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This article is taken from the December 2000 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

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.

Introduction

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.

 

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