President Cyril Ramaphosa: Opening of National House of Traditional Leaders


25 Feb 2020

Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders, on the 25 February 2020.


Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Ikosi Mahlangu, Ndzundza!
Deputy Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Inkosikazi Mhlauli, Ahh Nosandi!
Your Majesties, Kings and Queens,
Chairperson of the NCOP, Mr Amos Masondo,
Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Thandi Modise,
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Members of the Portfolio and Select Committees,
Former Chairpersons of the National House,
Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons of the Provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders and all traditional leaders present,
Chairperson of the IEC, Mr Glen Mashinini,
President of Contralesa, Kgoshi Mathupa Mokoena,
Chairperson of the National Khoisan Council, Mr Cecil Le Fleur,
Leaders of Political Parties,
Directors-General and Heads of Department,

Fellow South Africans,

Allow me to begin by thanking the National House of Traditional Leaders for this opportunity to address you for the first time in this sixth democratic administration.

Sadly, since the last time we met, we have mourned the loss of some of our traditional leaders.

These include His Majesty King Zwelonke of AmaXhosa and the Deputy Chairperson of the Free State House of Traditional Leaders, Morena Dirahadibonwe Solomon Sekonyela. 

The people of South Africa are deeply saddened by the passing of these leaders who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of their people.

May their souls rest in peace and may we continue to learn from their excellent contribution.


Exactly two weeks ago, right here in Cape Town, we commemorated President Nelson Mandela’s release from prison 30 years ago. 

As he addressed the massive crowd that had gathered on the Grand Parade on the afternoon of the 11th of February 1990, he greeted the traditional leaders of South Africa.

“Many among you continue to walk in the footsteps of great heroes like Hintsa and Sekhukune,” he said.

Indeed, the institution of traditional leadership has produced many heroes throughout our nation’s history. 

In serving as repositories of traditional knowledge and custom and ensuring these are passed on to subsequent generations, in championing the rights of your people,  in promoting development and progress, you continue to display heroism.

The ripe fruit that is our national pride grows on the vine of tradition, of which you, the men and women gathered here today, are the custodians.

This government has consistently affirmed the important role played by traditional leadership in mobilising our people behind a common vision of freedom, equality and justice.

We reiterate our commitment to work with you and to forge strong social compacts with institutions of traditional leadership as we strive to eradicate poverty, inequality and underdevelopment.

Working with our municipalities, traditional leaders are currently playing an important role in driving development, especially in our rural areas. 

I cite the traditional policing initiative in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo as one example of the meaningful partnerships being forged every day between government and traditional leadership.

We have common concerns about the challenges facing our country, among them crime, poverty and unemployment.

We are all worried about the high rate of urban migration, coupled with the fact that most of those leaving rural areas to the cities are young and able-bodied. 

The state of our economy is the biggest concern that is occupying us all. 

Whether we are in this Parliament, a member of a Traditional House, a businessperson, a shop owner, a worker or a student, we are all feeling its effects.

Rural areas are impacted greatly by an economy that is not growing and where jobs are being lost. 

This is fuelling serious social problems like substance abuse, alcoholism and gender-based violence.

As I outlined in my State of the Nation Address, this is the year in which we focus on driving inclusive growth and building a capable state.

This means, in the first instance, that we fix the fundamentals.

We must take inclusive growth and development to the people; to where they live, where they work, where they worship and where they study.

We are moving away from the top-down approach to service provision that has resulted in wastage, duplication and mismanagement. 

There is not one of us here who does not have a story of a project that was either promised and not delivered, or, when it did arrive, was below standard.

We are implementing the District Development Model in three districts and will continue to roll it out until we have reached every one of our 44 districts and 8 metros.

Through this, we are aiming to ensure that the delivery of services is properly planned and managed, considers community needs and is properly budgeted for. 

When this is not done, we will have line of sight and be able to intervene through the various Khawuleza Forums that are being set up in each district.

Through this model we want to make sure that economic development and employment opportunities are not something into eyenzekayo eGauteng, or eKapa, or eDurban, but also in Mount Ayliff, in Tshilangoma, in Babanango, in Christiana and in Philippolis. 

The investment that is coming into our country must not just be concentrated in the metros but also in the municipalities where our people need work, where they need facilities and where they need services.

Through the Provincial Growth and Development Strategies every province is rolling out development that supports economic activity in our cities as well as our towns and villages. 

Our rural areas mustn’t be places that young people leave, only to return when they retire. 

This trend must be reversed, especially if we are going to resolve one of our biggest challenges, of land access and ownership.

The date for the closing of submissions on the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill, which seeks to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, will soon be upon us. 

This is a crucial time for the land reform process. 

Traditional Leaders were at the forefront of making contributions on this matter, and the National House of Traditional Leaders referred the Bill to all Houses of Traditional Leaders in January 2020. 

Your participation is critical.

It should be further noted that at the Traditional Leaders’ Indaba in 2017 it was resolved that there should be a Presidential Summit on Land. 

I am pleased to say this Summit will take place this year.

The House has been holding discussions on this matter with the Ministries of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. 

It is important that each provincial House, assisted by the relevant provincial government, have their own engagements to inform the process leading up to the summit. 

The consultations need to be broad and representative, and I urge you to canvass as widely as possible – with NGOs, faith-based organisations, business, youth formations, women’s groups and people living with disabilities. 

As you will also be aware, we established an Advisory Panel on Land and Agriculture chaired by Dr Vuyokazi Mahlati. 

The panel produced a report that indicated several shortcomings in our land reform policies and programmes. 

Government, in partnership with the National House of Traditional Leaders, is looking into the issues raised by the report to address the shortcomings. 

We are looking at the examples of other African countries to learn how they deal with land tenure and about their land rights record keeping systems.

At the same time, we are involving traditional communities in the agrarian reform movement.

A study trip undertaken to Benin in August last year by representatives of the National House of Traditional Leaders and government looked at a community-based agricultural development model in a rural setting.

The delegation came back impressed by what they experienced, and we should ensure that the practical insights gained from this trip inform and benefit our work going forward. 

As we work to promote inclusive growth and development in rural areas, we should look to mining and tourism as high-potential growth areas, with both having the potential to change the lives of communities.

In previous engagements with this House, traditional leaders expressed the desire to strengthen their working relations with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy.

I am pleased to hear that progress has been made towards finalising a working relationship.

Our Constitution specifically enshrines the principle of sustainable development.

As part of ensuring that development is sustainable and deepening participatory democracy we will continue to ensure that there is proper and adequate consultation on all matters relating not only to mining but all economic development.

We will continue to insist that the law is followed on environmental impact assessment studies.

Likewise, mining houses have to have proper consultation mechanisms and appropriate agreements in place and must be able to show they are bringing sound community development programmes to the table. 

Tourism is another sector that can breathe new life into areas facing economic hardship.

The areas under the custodianship of traditional leaders are rich in culture and heritage.

The development and marketing of heritage sites will create much-needed job opportunities and improve local economies. 

It is pleasing to note that the National House of Traditional Leaders has been engaging with the Department of Tourism, and that both parties have agreed on various approaches to improve tourism in rural areas.

Our own people must take the lead by visiting and appreciating culture and heritage sites in their localities.


We must acknowledge that despite our progress, we have much still to do, and a number of areas we must still iron out.

With regard to the powers and functions of traditional leaders, in July 2018 the National House of Traditional Leaders established a task team to work on the powers and functions of traditional leaders, supported by officials from the Department of Traditional Affairs. 

Following the completion of its draft report, it is now expected that consultation on the draft will be held within government.

These are complex matters that should be afforded enough attention and time.

There is also the matter of succession disputes, which continue to demean the institution of traditional leadership.

The Houses of Traditional Leaders, with the help of the Department of Traditional Affairs, is required to document all customary laws of succession and the genealogies of all our traditional leadership. 

This will help in curbing the number of traditional leadership disputes.

The institution of traditional leadership has its own internal mechanisms to resolve disputes. 

Houses of Traditional Leaders must seek to ensure that these mechanisms are applied, so that disputes are not referred to the courts prematurely. 

A significant milestone has been achieved since we last met.

In November, I signed the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill into law.

For the first time, we have a piece of legislation that provides for the recognition of Khoi and San leadership.

We will soon determine the date on which this important Act will take effect so that the actual work of implementation can take place.


We need to address the abuse of cultural practices that result in the violation of human rights.

Customary initiation is a rite of passage for our young people to manhood and adulthood.

But it has become increasingly infiltrated by unscrupulous people and many young men are being maimed or losing their lives.

It cannot be that every year we sit here and say the same thing about more needing to be done but the death toll continues to rise.

We urge traditional leaders as custodians of culture to take this cultural practice back into your hands and improve it accordingly.

We further call on you to work with the South African Police Service to ensure those who are involved in these unscrupulous practices are arrested and charged.

This includes forceful abductions to initiation schools.

Once it becomes law, the Customary Initiation Bill that is currently before the National Council of Provinces should serve as a critical empowering law to regulate the practice of customary initiation.

Ultimately we should all play our role to ensure that, as they say in isiXhosa, “Abaye baphila, babuya baphila”.

We must do more to support the empowerment of women, and to end all forms of gender-based violence and femicide.

We once again commend the resolutions taken by the National House at the Tshivhidzo in Mpumalanga last year where all Houses committed to work towards capacitating rural women in particular.

We further welcome the female traditional leaders’ structures, which include spouses of traditional leaders.

This is a good initiative, which will end the poverty of information and instil a sense of belonging and joint development. 

As we said in the State of the Nation Address, the empowerment of women is critical to inclusive economic growth.

We want all women, rural and urban, to participate in and benefit from platforms such as SheTradesZA, which aims to connect women-owned businesses to global value chains and markets. 

Women need to benefit from all funding initiatives introduced by various government departments.

With regard to youth development, the National House has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Local Government Youth Development Forum. 

Through this partnership, traditional leaders will work with the forum to engage municipalities to capacitate young people on a variety of skills. 

The House has also started a project on development of young traditional leaders to prepare them to be effective and efficient in leadership positions.

Furthermore, the Department of Traditional Affairs is working with other institutions, such as the National School of Government, to develop a curriculum on leadership development, including building the capacity of young traditional leaders. 

We should also support the redesigned National Rural Youth Service Corps programme of the Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development. 

As part of implementing the District Development Model, 1,000 young people have been enrolled from the three pilot sites of OR Tambo, Ethekwini and Waterberg. 

These young people will be equipped with agricultural and life skills, after which they will receive practical support as they embark on relevant farming projects.

The institution of traditional leadership should support these young people on their return by, among others, facilitating their access to productive land. 

In conclusion, Majesties,

You occupy a unique position in our society: one of both influence and respect.

As Mahatma Gandhi once observed, a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.

That you are the custodians of our rich heritage and traditions confers a great responsibility to use your influence for the benefit of others.

Let us continue to work together to address the challenges that our communities face.

Let us build the South Africa we want.

I thank you


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