elected as Deputy Chairperson, a position he has retained since the inception of the House. His election as Deputy is a great asset to the house because of his experience not only as Deputy Chairperson of the House but for having held the position of Chairperson of the National House for several years.
Inkosi Bhengu and Inkosi Mzimela take up this position in a time of cheque-book politics, where the interests of our Nation have taken a backseat to self-interest and power plays. In this pernicious environment, Inkosi Bhengu and Inkosi M Mzimela will need to give a strong example of leadership, to unite our Nation and express the unanimous voice of amaKhosi.
AmaKhosi have entrusted Inkosi Bhengu and Inkosi M Mzimela with building on the tireless work we have done in the past 15 years, so that we may now see the tangible fruits of our long labour. Indeed, amaKhosi have mandated Inkosi F Bhengu and Inkosi M Mzimela to bring about the full recognition of the Zulu Monarchy and the Zulu Kingdom, to establish unity within our Nation and to ensure that Government’s commitments to the institution of traditional leadership are upheld.
After years of fighting for these very goals as Chairperson of the House, it was rewarding for me to see Cabinet, under former President Mbeki, approve the establishment of a Department of Traditional Leadership in 2008, to restore the dignity of the institution and to properly focus on the needs of traditional communities.
Former President Motlanthe, now our Deputy President, added his approval to this decision just a month before South Africa’s national elections, assuring amaKhosi that the new Government would take the issue of traditional leadership to a qualitatively higher level.
Inkosi F Bhengu and Inkosi M Mzimela must now engage with President Zuma’s Government to see the fulfilment of all this work. As a seasoned politician, I am concerned by the implications of President Zuma renaming the Department of Provincial and Local Government as the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. I encourage our new Chairperson to ensure that the groundwork we have so painstakingly laid is not now set aside.
There are those who have sought to buy our amaKhosi. If their agenda of disempowering the institution of traditional leadership finally succeeds, we will have to face the tragedy that chequebook politics has won. For the sake of our Nation, I pray that is not the case".
In a clear expression of continued support for the leadership I have provided over the years, amaKhosi increased the number of my supporters on the ten-member Executive, who won eight of the ten seats. Three of my supporters were nominated to represent the provincial House in the National House of Traditional Leaders, and my close ally and right-hand man Inkosi Mzimela was returned as Deputy Chairperson. The ANC’s scored only a pyrrhic victory.
As Reverend Musa Zondi, the IFP Secretary-General put it this week:
"What some are hailing as an ANC victory, is a hollow victory indeed. It seems the ANC has not heeded the tragic historical lessons of various countries throughout Africa where party-political ideologues – parading as democrats – attempted to eradicate or phase-out the institution of traditional leadership, with destructive social consequences.
"Prince Buthelezi challenged the old colonial and later apartheid attitudes towards traditional leadership, dedicating his life to the preservation, recognition and restoration of the dignity of amaKhosi. Ironically, after years of battle, the most serious threat to amaKhosi has come from a democratically elected government.
"The battle has become dirty and underhanded, as evidenced in the backstage bribing and buying of amaKhosi."
As I said at the beginning of this letter, the deeply personal campaign against me has, I fear, detracted from the key issues surrounding traditional leadership; namely, authority, recognition, empowerment and reconstruction.
Authority in modern day South Africa derives from a Western-style democratic process where leaders are chosen by popular demand by people of all backgrounds and rank. Socio-economic development in our communities is, thankfully, driven by market forces and regulated, sometimes too vigorously, by government. However, there are numerous areas where traditional leaders may be more effective than government and I do not say this only because I am a traditional leader and the Chairperson of the Zululand District House of Traditional Leaders and the Traditional Prime Minister of the King.
Such areas include, for instance, programmes dealing with community health in remote areas that the local government has difficulty accessing, maintenance of education facilities, cultural activities including teaching of culture, traditions and language and certain semi-judicial disciplinary processes involving families and youths. It is crucial that traditional leaders are supported in their endeavours by elected officials through legislative processes and financial backing.
As the Machiavellian machinations of the ruling-party in recent times suggest, 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 traditional leaders 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. If the Zulu Kingdom is to survive, it must have its respective powers and functions recognised in and safeguarded by a provincial constitution. Such a constitution must accommodate not only the current monarch, but the monarchy as a whole and its constituting structures, including the amakhosi. Let us learn from countries like Uganda which is a republic like South Africa but recognises its constituent three kingdoms.
The matter came to a head in 2000 when the new wall-to-wall system of local government was inaugurated. Obviously, due to the lack of clarification, a clash was pending between the roles of elected councillors and amakhosi. The then Deputy President, Mr Jacob Zuma upon instructions of President Mbeki and cabinet together with representatives of the Coalition of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, legal experts and Ministers agreed in November 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.
A long process of negotiations ensued. It was finalised in the National Framework of Traditional Leadership and Governance Act No 41 of 2003 which duly enabled provinces to pass their own legislation pertaining to traditional leadership. President Thabo Mbeki likewise pledged in a letter to the then National Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders, Inkosi M Mzimela, 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.
Looking ahead to find a way out of this quagmire, perhaps a reconstruction of traditional leadership, while keeping a hands-off approach on the governmental functions of elected officials, may help revitalise our traditional leaders. The dual authority system between traditional leadership and modern politics that exists today needs to be recognised more formally as a relationship on equal basis. The specific roles to be assigned to traditional leaders should be carefully thought out and fully agreed by both systems from the start.
We need to also keep in mind that while the assigned roles may be clear, the method of carrying them out may be far more involved than anticipated.
Clearing a piece of land for a traditional ceremonial venue may require the financial and technical support of the local government to perform these services up to modern standards. Without a full commitment of the elected government and its financial assistance, it is impossible for traditional leaders to do any business.
I still believe that even as the clock chimes five minutes to midnight for the survival of the institution in our country, much could be achieved if traditional leaders were enabled to co-operate with local government and were adequately resourced. We may have different roles and different capacities to elected councillors, but we both share the passion for the same constituency: the rural poor.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP