President Jacob Zuma arrives at the Old Chambers in Parliament for the official opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders. Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma arrives at the Old Chambers in Parliament for the official opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders. Picture: GCIS

There are many reasons why payment of salaries for traditional leaders are coming under heavy criticism from some quarters. Opposition political parties have gone berserk following the announcement by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, in the departmental budget policy speech presentation for the 2017-18 financial year, that izinduna [traditional leaders/advisors] are to be paid monthly stipends sourced partly from a chunk of the department’s cake, as well as from contributions by other departments in the province.

The MEC said: "Since 1994 we have improved the remuneration of amakhosi [tribal leaders] and restored their dignity by making them public office bearers with benefits ... we have now introduced the remuneration of izinduna in recognition of the role they play as catalysts for development in our communities.

"Although this has had a major impact on the financial position of the department, we believe that there will be a return on this investment for the communities as they will now have resourced community leaders who will be able to provide them with effective support. Over the medium-term expenditure framework, the amount required to fund izinduna is calculated at R252.328m, R266.206m and R280.847m, respectively."

The concerns from those opposed to this undertaking varies. Some cite the current situation facing the country and the world of an unstable economic landscape. Others argue that izinduna have no significant role in the communities to deserve such remuneration.

There are also some whose criticism is based on an ideology that opposes the importance of traditional leadership in societies. Others will criticise simply [due to] a lack of education about the role of traditional leadership, in particular izinduna, in rural communities,

But the real criticism has its roots in the western colonial belief system which felt that to weaken and infiltrate Africa, you had to hit its soul. Traditional leaders were seen as the stem that had to be cut off since it kept all the branches of the African people united as one nation.

Hence the campaign led by Sir Theophilus Shepstone for the erstwhile Natal administration, in terms of which rightful traditional leaders were deposed and jailed on manufactured charges, to be replaced by those viewed as puppets of the English supremacist regime. Many traditional leaders were removed from the throne in the Eastern Cape and replaced with what were called headmen, this being one form of undermining the entire institution of traditional leadership.

Remember that in African tradition, a king or traditional leader is the chief commander, whose order cannot be opposed or ignored. According to the oppressors, Africans had to have no leader so that, in time, the white man would become the newfound leader to whom the natives would pay unwavering allegiance and, when told to relinquish their land and livestock and to become slaves in the mines, would simply jump without asking, "How high?"

Today, the hullabaloo around the payment of izinduna, as if the issue is about trying to look after the public purse, is simply a continuation of a war between the west and Africa, cold as this battle may now be.

Yes, it is true that we are living in trying economic times, but so are many other nations. That said, every person must get paid for the work they do. CEOs of private companies get paid; directors-general in government get paid; leaders of political parties are paid; municipal councillors are paid.

Indunas have a great responsibility within the community or village where they are deployed, in the same way as a councilor has his work cut out within the ward of his jurisdiction.

The KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance department has explained how izinduna are well respected in traditional communities, since the institution of traditional leadership is what these communities relate to best.

The department has, in recent years, since the advent of the democratisation of traditional leadership, also regularly explained that only 60% of izinduna are appointed by inkosi [a chief] and the other 40% are elected by the citizenry, thus aligning traditional leadership with the democracy in which we have lived since 1994. This is also to ensure there is adequate representation of the interests of the ordinary folk in the community within the traditional authority.

But it appears that despite this, there are still a number of individuals who fail to ingest this information, waiting only for an opportunity to criticise. Izinduna, like their superiors in amakhosi, play a key role in fostering social cohesion in communities. They help resolve disputes among families, often preventing misunderstandings from spiraling into bloody conflicts, as has happened in history.

Every week, the induna reports to an inkosi for that particular community so the inkosi can intervene on matters that escalate beyond the hand of induna. These are often matters that need resolution without having to spill over into criminal matters. You could compare some of the cases in the jurisdiction of induna to civil matters that are often addressed through court litigation for the affluent communities that have access to this costly legal facility.

As a taxpayer myself, I am comfortable in saying izinduna and amakhosi deserve to be paid from our public purse for the strenuous and important work they do for the majority of the populace living in rural, traditional communities, but in effect, to the benefit of the entire South African society since stable communities represent a healthy nation.

Until the Constitution can be changed, there is no need to criticise the decision made by the MEC because it is an undertaking that cannot be challenged legally. She has not taken this decision on her own; it is based on the will of the people who have voted her into office.

Mchunu is a deputy director in the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs in KwaZulu-Natal, but he writes in his capacity as a resident in the traditional authority of KwaBiyela

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