Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As traditional Prime Minister to King Cetshwayo, my great grandfather, Inkosi Mnyamana kaNgqengelele Buthelezi, was Commander in Chief of the King’s regiments during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. His son, Inkosi Mkhandumbe, was injured at the Battle of Isandlwana where the Zulu nation won a decisive victory over the British Empire, defeating the first British invasion of Zululand.
King Cetshwayo’s son and heir, King Dinuzulu, retained Inkosi Mnyamana as his traditional Prime Minister, while King Dinuzulu’s son and heir, King Solomon, appointed my father, Mathole Buthelezi, to the position of Prince Minister of the Zulu Monarch and Nation.
King Solomon was my mother’s brother. Another of her brothers, Prince Mshiyeni, became regent after King Solomon’s death, until King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon ascended to the throne. Under King Cyprian, I followed in the footsteps of my father’s line and was appointed traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and the Zulu Nation.
I continued to serve in this position when King Cyprian’s son, King Goodwill Zwelethini ka Bhekuzulu ascended to the throne, almost 45 years ago. Throughout the present King’s reign, I have fulfilled the duties and responsibilities of my position in the knowledge that this is not only my calling by birth, born as I am into the Zulu royal family, but by the dictates of history.
In every generation, the Zulu nation has found a handful of champions, and an ocean of adversaries.
It has been important to me that the role and functions of the Zulu monarch and the role and functions of traditional leaders be respected, for traditional leadership has been an established structure of our society dating all the way back to King Shaka ka Senzangakhona. Within this structure, every one of our people has an individual and a collective role. Everyone has dignity and worth, and everyone bears shared responsibility for the wellbeing of society.
During apartheid and our liberation struggle, I waged a struggle also for the recognition of our monarch and kingdom and on behalf of traditional leadership. I could never have anticipated that when we finally defeated minority rule and established democracy in South Africa, my fight on behalf of traditional leadership would need to continue, and increase.
But that has been the case. Because for almost twenty years the Government led by the ANC has progressively side-lined traditional leaders with the intention of diminishing their role, powers and functions until they are merely symbolic title-holders, with no real say in governance.
Knowing all this, I attended the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) in Cape Town last Thursday and listened to President Jacob Zuma deliver his opening address.
He began with a jarring reference to the NHTL now being open to “conduct its business for the financial year”. I wondered what relevance the financial year has to the NHTL when National Treasury has allocated no budget at all to the NHTL, or to the provincial houses of traditional leaders, or the district and local houses, or even to traditional councils. Speaking about a financial year in the absence of a budget is meaningless.
I raised this problem in the National Assembly two years ago, explaining in simple terms that the absence of a budget for our Local House of Traditional Leaders forces me to ask my wife to provide refreshments whenever we meet. The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs was shocked to hear this. Yet still the status quo remains.
Government wants us to support its developmental work. But if offices of traditional leaders cannot even employ a secretary or get a phone line, how can we implement even the most visionary development initiatives? There is no real intention in Government to support traditional leadership. In fact, within the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the function of “Traditional Affairs” enjoys less than 1% of the total budget.
President Zuma and I have butted heads on the issue of traditional leadership before. On the surface it would seem that we both have the same interests at heart. He is a Zulu, I am a Zulu. And he is proud of his cultural heritage. But President Zuma is also the President of the ANC, and he leads a party whose intention has always been to gain political hegemony and total dominance. There is no room for leadership of any other kind.
Thus when the ANC-led Government began developing legislation for municipal governance, it thought nothing of obliterating the role, powers and functions of traditional leaders. This created a serious problem.
Thus on the 30th of November 2000, on the eve of Local Government Elections, a delegation of the Coalition of Traditional Leaders led by Inkosi Patekile Holomisa had a day-long negotiating meeting with an ad hoc Cabinet Committee led by the then Deputy President, Mr Jacob Zuma, and comprising all the relevant line function Ministers, including the Minister for Local Government and Traditional Affairs.
A formal agreement was entered into in terms of which traditional leaders undertook not to boycott the Local Government Elections in consideration of the formal promise received that Chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would be amended to ensure that the powers and functions of Traditional Leaders would not be obliterated by the implementation of the Municipal Structures Act and other municipal legislation.
Nine years later, on the 26th of August 2009, a Member of Parliament, Mr Peter Smith, asked President Zuma in the National Assembly when Chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would be amended, as promised on the 30th of November 2000. President Zuma’s response was that the undertaking that was made to amend the Constitution was merely a recommendation and not a solemn agreement. And he added that the Cabinet did not accept that recommendation.
I immediately stood up and pointed out that I too was in Cabinet at that time, as the Minister of Home Affairs, and while I incessantly raised the need to discuss and implement this promise, I could not remember it having been discussed in Cabinet at all. I then stated in Parliament my distress over seeing my country governed through deception.
Traditional leaders delivered on their promise and supported the elections. But the person who signed on the dotted line to execute Government’s broken promise is now our country’s President.
One piece of legislation after the next diminished the role, powers and functions of traditional leaders, to the extent that only 20% of traditional leaders may now attend municipal council meetings, and none of them may vote. They are not on par with municipal councillors and cannot expect their participation to have any binding influence. Moreover, the MEC determines what their actual role is and what form their participation will take.
To me, that does not sound like a partnership. Traditional leaders have become ceremonial figures in local governance, barred from taking any decisions or even having a vote in the decision-making process.
It is thus difficult to accept President Zuma’s exhortation that traditional leaders should work with Government to build a prosperous South Africa. What role should they play? What can they actually do?
According to President Zuma’s speech at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders last Thursday, the role of traditional leaders is this
1. To “support government in making agriculture and farming look cool to our youth”;
2. To encourage “those who get their land back to use it and not resell it”;
3. To “work with government and other sectors to rebuild the moral fibre of our society”;
4. To “help us promote a culture of respecting one another”; and
5. To “create jobs for tour guides”.
In many speeches to traditional leaders, like this one, all the right murmurings are heard about food security, nation building and the promotion of indigenous heritage. But when it comes down to the bare facts of the matter, traditional leaders are expected to do nothing more than toe the line of Government, without funding or resources, in an environment hostile to leadership of any kind outside of ANC structures.
Nothing has been done in almost twenty years to inspire the idea that an ANC-led Government is willing to respect the role, powers and functions of an established social structure like traditional leadership. What they are willing to do, however, is use traditional leaders to create political inroads for the ANC. At least President Zuma admitted to that when he delivered the ANC’s centennial address on the 8th of January last year.
Since then, I haven’t heard much unvarnished truth from the ANC.
Perhaps one of the most varnished parts of President Zuma’s speech to traditional leaders last Thursday was his allegation that the liberation struggle waged by the ANC “became deliberately a struggle to eliminate all forms of violence. It was a struggle to achieve a peaceful, caring, stable society. We cannot turn our backs on that legacy of dignified, principled struggle for peace, human rights and justice.” I wonder how the ANC’s People’s War and its call to make South Africa ungovernable fit into the picture. Twenty thousand black lives were lost when the ANC embarked on an armed struggle. That is the real legacy of the ANC.
But we are dealing here with a political party that adamantly believes that, in President Zuma’s words, “Our country can be anything we want it to be.”
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP