Speech by acting Minister Mbalula, delivered on behalf of Minister Mashatile on the occasion to mark and celebrate twentieth year of existence since Contralesa was launched as a National Organisation

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19 Nov 2010

Honourable Premier of the Northern Cape Province, Ms Hazel Jenkins
Honourable President of CONTRALESA Nkosi SP Holomisa Ah! Dilizintaba and his deputy: Inkosi N. Khuzwayo and members
Honourable Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Mr. Sicelo Shiceka
Honourable Minister of Public Service and Administration: Mr. Richard Baloyi
Honourable Prince Zolani Mkiva (Head of Presidency)
Honourable Prince Z Burns-Ncamashe
Honourable Provincial Chairperson Kgosi Bareki
Honourable General – Secretary Kgosi Thobejane
Honourable Prince Gambane Mabena
Honourable Secretary-General of the African National Congress, Mr. Gwede Mantashe
All dignitaries Present here
All Protocol Observed

Contralesa was founded on the basis of the ideology of the progressive liberation movement in South Africa. By subscribing to the popular liberation movement in our country large sections of the traditional leadership chose the agenda which represented the genuine interests of the majority of South Africans. Rooted in the democratic traditions of the liberation movement, Contralesa has shared its insight on a number of strategic and tactical areas, as we forged ahead with the resolution South African conflict. The colonial and apartheid legacy divided and nearly destroyed the socio-cultural influence and political authority of traditional leaders. We appreciate the role played by Contralesa in ensuring that traditional leadership remains a living institution grounded on the South African realities. As you celebrate twenty years which have been marked by focused activism, you must always remember that you are descendants of powerful kingdoms and empires. You command the un-diminishing loyalty and trust of many citizens of this country.

Across Africa, the liberation movement enjoyed solidarity from the chiefs and kings who allowed their land to be used as bases for political and military work. We note the interaction and engagement of Contralesa with other traditional leaders in SADC and the rest of Africa.

Traditional institutions are a very important element of the South African society. The strategic perspective shared by CONTRALESA now, has emancipatory intentions which seek to overcome exploitation, poverty, diseases, and focused attention to broader social change. The growing significance and importance of traditional leaders in South Africa has been applauded across the country as the democratic government provided more space and opportunity for traditional leaders to influence government policy and society. In this post liberation era, traditional leaders, must take the lead in reviving and consolidating cultural identities in our unique but diverse country ,revitalize indigenous knowledge and assist the country to elevate indigenous technology.Crucial to this is a strategic question,how do we emancipate the African voice? And what is going to be our shared identity in year 3000 given our multi-cultural context?.

CONTRALESA is mandated to work cooperatively with national, provincial and local spheres of government to ensure that service delivery in rural traditional communities is achieved. Therefore, this institution of traditional leaders is committed to the overall cultural, social and economic development of the people of South Africa. It is thus of utmost importance to ensure that national, provincial and local government structures provide adequate resources to traditional leaders to enable them to carry out their mandate, which is to serve and protect the needs and interests of traditional rural communities. CONTRALESA should therefore be seen as a statutory body or institution which is an extra leg and a structure of local government responsible for traditional rural communities’ affairs.

It is important to note that CONTRALESA forms part of the transformation agenda of government guided by the principles of democracy. The process of transformation therefore does not exclude traditional leadership which was negatively affected by systems of oppression such as imperialism, colonialism and Apartheid. However, the right of traditional authorities on succession by birth is clearly defined, but consideration of democratic processes to elect councilors is strongly encouraged. In addition to that, the constitution of South Africa allows for flexible recognition of women and youth in the composition of traditional leadership.

Before imperialism, Africa was blessed with many empires and kingdoms such as the Kingdom of Nubia, now part of Sudan and Egypt, the Mali Empire, in the Western part of Africa and now part of Mali, the Mapungubwe Empire, now part of the Limpopo Province, the Great Zimbabwe and many other empires and kingdoms in other parts of Africa. The major common denominators among these African Kingdoms and Empires were that they were politically stable, socially cohesive and economically self-sufficient. All these elements were achieved due to the diligent, conscientious and industrious leadership from our traditional leaders. Resources such as land, water and minerals were equally owned by the communities and the traditional leadership was the custodian of all the resources

However, the advent of imperialism, which was followed by colonialism after the Treaty of Berlin of 1884 – 1885, drastically changed the stable political, self-sufficient economical and cohesive social system. These drastic changes were achieved through a litany of dubious acts that are too numerous to list here. However, our Kings and chiefs during the imperial and colonial eras did not fold their arms, but mobilized their followers to challenge the imperialists and colonialists of that time whose main objective, amongst others, when they landed on the African shores, was to plunder our resources such as land, mineral and other resources that are beneath our rich African soil.

Our heritage is more than 3,5 billion years old and it cannot be adequately told without mentioning the role of our traditional leaders. In almost every epoch of the national democratic revolution South African Kings and Chiefs played a pivotal role in resisting the advance of imperialism and colonialism. It started with the successful repelling of the landing of Portuguese on the shores of the Cape by the gallant Khoi and Sun combatants in 1400 which characterized arrivals led by Vasco Da Gama, the Dutch Setters led by Jan van Riebeeck and British settlers led by many governors general. The situation was worsened by the adoption of the Treaty of Berlin in the late 19th century, the scramble for Africa, where Africa was carved into various colonial enclaves under the foreign Western powers. This was the period when Africa was formally colonized. Again, our Kings and Chiefs put up one of the most formidable fights of resistance in the history of colonialism. I would like to make specific examples of this resistance from South Africa as we are all familiar with them. Here I am referring to, amongst others, Amampondo Uprisings and other Frontiers Wars, which were fought in the whole of the Cape, the Battle of Blood River and the Battle of ISandlwana in Natal and other many wars of Resistance that were fourth in the then Transvaal in particular the Northern part of Transvaal which we christened as Limpopo after the 1994 watershed democratic political dispensation. It is interesting that the colonisers sometimes fought amongst themselves such as the Anglo-Boer War.

But what is sad about all the wars between the colonisers and the indigenous people led by the traditional leaders was that, in some instances, the colonizers were able to divide our traditional leaders. In South Africa, the system was started in Natal where the Shepstone system of divide and rule was perfected. Legitimate Kings and Chiefs were disposed and replaced by the puppets appointed by the colonial administrators. This particular development had profound effects on the political, social and economic systems that were implemented by our Kings and Chiefs. Traditional forms of justice were disposed and replaced with the magisterial system, while the hybrid communal and subsistence traditional mode of economic production was replaced to suit the exportation of our resources through various laws such as the Poll Tax and the formation of reserves which forced many tillers of the soil and breeders of the livestock to leave their homesteads and seek employment in mines, kitchens and other forms of degrading occupations that destroyed the traditional way of life.

The formation of the Bantustan or homeland system and the passing of the various related laws such as the Pass Laws, Influx Control Laws and others were the last attempt in South Africa to obliterate the traditional forms of leadership and the institution of leadership itself. However, one of the reforms that the post-1994 democratic government initiated was the restoration of the institution of the traditional leadership. As we are all aware, the present government undertook extensive consultation processes, which led to the passing of legislation that restore the dignity and the legitimacy of the institution of traditional leadership such as the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act as amended on a number of occasions and the National House of Traditional Leaders Act. The importance of these laws lies in the establishment of a legally recognized traditional leadership framework through the establishment of councils from the Kingship to chieftainship including community representation in these traditional council structures. We all know that with the exception of the Gauteng Province, traditional leadership is represented from the lowest to the highest legislative structures in the country; from local councils to provincial and national councils through the legislated concept of the house of traditional leadership. The post-1994 democratic government showed its faith in the traditional leadership institution by appointing the, Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims, the Nhlapo Commission, to undertake a comprehensive consultation process in order to address disputes and establish authenticity within the traditional leadership institution. The most unique element of the Nhlapo Commission is the built in mechanism of appeal on its recommendations.

Traditional leadership plays an important role as custodians of our South African cultural heritage. This includes the preservation of heritage sites, and the transmission of cultural practices.I hereby invite our traditional leaders to work closely with my department as we decolonize of our heritage. We need to mobilize our communities across the board to play a meaningfull role in Arts,Culture and Heritage programs. This momoth task cannot be achieved without your participation and we dare not fail otherwise history will judge us harshly.

Currently the National Heritage Council is mainstreaming liberation heritage to map the National Liberation Heritage Route. The profound role played by traditional leaders will find expression in the narratives which will be a product of the current National Research Programme. Key in this effort is the consultative nature of this process, the Provincial Summit which will be held in this province at the end of this week will focus on the social appreciation of the legacy of the national liberation struggle, the global significance of the South African liberation struggle which deserves to be part of world memory. Our struggle has set the standards with regard to the achievement of the agenda on inter-racial and inter-cultural tolerance and achievement of peace through collective efforts of the progressive forces.Our policy framework on living heritage has been enriched by multi-sectoral views across society.I invite our traditional leaders to participate actively in rolling one of the most critical programs emanating from this policy which is role of living treasures.In essence this is about tapping on knowledge wisdoms bestowed on these living treasures as we continue to build new consciousness on our youth.

Cultural tolerance and respect are at the heart of our Bill of Rights, and are necessary elements to ensure a multicultural democracy. These values are part of the system of traditional leadership, where respect for another’s opinion is expressed in the traditional lekgotla. And traditional practices are based on a value system that includes respect for self, respect for elders, and respect for others. This ensures gender equity, the application of differing roles ascribed to women and men, the role of the eldest son or daughter in maintaining the family, and the application of customary law. Traditional customs constitute “a cultural complex that encompasses language, naming and classification systems, resource use practices, ritual and spirituality”1 .

Our legislation says that “heritage belongs to the people”, and that Government is the custodian thereof. Yet, traditional and customary practices to maintain a heritage site are not always incorporated into, or utilized alongside western methods of preservation. The expressions of traditional art forms in painting, beadwork, cloth designs, and basket weaving, in newer designs both for fashion, jewelry and interior designs for economic empowerment, has survived due to the traditional cultures that have been taught to successive generations. However, in certain cases, the international treaties unwittingly become stumbling blocks for traditional culture, because, as the status of especially a heritage site becomes international, the traditional practices are exchanged for more western management practices. The 1990’s multi-national organizations such as UNESCO saw the need for the understanding of, and use of traditional practices in ensuring the maintenance of heritage sites.

With the advent of cultural tourism, traditional cultural practices can be at risk of exploitation, and of becoming a tourist show devoid of all the history and reasoning which makes the particular practice important for the community or nation. However, as mentioned above, the adaptation of, for instance, traditional beadwork, or print-making through innovation, ensures the economic sustainability of that practice.

In conclusion, I would like to appeal to our kings and chiefs to continue working with this democratic government in the delivery of services to our communities and in safeguarding the cultural heritage, customs and traditional practices that were bequeathed to us by our ancestors.


1 Linking Universal and Local Values: Managing a sustainable future for World Heritage. A Conference organized by the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO, in Collaboration with the Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 22-24 May 2003, p 10