When a friend of mine posed a question to me on the role and relevance of traditional institutions and leadership in democratic South Africa I immediately took the chance to share with him a crude perspective on being one of the members from so called royal families of post-apartheid South Africa. I had just finished listening from a mobile radio network, to a speech by a government official facilitating a seminar in preparation for an upcoming COP17 Climate Change Conference which was being broadcasted by SA FM’ AM Live show. “My dear friend, I am curious”, he continued while we sat down for an interesting exchange of ideas at a student cafeteria table on University of South Africa’s Florida campus. I wasn’t in the best of mental shapes for I had just listened to a monotonous and separatist investigation into the real causes of climate change in today’s world. Of course, the government official on the radio show had spoken at length about the intentions to involve all sectors of society in all discussions relating to the climate change topic. Those included, as reiterated by the flamboyant government official, the democratic parliament of the ruling party (the African National Congress), “civil society” and a bunch of environmentalists local and from abroad. “And did he mention the role of traditional institutions and leadership in all this?”- retorted the friend. Not that I heard of I replied, but we must revert back to indigenous knowledge systems. As we continued engaging on the subject, I could feel tension mounting in my nervous system since the participation of traditional institutions and leadership in democratic South Africa was such a sensitive issue, one that disproves of the popular belief that “South Africa had the best constitution in the world”. Where they are involved, I continued with my answer, participation is so minimal it often amounts to a herd boy’s duties. Almost seventeen years into post-apartheid South Africa there is irrefutable evidence of an axiom of awe, bitterness, fury, anxiety, shame and hopelessness in traditional leadership circles.
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