A legal history of traditional leadership in South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho
Khunou, Samuel Freddy
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Aim of the study: The main aim of the study is to examine and pursue research regarding the history and role of law in the disintegration of the institutions of traditional leadership in South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho in order to make recommendations regarding the challenges and opportunities facing traditional authorities in these countries. The traditional systems, roles and functions of these institutions are traced from the pre-colonial era up to the period of democratic regimes in these countries. This study is based on the premises that the jurisprudence of the institution of traditional leadership is as old as mankind and that this institution is rooted in the rural soil of African communities. Research Methodology: This study is based on legal comparative research with reference to South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho. A literature survey of the most important sources dealing with history, legislation and policy documents was undertaken. Conclusion and Recommendations: The institution of traditional leadership is one of the oldest traditional institutions of governance in South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho. During the pre-colonial era traditional authorities constituted an important component in the traditional system of the administration of the traditional community. Traditions placed a great amount of responsibility on traditional leaders to look after the best interests of their communities. When the colonial government took over the reigns of these three countries, they changed the pre-colonial form and nature of traditional authorities. These colonial governments exercised control over traditional leaders and allowed minimum independence in their traditional rule. The post-colonial governments of South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho retained the institution of traditional leadership. The Constitutions of these countries provide the legal framework for the recognition and functioning of the office of traditional leaders. However, it has been noted in this study that the relationship between the traditional leaders and the governments of these countries has been a mixture of conflict and cordiality. One of the reasons for this uneasy relationship between the traditional leaders and the central governments of these countries is that the status, authority, power and functions of traditional leaders have been reduced considerably when new institutions such as Local Governments, Land Boards, District Councils and Village District Councils were given powers and functions previously exercised by traditional leaders. The post-colonial transformation of traditional leadership in these three countries has led to a steep decline in the authority of traditional leaders. In order to encourage active participation of the traditional leaders in the new democratic structures and bodies, the institution of traditional leadership must be adapted to the changing political, social and economic environments. Rural local government bodies and the national governments of these countries should not view the institutions of traditional leadership as competitors for political power. The post-colonial governments of South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho should introduce traditional leaders as equal partners in the development and advancement of rural communities. In order to achieve this goal the governments of these countries should empower and capacitate traditional leaders so that they do not become misfits in the new constitutional and democratic settlements.
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