President Cyril Ramaphosa has apologised for not acknowledging the chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders during his State of the Nation address (Sona) two weeks ago.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa closed the debate after his address to the House two days before, where the issue was raised that he had not acknowledged Sipho Mahlangu.
He offered his “sincerest apologies” to Mahlangu and the institution and said he hoped it would be seen for the “honest and regrettable mistake it was”.
Despite the many challenges faced by the country, the traditional leaders participating in the debate seemed mostly concerned about their status, influence and the resources provided to them by the state.
“There’s no way councillors are our bosses,” said Mwelo Nonkonyane. “We’re their bosses.”
He suggested money should be given to them rather than the councils.
Nonkonyane said traditional leaders supported the ANC in the 2016 national elections, as illustrated by the party’s losses in the metros while they remained strong in rural areas.
“Why can’t, therefore, be given to Amakhosi what they deserve?” he asked.
Nonkonyane said traditional leaders were not despots but “African democrats”.
Another traditional leader complained Ramaphosa was “surrounded by republicans who hate traditional leadership with a passion”.
“We are not happy. We are not comfortable. This sector is undermined,” complained another one.
Starting his response, Ramaphosa said traditional leaders certainly used the opportunity to engage with him and the government about their “frustration, disappointment and unhappiness”.
He added his administration and presidency held traditional leaders “in the highest regard”.
Ramaphosa said he knew Nonkonyane “extremely well” because they worked together on drafting the Constitution.
“All we need to do is look for solutions,” he added. “We should look to have a national conversation. We are a democracy and the issue of traditional leadership is also underpinned by democracy.”
Ramaphosa said the issue of resources for traditional leaders remained a challenge.
“We do need to have a deep and meaningful conversation,” he added, saying there were “severe constraints” on public finances and a “need to curb public spending”.
Ramaphosa urged traditional leaders to be involved in the national plan against gender-based violence and said they should play a role in changing behaviour. He called on them to ensure that survivors have access to justice.
He told how, on Tuesday, he visited the family of Tazne van Wyk who was allegedly slain by a man “our parole system [has] mistakenly and incorrectly given parole”.
Ramaphosa said the perpetrators of gender-based violence were often known in the community. “It is the community that needs to stand up.”