The voice of traditional leaders has been muted

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Mar 17, 2024


When one writes an article, one does not expect to account after the article had been published. My article last week on job creation, where I impressed upon all South Africans including traditional leaders to create jobs, has stirred up a hornet’s nest.

The article compelled Hosi Xilungwa Mhinga to summon me to his compound at Mhinga village next to the Kruger National Park. Fortunately, I was in Limpopo to attend a friend’s funeral.

Mhinga gave me a lengthy lecture on the history of traditional leadership continentally and how the South African Constitution has allowed those who know the truth to be muzzled by those in power. He impressed upon me that chapter 12 was clear on the role of local government but never spelled out how traditional leadership must enact their role.

He was worried that the role of traditional leaders was being watered down by the executive mayor, municipal manager, ward councillors as well as civic structures. He told me that the traditional authorities’ role to create jobs has been hamstrung by these bureaucratic layers.

Mhinga told me that the Berlin Conference was partly to be blame for all the mess in Africa. In his view, although we have been politically decolonised, the the colonial borders are a form of recolonisation.

His ancestral land stretches from South Africa into Mozambique and Zimbabwe. He was surprised that animals were allowed to roam freely, but human being were restricted by imposed borders that are proving impossible to destroy.

It was Thucydides who said: “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

Mhinga has a vision to built a railway line from Moeketse to Mozambique as a form of proving freight logistic solutions to ports such as Durban and Richards Bay. The corridor will not tamper with the animal environment at the Kruger National Park.

After our meeting I started reflecting on the role of traditional leadership in the new South Africa as well the unintended consequences of these many bureaucratic layers. To me, this represents the Tower of Babel. The men of Babel had determined to establish a government that should be independent of God. The same applied to these bureaucratic structures. They have determined to establish a government independent of traditional leadership.

The voice of traditional leaders has been muted by bureaucracy. We have created our own Babel not through language confusion but by subscribing to different agenda.

When I attended the funeral in Limpopo last week, a member of the civic association was called upon to give a speech. He was introduced as a crusader of rural development. I asked myself what was the role of traditional leaders when a civic association leader was given the status of a rural developer.

Politicians and traditional leaders are at cross-purposes; they pursue different agendas. People have swayed their loyalty from traditional healers to politicians, thus undermining traditional leadership.

Mhinga’s vision of a corridor could create more jobs for both South Africa and Mozambique but it would be up to politicians to give the concept the green light. It is time that traditional authorities are more empowered to make decisions for the common good of their subjects.

The status of a traditional leader is an ascribed status and that of a politician is an achieved status. Politicians come and go, but traditions leaders remain. The next administration must empower traditional leaders to create jobs in their communities and discourage the building of the Tower of Babel. It would take visionary leadership to create a synergy between politicians and traditions leaders.

I asked Mhinga about the vacancy of the king among the VhaTsonga. He told me that it was a work-in-progress project. I realised that the fault of appointing a Tsonga king did not lie with the government but with the chiefs. Everybody wants to be the king regardless of their competence.

I suggest that the government must take a lead in this regard. A vacancy of the king must be advertised and all the shortlisted candidates must be interviewed publicly. The nation cannot be held to ransom by a few individuals who think about their trimmings and less about the people. Mr President, advertise the position of a king and let the competent person lead.

Finally, Mhinga views tribalism in the province like a hidden wound. He says the district municipalities’ boundaries were drawn up without taking tribalism into account. He sees similarities between what is happening here and what is happening between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East.

He opined that taking a demarcation board to a high court was uncalled for and foresees a situation when the time bomb will explode.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in construction management.

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