Friday, 26 February 2010

Traditional leaders have a key role to play as partners with government to build a better life for all our people
It has rightly become our proud tradition that shortly after the President delivers the State of the Nation Address, and the Minister of Finance delivers the Budget Speech, the President officially opens National House of Traditional Leaders.
This year, the opening of the House of Traditional Leaders is a particularly special occasion. We are celebrating the lives and roles of two very important traditional and political leaders in our history, and Nobel Laureates, Inkosi Albert Luthuli and President Nelson Mandela.

We recently marked 20 years of the release of President Nelson Mandela from prison, an occasion that signalled that our country was indeed on its way towards freedom and democracy. As we celebrate the life of President Mandela and the contribution he has made to our country, it is important to reflect an aspect of his life that is often not mentioned. We sometimes forget that President Mandela was actually a royal prince esizweni sabaThembu. His father was stripped of his chieftaincy by a magistrate. This position was restored after democracy, and his grandson, Zwelivelile, Chief Mandla Mandela was installed.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the democratic election as chief, of Inkosi Albert Luthuli by the people of eMakholweni in Groutville Mission Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal. Inkosi Luthuli's contribution to the struggle for freedom and democracy is highly regarded and appreciated by all lovers of freedom, justice and democracy worldwide.

The two illustrious leaders were following in the footsteps of traditional leaders who laid the foundation for our freedom by supporting the struggle for liberation. Many traditional leaders participated in the founding conference of the African National Congress in Bloemfontein, 98 years ago. At the time, the ANC had an upper house of traditional leaders and it had respected traditional leaders as honorary Presidents, for example Dalindyebo of the abaThembu, Montsioa of aBarolong, Lewanika of Barotseland which was a part of Zambia, King Letsie of Lesotho, Ian Khama of Botswana, as well as King Dinizulu.

This is an indication that traditional leaders never wanted to be spectators as their people fought for freedom. Many have always been active freedom fighters, as also evidenced by the wars against dispossession and colonialism. The sacrifices of some of our traditional leaders, made in defence of this land and of the dignity of our people are immeasurable.
We are now living in the era of freedom and democracy. We are living in an era where the rights that the people and their traditional leaders fought for, are secured in the constitution of the land. People want to see the tangible fruits of freedom. They want to see services being delivered faster. They want to be treated with respect by government officials and elected public representatives.
A lot of progress has been made since 1994. Millions of people now have access to basic services such as water, electricity, roads, houses, clinics and schools. But much more needs to be done. We still have a long road to travel before we can say we have bridged the gap between rich and poor, urban and rural, white and black, and men and women in our society. We also still have a long way to go before we can say we are creating scores of decent, sustainable jobs for our people.

Working together, we will walk this road. Government relies on all partners to move forward towards prosperity - labour, community, business, traditional leaders, religious leaders, youth, women and a host of other sectors. Let me emphasise that traditional leaders have a key role to play as partners with government, to build a better life for all our people.

I request that there should be a stronger partnership between us, a partnership for progress and sustainable development, especially in rural areas. This year we intend to do things differently as government - we want to improve the way government works, change the way it delivers services, and the way it relates to people. We want government to work harder, faster and smarter to ensure that the needs of our people are met.

As evident from the State of the Nation Address we have moved away from the tradition of tabling a long list of activities and we have instead opted to outline a few priority areas and clear deliverables on which we will focus. These priority areas are health, education, fight against crime, creating decent work, and rural development and land reform. We also added two focus areas, local government and human settlements. Each priority sector knows what is expected of it.

We are determined to build a performance-orientated State. Most Departments are preparing themselves for the implementation of this new approach. Our public service has to be orientated towards a faster pace of delivery, and also towards being more caring in approach and implementation.

We meant what we said during the inauguration, that:

"The dreams and hopes of all the people of our country must be fulfilled. There is no place for complacency, no place for cynicism, no place for excuses".

This year, government departments will work harder using the available resources to ensure that we improve the quality of learning and teaching. They will improve health facilities and increase access to quality treatment and care. We must work harder to make our communities safer, and to create a new growth path that will help us create decent and sustainable jobs.

The Presidency will be working closely with Ministries responsible for each priority area, to ensure that they finalise key outputs that they must deliver on and focus implementation accordingly. The Ministers will sign delivery agreements with the President detailing what is to be done, by whom, with what resources, during what timeframes and using what resources.

With regards to rural development in particular, we have emphasised that traditional leaders have a critical role to play. Our vision is to see the extension to rural areas of services such as proper roads, water and sanitation, and quality health and education facilities. Rural people need to have access to income generating activities. The Finance Minister announced that R860 million would be used this year for the Comprehensive Rural Development Strategy.

He also announced a new grant to support on-site water and sanitation infrastructure as part of the rural housing programme. An initial R1.2 billion over three years has been made available for this purpose. I trust that there will be constant interface with government in the implementation of services, so that we move along together. We urge traditional leaders to be proactive and engage government on what exactly the priorities of the people are in their areas, working with the people.
Inkosi Luthuli provided a very insightful outline of what the role of a traditional leader should be in our society. In a statement he issued after he was deposed as Chief in 1952, he said:
"My view has been, and still is, that a chief is primarily a servant of his people. He is the voice of his people. He is the voice of his people in local affairs. Unlike a Native Commissioner, he is part and parcel of the Tribe, and not a local agent of the government. Within the bounds of loyalty it is conceivable that he may vote and press the claims of his people even if they should be unpalatable to the government of the day. He may use all legitimate modern techniques to get these satisfied. It is inconceivable how chiefs could effectively serve the wider and common interest of their own tribe without cooperating with other leaders of the people, both the natural leaders (chiefs) and leaders elected democratically by the people themselves".

Inkosi Luthuli had the foresight to emphasise the need for close cooperation between traditional leaders and elected public representatives, and for traditional leaders to never lose sight of the interests of their subjects. He provided this clarity and direction sixty years ago, but it is still relevant and can guide us as we grapple with the challenges of today.

Chapter 12 of the Constitution of our Republic recognises the institution, status and role of traditional leadership. We have also passed several laws since the founding of our democratic republic, to give effect to this constitutional recognition of the institution of traditional leadership.
We took matters a step further in the new administration. After conducting formal reviews and speaking to our people in all areas that we visited during the election campaign and before, we decided to reconfigure government to make it more effective. One of the key decisions we took was to replace the former Ministry of Provincial and Local Government with the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, to emphasise the need for better co-ordination and coherence between the three spheres of government.
We then decided to create a stand-alone Department of Traditional Affairs under this Ministry, given the importance of this institution, especially in rural areas. The new department should be operational by the 1st of April this year. Progress has also been made with regards to expanding participation in this House. Provincial and local houses have been established in the Northern Cape, and this province is now represented in the House of Traditional Leaders.

We are aware that there are many outstanding issues that are of concern to traditional leaders. One of these is the need to clarify roles in governance, as required by sections 19 and 20 of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act. Government is aware of the need to move faster with the project of developing a framework for the said allocation of roles and functions. Guidelines have been finalised and we appreciate the active participation of the National House of Traditional Leaders in this process.
We are also finalising the status of the Khoi-San communities. The Cabinet has approved the policy framework. A bill is being drafted and may be presented to parliament later in the year. On 26 January 2010, we signed into law the new comprehensive National House of Traditional Leaders Amendment Act of 2009. This was to address gaps in the original Act, and to enhance the efficiency of the Houses of Traditional Leaders.

One of the positive attributes of the law is that it provides for representation of traditional communities where there is no provincial house established. For instance traditional communities residing in Gauteng, the amaNdebele, will now be represented in the National House. The new legislation clearly defines and enhances the roles and responsibilities of the National House.
The President assented to the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Act on the 20th of January 2010. Some of the issues that needed to be attended to included:
(a) The recognition and withdrawal of recognition of kingships and queenships;(b) The establishment and recognition of kingship or queenship councils, whose terms of office must be aligned with that of local government in order to promote effective planning, service delivery and support;(c) The amendment of the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers Act, to make provision for the remuneration of non-traditional leader members of traditional councils and kingship or queenship councils; and(d) Provision for the reconstitution of the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims, commonly known as the Nhlapo Commission.

All these are weighty matters that require serious attention. I am currently studying the report and recommendations from the Nhlapo Commission with regards to the claims and disputes. We will communicate the way forward as soon as possible. We are aware of the anxieties and uncertainty that this matter has caused, and will do our best to move speedily.

I know that there are many other outstanding issues that traditional leaders may want us to deal with as government. The local government sphere is a case in point given its importance in governance and service delivery.
The Local Government Turnaround Strategy recently adopted by Cabinet deals with some of the concerns around traditional leaders and local government. Its implementation will be enhanced by the participation of traditional leaders.

The establishment of the new Department of Traditional Affairs will assist us to work in a more focused way, to deal with issues that are of concern and interest to traditional leaders. It will also help us to strengthen the Local Houses of Traditional Leaders and Traditional Councils.

Traditional leaders played a key role in the struggle for freedom, and many made untold sacrifices. We inherit the legacy of those traditional leaders who fought against colonial occupation, who were the founding fathers of the liberation movement, and who belonged to the generations of Inkosi Luthuli, Madiba and others.

Now is the time for us to work together to build on this legacy, cement democracy and build a better life for our people. Now is the time for us, to work together, to ensure that services are delivered faster to our people, especially those in rural areas, who tend to be marginalised.

As government we will work closely with traditional leaders in the implementation of government programmes in all the priority areas and other areas of work. We look forward to continued positive and constructive engagement as we work harder to make this a year of faster service delivery.
I thank you.

>> This is an edited extract of the address by President Jacob Zuma at the official opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders