Traditional leadership institutions play a critical role in South Africa's constitutional democracy and are at the core of South Africa's success as a nation in achieving the country's developmental objectives, particularly in so far as they apply to the Rural Development Strategy.
Chapter 11 of the Constitution states that the institution, status and roles of traditional leadership, according to customary law, are recognised, subject to the Constitution.
Government remains committed to strengthening the institution of traditional leadership and appreciates the role it plays in society.
The Department of Traditional Affairs was established in April 2010 to underline the critical focus on traditional leadership. This signifies the importance that is placed on the role and place of traditional leaders in the lives of people, especially in rural areas.
The strategic role of the department is to assist the institution of traditional leadership to transform itself into a strategic partner of government in the development of communities.
The department has committed itself to contributing towards the achievement of the objectives of Outcome 9 in a number of ways, namely:
- Facilitating communication leading to the release of land to municipalities for housing, burial and other developmental purposes through a consultative process with traditional leaders and the national, provincial and local houses of traditional leaders.
- Strengthening collaboration between councils and traditional leaders at local level for development and service-delivery purposes.
- Coordinating a project on the assessment of the state of governance within the area of traditional affairs. By October 2011, six provincial assessments had been conducted and the process to analyse data from provinces and develop a province-specific and a composite
national report had begun.
The department is working on a range of policies which, among other things, include policy on unity and diversity, initiation, traditional healing, traditional leader's protocol, family trees, involving the Khoisan people in the system of governance in South Africa, and the remuneration and benefits of traditional leaders based on uniform norms and standards.
Numerous pieces of legislation have been passed and various programmes implemented to ensure that traditional leadership makes an important contribution to the development of society.
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The Department of Traditional Affairs, with its expanded mandate, is amending legislation to create an enabling legislative and regulatory environment for dealing effectively, efficiently, holistically and in a sustainably manner with traditional affairs.
The National House of Traditional Leaders Act, 2009 (Act 22 of 2009) [PDF], and the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003 (Act 41 of 2003) [PDF], were consolidated by the National Traditional Affairs Bill to simplify the process.
The amendment of the legislation will also ensure, among other things, that traditional affairs, rather than only traditional leaders, will take
centre stage. The Khoisan communities will also be fully represented in the National House of Traditional
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Legislation has transformed the composition
of traditional councils to provide for elements of democracy (40% of members must be elected) and gender representivity (one third of members must be women).
Legislation has also opened up an opportunity for municipalities and traditional councils to achieve cooperative governance. Traditional councils have been given a strong voice in development matters and may now enter into partnerships and service-delivery agreements with government in all spheres.
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Houses of traditional leaders
The Constitution mandates the establishment of
houses of traditional leaders by means of either
provincial or national legislation.
The National House of Traditional Leaders was
established in terms of the National House of
Traditional Leaders Act, 1997 (Act 10 of 1997) [PDF]. Its objectives and
functions are to promote the role of traditional
leadership within a democratic constitutional
dispensation, enhance unity and understanding
among traditional communities and advise
The department is finalising guidelines on the operations of the National House of Traditional Leaders. The guidelines will constitute the first internal document that deals specifically with issues of operation and tools-of-trade for members of the national house. In the past, these were
dealt with through departmental policies primarily meant for governent officials.
Provincial houses of traditional leaders were
established in all six provinces that have traditional
leaders, namely the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal,
the Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North
The national and provincial houses of traditional
leaders enhance the cooperative relationships
within national and provincial government, while
the establishment of local houses of traditional
leaders deepens and cements the relationship
between municipalities and traditional leaders on
customary law and development initiatives.
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Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims
The commission was established in terms of
Section 22(1) of the Traditional Leadership and
Governance Framework Act, 2003.
It is tasked with restoring the dignity of traditional leaders and their communities by investigating and ensuring that the institution of traditional leadership is restored to where it belongs. It also investigates all claims to any position of traditional leadership (king/queen/principal/senior traditional leader and headmen and -women), including disputes over the boundaries of traditional councils.
Section 25 of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003 requires that the commission to investigate and make recommendations on cases where there is doubt as to whether a kingship, principal traditional leadership or senior traditional leadership and headmanship was established in accordance with customary law and customs.
Source: South Africa Yearbook 2011/12
Editor: D Burger. Government Communication and Information System
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