Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Zweli Mkhize has distanced the government from comments former president Kgalema Motlanthe made about the relationship between traditional leaders and the communities they serve.
Mkhize led talks between members of the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) and an inter-ministerial task team, recently set up to engage traditional leaders on the issue of land, at Cogta’s offices in Pretoria on Friday.
The meeting was also a follow up to one they held in the National Assembly two weeks ago and it was attended by Mkhize, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana.
“Former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s statement has been seen as uncomfortable to traditional leaders, but it does not reflect [the] position of Cabinet, government or Parliament,” the minister said.
He added that the matter would be taken to the National Assembly.
When he spoke at the African National Congress’ land summit in May, Motlanthe referred to traditional leaders as “village tin-pot dictators”, who were often seen as the rightful owners of the land, urging the ANC to remember that it was the people and not traditional leaders who voted it into power.
The former leader’s comments were based on findings of a high-level panel he led, which looked into the implementation of policies since the dawn of democracy in the country.
No expropriation of land under traditional leaders
The different leaders agreed that the issue of expropriation did not apply to land already under the control of traditional leaders, with chairperson of the NHTL Nkosi Sipho Mahlangu asking: “When you expropriate, who would you be expropriating from and to whom?”
“What was key in those agreements is that 13% of the land in traditional hands should not be touched when it comes to the issue of expropriation. It belongs to the people and traditional leaders living there,” said Mahlangu.
When asked if the government was not worried that it was putting traditional leaders ahead of its subjects, who sometimes complain that they are mistreated by them, Mkhize said there were instances where people complained. He added that they had the right to do so.
“When we deal with issues of traditional leaders, we don’t deal with them as individual men and women but as leaders who represent the views of the people in those area”.
Mahlangu admitted that there were issues and that theirs was “not a perfect sector like any other”.
He added that people were allowed to openly share their views, but raised a flag at those using platforms, like current public hearings on the whether or not the property clause in the Constitution should be amended, to “exaggerate” issues.
“People are taking advantage of this process on land public participations. Some parts there are exaggerations of issues with people and traditional leaders,” said Mahlangu.