Our kings offer no solution to present-day problems that beset their subjects, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.
Pretoria - I have become impatient with many of our kings and royal families and the never-ending soap operas of their lives.
My misgivings do not come from the colonialist’s sense of supremacy – where a certain woman in some island faraway must be referred to as “The Queen” and her counterparts, if they are lucky, addressed by their full royal title and name.
My concern is about South African royals who are either backward-looking or self-centred.
They are far too interested in the long past “glory” days before the colonialists appeared on the scene, dispossessed them of their kingdoms and reduced them to mere “chiefs”.
Just so we are clear, there is a role for traditional leadership in modern South Africa. Unfortunately, it is traditional leaders themselves who show an indifference to their role and thus promote the fundamentalist republicanism.
Take the demand for restitution by some kings like King Goodwill Zwelithini who is said to be launching what is reportedly the biggest claim for land that was under Zulu control by 1838.
Not to be outdone, the Nhlangwini royal house wants parts of KwaZulu-Natal which it says it is entitled to by virtue of being “original and indigenous African inhabitants of Natal”.
There is the Hlubi clan, led by King Mthumkhulu III, who are also said to have made huge claims for land on behalf of the amaHlubi kings.
It seems that to these kings, land restitution exists outside the rest of the indigenous people’s land dispossession.
They want their piece of land and do not care what happens to other black communities like theirs who were also victims of the same land dispossession story.
Many of these kings operate in a pre-1912 mentality. It was in 1912 that the chiefs and gentlemen aware of the effects of the founding of the Union of South Africa two years earlier, realised that times of acting as individuals concerned about a specific piece of land, were over.
These men consciously looked beyond their narrow tribal and regional interests and sought what was best for South Africa in general and in particular black South Africans who were increasingly being pushed to the margins.
More than 100 years later – and 20 years since the gentlemen who gathered in Bloemfontein achieved their objectives – their descendants want to drag us back to an Alice in Wonderland age that unfortunately, will never return.
The only time one hears the kings and their institutions make a point is when they defend practices purely on the basis that their ancestors did the same, be it the place of women or what to do with a redundant piece of skin on some body part.
They offer no solutions to present-day problems that beset their subjects.
For example, they hardly make practical inputs to address and correct why black communities fail to make the most of farming lands restored to them, despite these often being in their areas of control and influence.
Rural areas continue to be disproportionately populated by the elderly or the very young because there are simply no prospects for anyone else.
Suggestions of turning this around come from the Ministry of Rural Development and hardly ever from those to whom history and lineage have tasked with finding solutions.
It is in the rural areas controlled by these royals that children still have to cross rivers and valleys to get to the nearest school. When they do, they are lucky if the classrooms are mud huts so they do not sit under trees.
But do you hear our kings make statements which show concern with the living conditions and future of their subjects?
It cannot be that the kings are not aware of the debilitating sense of alienation of their subjects when they arrive in the towns and cities that turn young men and women into something their villagers would not be able to name.
Instead of our kings coming together to address political, economic, moral and ethical challenges their people have to contend with, they either look to the past or continue to demand an ever-increasing financial consideration from the public purse.
Typically, they hide behind the constitution recognising traditional institutions, but not emphasising that the same document gives obligations on the one hand and rights on the other.
Respect for traditional institutions does not stop us from asking for more leadership from those who themselves say were born and trained to lead.
If our royals want to be paid from the common purse, they must not just be pre-occupied with their little fiefdoms.
Not only does this practice rob South Africa of highly needed moral authority, it is backward, fosters tribal exceptionalism and eats away from a common South Africanhood.
* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is the executive editor at the Pretoria News. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelom