Con­tralesa out shop­ping for al­lies

The tra­di­tional lead­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tion wants to change terms of en­gage­ment with po­lit­i­cal heads

Mail & Guardian - - News - Di­neo Bendile

The ap­par­ently in­creas­ingly cosy re­la­tion­ship the Congress of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers of South Africa (Con­tralesa) en­joys with the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers is the least of the ANC’s con­cerns ahead of the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to Mathole Mot­shekga, head of the party’s cul­tural and re­li­gious af­fairs com­mit­tee.

Mot­shekga said the ANC had “noted tra­di­tional lead­ers’ con­cerns on land re­form, ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and the role of tra­di­tional lead­er­ship”. But, he added, it did not be­lieve their un­hap­pi­ness sig­nalled a split be­tween the ANC and Con­tralesa.

“They may have rea­son­able con­cerns, but we don’t think those con­cerns would jus­tify serv­ing divorce pa­pers on the rul­ing party. And an en­gage­ment with the [ANC] will show that their true home re­mains the rul­ing party. When peo­ple have con­cerns they can look around ... but that does not nec­es­sar­ily mean they have turned to some­one else,” Mot­shekga said of Con­tralesa’s re­la­tions with the EFF.

Last week, Con­tralesa sig­nalled a fray­ing al­le­giance to the ANC when it held a joint me­dia brief­ing with the EFF, declar­ing that the two or­gan­i­sa­tions shared com­mon ground on many is­sues and would con­tinue to work to­gether.

There, Con­tralesa pres­i­dent Kgosi Mathupa Mokoena al­luded to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s un­hap­pi­ness with the ANC’s attitude to­wards tra­di­tional lead­ers, hint­ing that this was the cat­a­lyst be­hind de­vel­op­ing re­la­tions with the EFF.

“They [EFF] have never in­sulted our kings, queens and tra­di­tional lead­ers by call­ing us vil­lage tin­pot dic­ta­tors. These are the true South Africans we are com­fort­able to as­so­ciate with, un­like other peo­ple who in­sult amakhosi,” Mokoena said, re­fer­ring to a re­mark made by for­mer pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe in May.

Mot­lanthe spoke at the ANC’s land sum­mit, at which he crit­i­cised tra­di­tional lead­ers for their fail­ure to en­sure land tenure for com­mu­ni­ties.

Con­tralesa will be a valu­able ally for po­lit­i­cal par­ties ahead of the 2019 elec­tions, given its ac­cess to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, which make up more than 30% of South Africa’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion. Although tra­di­tional lead­ers can­not in­struct ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties on how to vote, they do wield in­flu­ence over which po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions may gain ac­cess to com­mu­ni­ties for cam­paign­ing.

His­tor­i­cally, the ANC was pre­ferred in many ar­eas be­cause of its re­la­tion­ship with Con­tralesa, but at the EFF brief­ing Con­tralesa called on its mem­bers to stop this prac­tice.

As ten­sions be­tween the long-time al­lies ap­pear, other po­lit­i­cal par­ties have moved in. At the brief­ing with the EFF, Con­tralesa told the pub­lic to “watch this space” for fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion with the EFF.

But it seems the ANC is also try­ing to mend fences. Mot­shekga said he would work on en­sur­ing that Con­tralesa and the ANC re­turned to their his­tor­i­cal ar­range­ment, al­low­ing tra­di­tional lead­ers a seat on the ANC na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC).

“We have also de­cided that ... they must have a seat in the NEC sub­com­mit­tee and have a di­rect chan­nel to in­flu­ence the lead­er­ship of the ANC and a di­rect chan­nel to in­flu­ence Par­lia­ment,” Mot­shekga said.

Con­tralesa knows the in­flu­ence it holds ahead of elec­tions and is on a mis­sion to use it.

Speak­ing to the Mail & Guardian this week, Con­tralesa sec­re­tary gen­eral Zolani Mkiva said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was prepar­ing to change the terms of en­gage­ment with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers so it could in­struct them on how to serve ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

“We need to be ad­vis­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties on what to do and ac­tu­ally, some­times, com­mand them on what they have to do,” Mkiva said. “And that thing of peo­ple agree­ing with you sim­ply be­cause they want your vote … we’re not go­ing to take that any­more. We will tie po­lit­i­cal par­ties to their word and they will see the strength of Con­tralesa this time around.”

Con­tralesa has been hold­ing road­shows to meet dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties and re­li­gious and busi­ness bod­ies, say­ing these meet­ings form part of the process to ce­ment its lead­er­ship role in the main­stream.

Mkiva de­nied spec­u­la­tion that the road­shows and the re­newed en­ergy of tra­di­tional lead­ers sig­nalled the pos­si­bil­ity of Con­tralesa estab­lish­ing it­self as a po­lit­i­cal party ahead of next year’s elec­tions.

“Po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­come petty and lose fo­cus,” Mkiva said. “We don’t need to play in the party-po­lit­i­cal space to have an im­pact. We can’t be a po­lit­i­cal party, or we will lose our cause. Con­tralesa must re­main what it is in or­der for it to be re­spected.”

Build­ing new bridges: Con­tralesa’s Zolani Mkiva at a me­dia brief­ing with the EFF. Photo: Felix Dlanga­mandla/Gallo Im­ages/Netwerk24

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