Traditional leaders and S&T had been heavily involved in rural development throughout our existence. One of the key players - deepening success when they participate and retarding it when they no not support projects - are traditional leaders. Our experience suggests that they are a key constituency for any rural development strategy or project. In this article, S&T's Moagi Ntsime and Sibongile Mthembu, EPA Development's Provincial Programme Manager, discuss the role of traditional leaders in development.
During various stages of the delivery of poverty relief projects, such
as projects under the auspices of the Community Based Public Works Programme
(CBPWP), we have witnessed the critical role that traditional African
leadership could play in either accelerating development; or delaying
or obstructing development initiatives. Traditional leaders can play
the role of either pro- or anti-development forces. We provide some
examples from the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal.
KwaZulu-Natal province is a dynamic province in South Africa, where
wealth and poverty commingle, and which enjoys a vibrant history of
traditional African chieftancy and a plethora of leadership structures.
Such structures have been in existence for many years and rural communities
acknowledge the role and importance of such structures in development.
In a recent set of surveys conducted for the Department of Public Works,
traditional leadership was found to play a key role in the day-to-day
lives of KwaZulu-Natal residents, to a far greater extent than in other
provinces. This is an indication that in any step in the development
process, traditional leaders should not be left out.
The role of the Amakhosi
The "Amakhosi" play a major role in community-based projects. They
are one of the key links between organs of government, funding and development
agencies and local people. This happens, for example, where local communities
need sites to construct assets. The local "Inkosi" would allocate the
site where the assets will be constructed. Local chiefs have the power
to authorise community meetings to take place in their respective areas
of jurisdiction, thereby ensuring that development initiatives in their
area are "in their eyes and the eyes of other forces" acceptable and
get a political blessing. This is regardless of whether or not these
communities desperately need such development initiatives. Lacking the
endorsement of the local leadership, project implementation is dubious,
and sustainability almost certainly a failure.
On the other hand, if local chiefs are aware of such initiatives, they
are normally helpful in ensuring that local conflicts are resolved to
the advantage of ordinary people. Also, in cases where possible temporary
jobs are generated through the projects are few and the need great,
if people were rotate, local leadership mandated by local chiefs could
assist in ensuring that there is common understanding of how the projects
aim to equitably share these jobs. Such interventions have for example
made an impact on many CBPWP projects in KwaZulu-Natal. Multiple roles
However, the problem arises when the "Inkosi" has multiple roles to
play. This necessitates delegation of powers to some of his "izinduna".
In most cases, the decision making process becomes too complicated.
The izinduna cannot take decisions on behalf of Inkosi. No matter how
urgent the issue could be, the izinduna will want the Inkosi to give
and receive feedback, and only then would the Inkosi take a decision.
This of course has a ripple effect on other processes critical to the
implementation of projects that require complete community buy-in and
local leadership support or blessing. It also impacts on timelines which
in turn are often set by financial monitors rather than those who understand
the difficulties of implementing anti-poverty projects in rural areas.
Local leader and national player?
A classical example of multiple-role conflict is that of a community
where the Inkosi is also a Member of Parliament. The development team
wanted to meet with the tribal leaders to plan for a launch of the project.
The date was put forward and the launch had to take place. The negotiations
took place with the izinduna, who could not make a final decision because
the Inkosi was not available. They could not contact him telephonically
because the tradition is that one could not discuss the so-called "serious"
matter with the Inkosi over the phone. As a result, the proposed launch
had to be postponed. Communities usually insist that projects should
be introduced through the local or traditional leadership, especially
the Inkosi of the area. But meetings cannot start before the Inkosi
arrives (even if he is two hours late), and people wait patiently under
the tree for the traditional leader to give his blessings. Development
practitioners can provide many similar examples.
What to do?
This kind of scenario makes us take a step back and ask: what roles
should be played by traditional leaders in development or poverty relief
projects? How should they be involved in a meaningful way so that their
experience and roles as leaders should be roped in the effective implementation,
monitoring and management of projects? Do these traditional leaders
pose as "gatekeepers" in the development of their communities? Do they
really need to participate actively in the development process or not?
The questions are endless. In a second article we will attempt to provide
some answers. But we are reasonably sure that a greater role in development
would enhance delivery - particularly of the integrated rural development
strategy - and may ameliorate some of the tensions evident in the current
political tussle between government and traditional leaders.
Part Two will appear in the next edition of Phatlatlatsa.