Ramaphosa lets down millions by signing a law that puts them at mercy of traditional leaders

Ramaphosa has let down millions by signing a law that puts them at the mercy of traditional leaders and commercial interests.

President Cyril Ramaphosa faces myriad mean national challenges.

Eskom immediately comes to mind; it must continue to keep the wheels of a declining economy turning, the street and household lights aglow, and the home fires burning.

The president has just put the floundering national airline on business rescue, and not a day too soon considering the impending job losses.

Nothing seems to be going right at SAA and that has been the case for quite a while.

An infographic doing the rounds online shows that SAA employs 957 staff per aircraft, in stark contrast to an average 150 employees said to be hired by the competition.

The airline’s latest financial report states that SAA made a loss of R10.4 billion in the past two financial years, over and above a succession of hefty government bailouts.

This does not portend a bright future.

Beyond these travails, the president leads a nation afflicted by a surfeit of chronic social and political maladies, a disastrous education system, femicide, murder, drug abuse and widespread corruption, all of which defy resolution in the short term.

Against this background, it is difficult to figure out what ill wind blew in the direction of a president already saddled with inherited conundrums, impelling him to gratuitously add more woes of his own.

Pleas from many credible voices beseeched Ramaphosa not to sign the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill into law.

But the mighty presidential pen has signalled his approval of the condemnation to second-class citizenship of some 18 million people who inhabit what were formerly called Bantustans, apartheid’s cruel legacy.

This is egregious folly.

The president’s own advisory panel on land reform and agriculture specifically stated that enactment of the bill would infringe on section 25(6) of the Constitution, which protects customary and informal property rights.

A high-level panel on land reform and rural development, mandated by Parliament and chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, also warned against it.

In a petition delivered to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, credible grassroots organisations such as the Alliance for Rural Democracy and Sonke Social Justice also entreated the president not to sign the bill.

People picketed in front of Parliament, while the Land and Accountability Research Centre expounded on the potential harm that the bill would cause to the affected communities if approved by the president.

Aninka Claassens, of the department of public law at the University of Cape Town, a respected authority on communal land issues who has served as an adviser to a land affairs minister, advised against signing this bill and another similarly pernicious one, the Traditional Courts Bill.

Affected communities insist that they should be adequately consulted regarding any investment plans that involve the use of communal land and that they should give their informed consent before any contracts are signed.

This is as it should be, for the Constitution regards communities as the rightful owners of the land.

The Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act also acknowledges this.

But section 24 of the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill, which is now an act, substantially negates the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act in the interests of traditional leaders, whom it calls on to merely “consult” community members. Kanjani?

Traditional leaders do not own the land that falls within their authority, therefore they do not hold the powers to make such decision.

In fact, research shows that the majority of tribal land is private land bought by families, sometimes jointly, and governed under community property association guidelines or community-based constitutions.

Mr President, why must the ANC government find itself at loggerheads with rural communities, its historical allies?

It is costly for communities to go to court to protect their rights, but they will and the justice system will find in their favour – as was the case in Maledu and Others v Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources (Pty) Limited and Another (Dlamini and Land Access Movement of South Africa as Amici Curiae), as well as Baleni and Others v Minister of Mineral Resources and Others.

Informal land rights are real and enforceable under our Constitution; so is security of tenure.

Members of affected communities refer to the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill and the Traditional Courts Bill as Bantustan bills, just to let the ANC and United Democratic Movement parliamentarians know.

Corruption Watch, which has over the past few years incorporated the mining sector in its body of work, has received many reports that detail abuse of power and corruption within traditional leadership structures.

A key feature of the reports is the blatant exclusion of mining-affected communities from the value chain of the so-called development projects.

Space limitations only permit the highlighting of a few of the cases.

In West Pondoland, King Ndamase Ndamase signed a R1 million lease agreement with a foreign investor with the aim of developing a megacity on the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape.

In return, he was expected to clear the land and relocate people living south and north of Port St Johns. There is no clarity as to where the community will be going.

The Chief of the Makuleke community in Limpopo sold 30 hectares of land without the consent of the most affected people, some of them private land owners who have not been compensated.

The Bakwena ba Mogopa community in the North West is embroiled in a dispute with the royal and traditional leadership regarding its non-involvement in decisions over a mining operation in the area.

The community is also concerned about the influence of the provincial government in traditional governance.

There is evidence that government officials failed to deal with confirmed cases of corruption within the traditional structures.

Recently, the commission of inquiry tasked with investigating financial corruption in the Bakgatla ba Kgafela mining concession in the North West reported that an estimated R3.5 billion worth of assets and trust accounts were held in the community’s name, yet the community was in the dark regarding these benefits.

In the neighbouring Bapo ba Mogale, the Public Protector reported that an estimated R600 million had been siphoned out of community accounts, based on agreements between traditional leaders and the mining company.

Mr President, the bill you have just signed into law will legitimise the status quo of treachery and grand larceny.

People need your protection, please save them from the voracious feeding pack.

The ANC veterans had suggested that before signing this odious bill the president should consider referring it to the Constitutional Court for the opinion of the Justices.

They have to date been flawless in their interpretation of the Constitution, especially on matters affecting the poor.

Perhaps this can still be remedied.

Article by City Press