On Thursday, 6 November, the Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted a dialogue forum convened by the Institute for Security Studies and the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Cape Town to launch the latest edition of the South African Crime Quarterly (SACQ) journal.
This edition addresses an issue that is increasingly becoming both a fault line and a flashpoint in South Africa, namely the nexus of land, traditional leadership and mining. Its focus is on the North West province’s platinum belt.
The objective of the dialogue was to initiate a conversation that the Foundation plans to continue in 2015. This first forum gave voice to the communities and legal representatives who have been working to ensure that traditional leaders are held to account, and whose struggles are reflected in the special edition of SACQ.
An immense irony characterises the scramble for land in democratic South Africa. Some of the ethnic homeland areas, to which people were confined by colonial and apartheid segregationist laws and policies, have become extremely valuable real estate since the discovery of platinum and other minerals.
The mining economy has progressively shifted to these areas over the past twenty years, often with devastating consequences, and few benefits, for groups whose historical lands are now being mined.
Nelson Mandela Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang opened proceedings by explaining the context and emphasising the need for safe space in which to explore the issue.
He drew attention to the need for equitable land restitution in South Africa, the need to ensure that traditional leaders facilitate social cohesion, and the need for the private sector to play a role in sustainably developing the rural areas in which mining activities take place.
Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi, guest editor of the special edition of SACQ and facilitator of the dialogue, argued that the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act has effectively re-established the homelands with local governance structures that mirror apartheid-era Bantu authorities.
He said that attempts to both democratise traditional councils and identify legitimate customary leaders have largely failed, leading to widespread disaffection in these areas. This raises unresolved questions about the role of traditional leaders in a democratic dispensation and the rights of people living in places designated as “traditional community” areas.
Inputs by panel discussants were followed by robust audience discussion. It became clear that a far deeper dialogue is necessary – one that addresses the role of the state, the rights of communities, and the ways in which corporations enter into business deals with traditional leaders.
Increasingly, conflicts are being played out in the courts at great expense to litigants, and with little hope of satisfactory resolution.
Unless this critical issue is addressed at a political level, and through extensive dialogue including with traditional leaders themselves, the future of mining in these areas, and the rights and welfare of people living in the platinum belt, will be at risk.