President Jacob Zuma has called on kings, queens and chiefs of traditional houses to help lead the country back to an African way of life based on respect, dignity and a sense of community – in the face of rampant crime and abuse of vulnerable citizens.
Zuma today opened the inaugural traditional leaders indaba in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, where representatives of all the country’s tribes and indigenous people will meet for the next five days to re-evaluate their role in society and within the government.
“We talk about African way of solving African problems. The traditional system on the continent exists. What role should it play?” Zuma asked.
“What today you see as criminality, lack of respect, [traditional leaders] may play a very important role to [resolve] and restore the dignity and pride you need to have as African citizens,” Zuma said.
Zuma expressed particular concern about the recent increased reporting on the high number of women and children that are abused and murdered by men, and said this behavior was unAfrican.
“With what is happening, men killing women, raping children, killing them. It’s something absolutely out of our value systems. What contribution can you make [as traditional leaders], to say in my area this will never happen.” he said.
“Traditional leaders must help to cure our nation. Our country has been engulfed by horrific violence against women and children which goes against Ubuntu and respect of human life, dignity and human rights,” the president added.
Zuma said when he grew up, traditional leaders were crucial in fostering peace and stability in their communities. This ensured that everyone was taken care of, and children were not abandoned or abused.
“Where there were no street children. Streets do not give birth to children. [Let’s] go back to when there were no orphans who felt that they’ve got no-one. We had systems that protected our children,” Zuma said, explaining that children were also not allowed to attend funerals, because “adults did not want to abuse their young minds.”
“Not the types of adults we have now, where they see a child and they see someone they want to abuse,” he added.
Commenting on the political situation in the country, Zuma said other African leaders had bemoaned the “lack of respect” in parliament and that a former president on his recent state visit to Tanzania had said it was “unAfrican”.
The indaba will deliberate on how traditional leaders should cooperate with the government and whether they should be directly involved in implementing service delivery programs in their communities.
It will also review what powers the house of traditional leaders has, a discussion Zuma said was “very important.”
But one of its most pertinent debates will be centered around land. In his state of the nation address this year, Zuma called on people who successfully claimed land not to resell it.
He says this equates to “perpetuating dispossession” and represents a misunderstanding of heritage.
“What made us poor and poverty stricken was the dispossession of land. When you get it, you can’t sell it. It means you don’t understand heritage. Once you have the land, you have what it takes to live.”
If he had it his way, Zuma said, “I’d say the land that’s brought back, those who regain it, have no right to sell. If anything, they should have a right to be assisted by govt and make it productive. I think traditional leaders should take resolution on that matter.
But he stressed that the government does not support illegal land occupation.
“As govt we reject land grabs or unlawful occupation of land. That’s not the way to address matters. That could lead to further misery. The land question must be resolved within the ambit of constitution and the law,” he concluded.
The indaba is due to finish at the end of the week, when deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the closing address.