- Monday, February 4, 2019

The essential role of traditional rulers in the economic and cultural development of South Africa and other nations was the subject of one of the panels at the Africa Summit: Honouring the Legacy of Nelson Mandela.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, one of his priorities was to meet with traditional leaders, said Chief Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, the eldest grandson of the South African anti-apartheid icon.

“He believed traditional leaders needed to be playing a key role in our political transformation of a new dawn, and in this regard, he called on many to get a good education. He believed education was a weapon that could be utilized to change the world … [and] he wanted to ensure that traditional leaders were highly educated so they would be able to play a meaningful role in the development of society.”

Even 25 years into our democracy, the rural areas of South Africa remain shortchanged, said Chief Mandela, who is president of the Universal Peace Federation’s (UPF) International Association of Traditional Leaders for Peace. In Madiba’s birthplace, for instance, the community still lacks clean, drinkable water and proper sanitation, he said, using the term of affection for South Africa’s first elected black president.

Solutions, according to the panelists, include strengthening unity among chiefs and traditional rulers, voluntary intermarriage between people of differing tribes, and cultivating a stronger determination to downplay political divisions. “Remember, we are all one nation, under God,” one chief said.

Engaging local leaders — and showing respect for their many histories of good governance — is also paramount, said Chief Mwanta Ishima Sanken’i VI of Zambezi, Zambia.

“We are not witches. We are not wizards. We are partners in national development,” Chief Ishima told the audience, who roared with approval.

“Most of your chiefs, as you can see from Chief Mandela to all of us, we are able to express ourselves in English because we are university graduates. So please stop demonizing us as people that are backward and not educated,” he said, waving his high-tech mobile phone.

“We thank UPF for recognizing us,” the Zambian king added. “As traditional leaders, we are the custodians of peace…. we do not want to remain behind. As chiefs, we want to be the agents of development of change in promoting the legacy of Nelson Mandela for peace and development.”

Chief Ikosi Sipho Mahlangu, chairman of the National House of Traditional Leaders in South Africa, urged chiefs to embrace the theme of the Africa Summit, citing Nelson Mandela’s long legacy with traditional leaders.

South Africa was a country that was oppressed for a very long time. Madiba led the struggle from prison, not alone but with his comrades in arms and all of us who are behind him. We are today facing another kind of struggle … still fighting for economic freedom” and other problems like youth unemployment, poverty, domestic violence and disempowerment of women, said Chief Mahlangu.

Traditional leaders have a greater role to play in continental affairs, rather than being on the periphery, he said. “God has given us the fertile land to be the food basket of the world…. We are living under the guidance of Almighty God, who says to us in the Book of Proverbs 16:3, ‘Commit thy works unto the Lord and thy thoughts shall be established.’ “

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