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  • Transcending traditional forms of governance:prospects for co-operative governance and service delivery in Durban's tribal authority areas
  • Sultan Khan (bio), Benoit Lootvoet (bio), and Shahid Vawda (bio)


As South Africa enters its second decade of democracy, the question of the traditional authorities and their role in co-operative governance still remains unresolved. Traditional authorities, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, have over the last decade been most vociferous in trying to carve out a role for themselves in local government, unencumbered as far as possible by the requirements of a constitutional democracy. The forceful way in which traditional leaders and their national organisations such as CONTRALESA and political parties such as the IFP have argued their case, suggests that not only are they hoping to be left with the powers inherited from colonialism and apartheid but that traditional leaders want these powers to be enhanced and entrenched as a legitimate authority within the communities they rule over. Within the eThekwini metropolitan area (Durban metro)1 many traditional leaders, as we will show, have argued that they be given a meaningful role in governance and matters relating to service delivery. Leaving aside what constitutes a meaningful role, such a political trajectory would of course undermine the democratic impulse embedded in the constitution2 and the modernist approach adopted by the ANC government as the primary means by which development and service delivery reaches people, particularly for the poor and those in rural areas.

Such political tensions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, often typified as a caricature of traditional, conservative, and reactionary elements versus the modernist democrats, set up a political dynamic that could easily have [End Page 84] exploded into a new cycle of the violence and political tension that stalked KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s and early 1990s (see Bonnin, this issue). Such a situation echoes Mamdani's (1996) dualistic notions of divided citizenship in post-colonial societies: rural autocracy versus civic citizenship. Clearly, such violence did not materialise, although political tensions have contributed to the postponement of local government elections in KwaZulu-Natal. Political compromises by the ANC and the IFP, and a commitment to negotiating peace, contributed considerably to easing tensions and the abatement of political violence. There is no doubt that any continued contestation and outbreaks of violence will continue to hamper service delivery such as houses, electricity, water and roads, and delay the overall development of areas where traditional authorities have influence.

The delivery of adequate services is a major platform of the ANC and it cannot risk being undermined by recalcitrant traditional leaders intent on being a parallel form of authority to the state. Since the late 1990s when the ANC government first made unsuccessful proposals for the role of traditional leaders to be paid but benign guardians of tradition, it has pursued a path which sought to contain and incorporate traditional leaders into the governance structures at local level. But this has not been a smooth process, and the response of traditional leaders has not been a singular or homogenous one. Ambiguity and sometimes chaos has been the more characteristic outcome of ongoing squabbles over what should be the role of traditional authorities in local government.

Scholarship on this matter has also been highly variable and divided. Researchers such as Beall et al (2004a, 2004b) and Thornton (2002) have demonstrated the resurgence and multi-institutional political focus of traditional authorities. Oomen (2005) has argued that traditional authorities are an accepted and valued part of people's existence in rural areas. In a similar vein, Butler and others have argued that traditional authorities provide access to land for the poorest of the poor (Butler 2002:28,41; Cross et al 1996:152-4), in addition often providing the only accessible institutional authority to manage land use and regulate the affairs of the communities they purport to govern (Butler 2002:51-52; 54-56). Vaughan and McIntosh, in a series of studies on traditional leaders in land issues and local economic development, have pointed to the long history of neglect of traditional authorities under the Bantustans and argued that their role in current and future land tenure arrangements, livelihood provision and governance issues...


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pp. 84-117
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