The role of traditional leaders in our communities

Kgosi Mabe, Chairperson of the North West House of Traditional Leaders.
In both academic and business circles, little is understood about traditional leadership and its relevance in modern democratic society. Traditional leadership is a form of governance that is still prevalent in South African rural communities, especially in the former homelands. The general perception is that this form of governance directly contradicts a democratic system of governance, and it is often perceived to be an autocratic form of leadership.

Approximately 17 million hectares of land (14% of South Africa), previously classified as homelands, are currently under the stewardship of traditional leaders. Many business opportunities exist in these communities, such as mining, farming, tourism and FMCG retail. In order to unlock the potential, businesses might need to foster an appreciation of the possible impact that this form of governance might have on their ability to successfully establish themselves in those areas.

Earlier this year, Prof Jan van Romburgh, Director of the NWU Business School, and Prof Linda du Plessis, Vice Principal of the NWU, hosted Kgosi Mabe, Chairperson of the North West House of Traditional Leaders, accompanied by Kgosi Molete, Deputy Chairperson of the North West House of Traditional Leaders and the secretary.

The NWU Business School is strongly pursuing a focus on Africa and aspires to shape executive minds in Africa. This meeting was therefore a positive step towards our pursuit, and many areas of possible collaboration were identified in the meeting. According to the House of Traditional Leaders, the expertise of the NWU Business School will enable the House to assist the DiKgosi to sharpen their administration skills and serve their communities more effectively. The opportunity to conduct research in these communities was also highlighted as a possible area of collaboration.

The discussion was both informative and insightful. According to Kgosi Mabe, the traditional system of leadership is often dismissed as being an undemocratic and autocratic system of governance because the focus is usually only on how the leader is elected. However, in his view, traditional leadership is a deeper reflection of democratic participation because, before decisions are made, a Kgotlha (Council) is convened in which the community participates. This stands in contrast to a situation where the community is consulted only to elect a leader, who is then essentially given the power to make decisions on behalf of the community for a given period.

It is likely that a Memorandum of Understanding will be concluded within the coming weeks, identifying areas of possible collaboration between the NWU and the North West House of Traditional Leaders.

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NWU Business School
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