Integrating traditional leaders and contemporary local governance in South Africa: A case study of the Northern Province
Fankomo, Felix Christopher
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Integration of indigenous leaders into modem political structures and process of local government has been a source of contention for several decades on the African continent. This study describes, analyses and assesses efforts made by postcolonial, apartheid and the liberal democratic government to incorporate indigenous leaders in their governmental structures and processes. Based on this examination, the study presents elements of a model on how a democratic South Africa could in grate indigenous leaders into the current liberal democratic structures, especially in rural municipal authorities of the Northern Province. Data used for the study was collected from government documents, articles, law books and anthropological sources. In the discussion and analysis, attempts were made, wherever appropriate to cite experiences of other African countries. Such experiences were designed to inform certain aspects of this study, especially in the manner in which traditional leaders were integrated into local government. Further, data regarding current attitudes among stakeholders were collected from questionnaires administered to women, youth, traditional leaders, national, provincial and local government officials and legislators The study revealed several aspects of leadership such as the system employed by French and British colonizers (i.e. 'direct' and 'indirect' rule system). These colonial powers both identified traditional rulers as a link between their governments and indigenous communities. To confirm this, both appointed puppet traditional rulers and deposed authentic traditional rulers who were opposed to colonial rule. Since traditional leaders form part of indigenous people's background, colonial powers subjected indigenous rulers stances at different places. If traditional rulers were conquered, their powers were drastically reduced, suppressed, their power-base was weakened and authority on land and matters of justice were usurped. On the other hand, those traditional rulers who signed treaties with the colonial government received favours such as sending their family members abroad to further their education and the traditional ruler retained the status of 'King'. The British government introduced a policy of indirect rule. This rule had echoed even in South Africa after the British rule through to the days of apartheid. This rule prescribed that each tribe was to be supervised by a Paramount chief for centralized authority with sub-chiefs who were in charge of regions. This system continued through the apartheid era. The current democratic government has entrenched in the constitution a provision for the recognition of the institution of traditional rulers, but it lacks clarity on the role and function of traditional leaders at local government level. Thus, chiefs ought to be genuinely engaged in modem governance and face realities of change and adapt to the new order for their future existence and continue serving their communities in the northern province in particular and South Africa in general.