Women assured role in new traditional leadership bill

Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chair Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, right, with Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane.
LEADERSHIP BILL: Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chair Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana, right, with Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane.

A new traditional leadership bill has guaranteed women involvement in decision-making, with the make-up of the various councils obliged to ensure a 30% representation.

The Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act, signed into law and gazetted on Thursday, gives traditional councils the power to enter into deals with any sphere of government, body or institution.

However, it is subject to a thumbs-up from the premiers of SA’s various provinces.

The decision by President Cyril Ramaphosa has been met with unhappiness from some land rights activists, who believe that approving the bill will give more power to chiefs and will have the potential to leave informal land owners dispossessed.

In the section which deals with partnerships and agreements, the bill states that kingship or queenship councils, principal traditional councils, traditional councils, Khoi-San councils and traditional sub-councils may enter into partnerships and agreements with each other, “and with municipalities, government departments; and any other person, body or institution”.

It adds: “Any partnership or agreement entered into by any of the councils must be in writing and, notwithstanding the provisions of any other law; must be beneficial to the community represented by such council; [and] must, in addition to any other provisions, contain clear provisions on the responsibilities of each party and the termination of such partnership or agreement”.

This would be subject to consultation with the communities represented by the councils. The majority of the community members must agree to it.

Land and Accountability Research Centre director at the University of Cape Town, Nolundi Luwaya, said she had hoped Ramaphosa  would send the bill back to parliament as she believed it clashed with the constitution.

“One of our main concerns was the land rights of people living in homelands around the country. The real concern was for many people who hold generational rights to their land.

“There are currently very few protection in rights for that land,” Luwaya said.

“This is problematic because that allows traditional councils to enter into agreements with investment organisations. Where the pinch happens is that the bill just allows consultation with people and this doesn’t mean those directly affected, as in the case of mining ventures.

“This broad consultation worries us because we’re not guaranteed that those who hold informal rights to land will be given the opportunity to be heard.

“Currently, traditional leaders take decisions regarding people’s land without consulting them, leaving most people dispossessed. Our gripe is that currently, the bill as it stands does not adequately protect these people,” she said.

Luwaya said it was important to note that LARC was not against the recognition of Khoi and San leadership but there were worries about how vaguely the recognition was done.

“We’re looking at the implications of people living under traditional African law,” Luwaya said.

Amadiba Crisis Committee’s Nonhle Mbuthuma, from Xolobeni, accused traditional leaders of being patriarchal and that the Bill would take back the advances made by the women of the Eastern Cape.

“This bill gives more power to chiefs than residents.

“Traditional leaders are patriarchal and a lot of women will lose a lot of land in the name of these leaders or chiefs.”

Mbuthuma said the bill would enable the chief in her area to enter into a mining deal without consulting community members.

“This is paving the way for mining. Most chiefs aren’t even chosen by the people but rather by government,” she said.

For 15 years, Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC) hoped to extract titanium from coastal dunes at Xolobeni.

This idea has been met with fierce resistance and protests by residents living in the area, including Mbuthuma.

Speaking on the 30% gender parity in traditional councils, Mbuthuma said chiefs and traditional leaders were not accountable to anyone and that 30% representation was a pipe dream.