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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the official opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders

Your Majesties,
Traditional Leaders of our people,
Traditional Leaders from the SADC region,
Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Inkosi SE Mahlangu,
Former Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Kgosi Maubane,
Speaker of the National Assembly,
Speaker of the National Council of Provinces,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers, 
Chairpersons of the Provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders and all Traditional Leaders, 
President of Contralesa, Kgoshi Mokoena,
Chairperson of the National Khoi-San Council, Mr Cecil Le Fleur,
Leaders of Political Parties,
Chairpersons of Chapter 9 Institutions,
Esteemed Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Lotjhani ! Avuxeni! Ndi matsheloni! Dumelang! Sanibonani ! Thobela! Molweni ! Goeie More ! Good Morning!

It is an honour and joy to address the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders. 

The institution of traditional leadership is a bedrock of South Africa’s constitutional democracy.

It remains a vital resource in the hands of our people to repair the social fabric that colonialism and apartheid sought to destroy.

It remains a potent instrument bequeathed to us by our ancestors to achieve accelerated, inclusive social and economic development.

To best serve the interests of the most vulnerable of our citizens requires an understanding that traditional authority exists not for its own sake, but to improve the lives of our people.

It requires that we affirm and support the historical and contemporary interdependence between our Kings, Queens and Chiefs and the people they lead.

This relationship of mutual interdependence between the ruler and the ruled is captured in the ancient saying, inkosi yinkosi ngabantu.

This means that for traditional authority and government not to become despotic or tyrannical, its legitimacy and authority must be derived from satisfying the aspirations of the governed.

To succeed, we look to traditional leaders to be active defenders of democracy and agents of inclusive development.

We look to them to be attentive and responsive to the cries of abused women, young people who are losing hope because of lack of training and work opportunities and elderly citizens who live in constant fear of violent criminals.

We look to this House to work with government and other social partners to build a capable developmental state that will deliver clean water, sanitation, clinics and tarred roads especially to those who live in our remote rural villages.

We look to traditional leaders to mobilise their communities in the fight against poverty, inequality, unemployment, disease and illiteracy.

Like traditional leaders of days gone by, we look to you to take a lead in promoting education, industry and commerce in your communities.

We look to you to resist any attempts to alienate you from the very people on whose behalf you lead.

We look to you to exemplify a courageous and patriotic leadership that is motivated and driven solely by the ideal of a better life for our people.

Because our people still yearn for justice, peace and fulfilment, we need servant leaders like Inkosi Jongintaba Dalindyebo, Inkosi Nelson Mandela and Inkosi Albert Luthuli.

They were among our proud and visionary leaders who were ready to sacrifice their birth right, their titles and comfort to advance the struggle against racial division and indignity. 

Drawing on their example, we are certain the leadership of ubukhosi at national and provincial level is capable and ready to lend a hand to rebuild our nation.

In this regard, we wish to congratulate Ikosi Sipho Mahlangu, on his election as the Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders. 

We wish him and the newly inaugurated National House of Traditional Leaders all the wisdom and success as they champion the institution of traditional leadership and the wellbeing of our people.

We also congratulate the leaders who have been elected to lead the various Provincial Houses of Traditional Leaders. 

We will continue to ensure that our Constitution and the laws passed by our people remain effective in supporting and adapting this institution to better serve our citizens.


This year marks the dawn of a new era of hope, of servant leadership and of accelerated development.

The most appropriate way to pay tribute to founding President Nelson Mandela – whose centenary we are celebrating this year – is to translate our intentions into actions.

It was President Mandela himself who addressed the inauguration of the National Council of Traditional Leaders in April 1997.

During his address, President Mandela had this to say:

“And so we meet, as descendants of these valiant fighters, in a different setting, in a different era, to plan for peace and not war; to promote unity and not division; to forge a common nationhood and not exclusive privilege.”

These words exemplify not only the abiding spirit that Mandela sought to promote, but also the challenges that still confront us, as a nation, as leaders and as citizens of this great country we call South Africa. 

We know exactly what President Nelson Mandela wished for the institution of traditional leadership.

At the installation of Inkosi Phathekile Holomisa in Mqanduli in April 1999, President Mandela said:

“To the extent that your leadership helps improve the lives of the people, to the extent that it fosters the best of African culture and tradition, and above all to the extent that it fosters unity and peace amongst the people, my days will be filled with contentment.”

The improvement of the living conditions of South Africans must remain at the heart of the discussion about the role and future of traditional leadership.

It must remain seized with the task of uniting South Africans and for creating a society that is equal and free from racial and gender prejudice.

Honourable Members,

Traditional leadership needs to play a prominent and influential role in the growth of our economy, the creation of employment and the transformation of our society.

During the State of the Nation Address earlier this month, we outlined some of the key priorities of government for the year.

One of these is land reform.

This issue is critical, emotive and very sensitive. 

Land dispossession is a defining feature of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. 

Land hunger among black South Africans is genuine and pressing. 

The time has arrived that we act decisively to resolve this matter. 

We must repair the damage inflicted upon our people.

As part of the measures to accelerate land redistribution, the 54th National Conference of the ANC resolved that where appropriate and justifiable, land will be expropriated without compensation.

The programme of land reform must have clear targets and timeframes, be guided by sound legal and economic principles, and must contribute to the country’s overall job creation and investment objectives.

By providing more land to more producers for cultivation, and by providing the necessary support, we are laying the foundation for an agricultural revolution.

We are determined to work with traditional leaders to significantly expand agriculture, not only to ensure food security, but also to create jobs on a significant scale and increase the value of our exports.

We also want to build partnerships with traditional leaders to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment.

We need to create opportunities for young people in rural areas – whether through education, internships, learnerships or employment.

We will not succeed in developing rural areas if the youngest, most active and most skilled people leave for the cities and metros.

Among other things, this means that we need to make agriculture an attractive and viable career for young people.

We need to improve and properly resource TVET colleges and other training institutions in rural areas.

We need to identify investment opportunities in small towns and rural areas and ensure that we use local suppliers and labour when building infrastructure like roads, dams, energy projects, schools and clinics.

We also need to ensure that the support we provide to small businesses and cooperatives is not confined to urban areas, but extends to entrepreneurs in all parts of the country.

As indicated in the State of the Nation Address, government is committed to thorough engagement with all stakeholders in finalising a new version of the Mining Charter.

It is critical that affected communities are represented in these engagements and that the Charter, when finalised, effectively addresses their needs and interests.

We trust that traditional leaders in these areas are integral part of the process and facilitate the involvement of communities in deliberations with government, unions and industry representatives.

Honourable Members,

As government, we remain committed to work with this House and all South Africans to restore the dignity and integrity of the institution of royalty in South Africa.

In 2017, Government hosted the Indigenous and Traditional Leadership Indaba, which came up with a number of resolutions, which were translated into a declaration signed by government and the institution. 

The Indaba reaffirmed the major role of royal leadership in cooperative governance.

It agreed that the values of transparency and accountability should underpin the work performed by our traditional leaders.

We agreed on the need to establish institutional mechanisms to support dialogue, achieve consensus and build a social compact between traditional leaders, government and other stakeholders.

Honourable Members,

I am aware that the Traditional Courts Bill is currently before Parliament.

I urge the institution of traditional leadership to participate in all the legislative processes to ensure that the Bill is in line with customary practice and serves the interests of justice and the needs of the people. 

The other pending pieces of legislation, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill and the Customary Initiation Bill, must be fast tracked to ensure that they provide an enabling environment for the institution to realise its constitutional mandate. 

The Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill was passed by the National Assembly and is currently in the National Council of Provinces. 

The Bill will provide for statutory recognition of Khoi-San communities and leaders while making provision for structures that will serve the interests of Khoi-san communities. 

A Commission on Khoi-San Matters will be established to assist government with the recognition process.

Considering fatalities, injuries and mismanagement of the customary practice of initiation, government has drafted the Customary Initiation Bill to regulate this cultural practice. 

We need to deal decisively with the deaths that take place in the customary initiation schools. 

Parents take children to initiation schools as a rite of passage but some come back with physical and psychological scars that can remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Even more tragic, some of our children do not return to their families. 

We must understand why our interventions to date have not as yet yielded the outcomes we seek and explore better ways to stop the deaths and injuries.

Honourable Members,

We meet here in the immediate aftermath of a great tragedy that has struck the community of Engcobo.

We extend our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

We call on traditional leaders and the community of Engcobo to stand together to defeat crime, social discord and the misappropriation of religion.

Once again, thank for the opportunity to address you today.

Together, we are setting South Africa on a new course of development, unity and enduring peace.

Together, we are placing the needs of our citizens first.

This places a responsibility on us to collaborate more effectively, to address problems and concerns as they arise and to deal openly and directly with areas of discontent.

As we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, let us together reaffirm our shared commitment to serve the people.

Let us reaffirm our shared determination to improve the lives of the poor and the marginalised and to build a united South African nation.

I thank you.