Give chiefs more power
Traditional leaders are calling for the ANC to give them more say in the NCOP
Traditional leaders want to be at the centre of lawmaking in Parliament, and the governing ANC seems to be entertaining their call. The party is planning a special consultative conference with traditional leaders to resolve outstanding policy issues, one of which is the chiefs’ proposition to participate in the national council of provinces (NCOP) as part-time delegates.
This was revealed in the ANC’s discussion document on legislature and governance, which forms part of the papers the governing party published last Sunday, ahead of its policy conference in June.
It states that among the outstanding issues which have to be addressed urgently are amendments to chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution.
Chapter 7 deals with local government, while chapter 12 deals with traditional leadership.
In the document, the ANC states that one outcome of the conference should be policies that regularise traditional leadership issues and customs.
“Based on the above, the ANC is bound by the Constitution to observe the practices of traditional leadership and ensure that the aspirations of both the rural and traditional communities are met,” says the party.
It goes on to write in the document that the views of chiefs – as leaders in their own right in traditional communities – should be considered seriously, and that a balance should be found between recognising traditional practices and their compliance with the basic tenets of the Constitution.
Inkosi Sipho Mahlangu, deputy chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, confirmed to City Press that the proposal for chiefs to participate in the NCOP was one of the issues under discussion with the governing party, adding that they were seeking its urgent resolution.
Mahlangu said this could be done through legislation, as was the case with the Municipal Structures Act, which makes provision for traditional councils to be represented in municipal councils. In that setting, traditional leaders do not vote.
Mahlangu said if the ANC failed to act on leaders’ proposals, they would call for a constitutional amendment which would be prescriptive. In that case, he said, “a number of traditional leaders will participate in the NCOP as ex-officio members”. How do you feel about the expansion of powers for traditional leaders? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword CHIEFS and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50
“We feel that we have been making inputs on a lot of legislation, and those inputs have not been covered properly,” said Mahlangu.
“Normally, when the legislature consults traditional leaders, they do so for the sake of compliance and not necessarily to find consensus.”
Mahlangu said chiefs felt their participation at the NCOP would also assist in resolving “a lot of constitutional court cases”, given that some bills – when constitutionally tested – failed to pass muster because of insufficient consultation with traditional leaders.
“If you look at the Municipal Structures Act, it says traditional councils must participate in municipalities,” he said.
“Now, you ask yourself: ‘If traditional leaders are allowed to participate in municipal councils, what prevents the National House of Traditional Leaders – which operates at a national level – from participating in the upper echelons of lawmaking in the country?’”
Mahlangu said Parliament had, in many cases, given more consideraton to inputs from academic institutions and nongovernmental organisations than it had to inputs from traditional leaders.
The chiefs will hold their own national dialogue in May, before the ANC’s policy conference in June, to establish a niche for themselves in terms of their roles and responsibilities. The outcomes of these talks will then be discussed with the governing party.
But the proposed participation of traditional leaders in the NCOP is set to raise eyebrows.
The DA has rejected the idea. Kevin Mileham, the party’s shadow minister on cooperative governance and traditional affairs, said this was a constitutional issue as the structure of the NCOP was defined in the Constitution, and any change would require a constitutional amendment.
“Secondly, this country has a democratic Parliament which represents the will of the people, and traditional leaders – by definition – are undemocratically appointed. They are hereditary. It is [a system] based on patronage,” he said.
“The traditional leaders have representation through the houses of traditional leaders in municipal councils, where they observe but cannot vote.
“I do not see any justification for giving them seats in the NCOP when the considerations affecting them go to the National House of Traditional Leaders anyway.
“I do not think this [proposal] is going to fly any time soon.
“The ANC is doing this to appeal to traditional leadership to shore up its declining support.”
Mileham added that, besides being guardians of culture and heritage, and ensuring that customary and traditional law were incorporated into South Africa’s legal system, the role of traditional leaders should be ceremonial.
Also contained in the ANC document is a proposal to review the efficacy of the NCOP and assess whether it has functioned optimally in terms of discharging its constitutional mandate.