Rural organisations to picket over appointment of Cala headman

AUGUST 6, 2015

A coalition of rural organisations in the Eastern Cape are calling on all rural residents of the province to join in a picket that they are organising to take place in front of the Bhisho High Court on Friday morning.

The organisations released a joint media statement of Wednesday saying; "We also call on all other progressive individuals and organisations committed to democracy to endorse and support this picket. This picket is against the decision of the provincial government to appeal against a judgment by Judge Nhlangulela (given in October 2014) that granted the people of Cala Reserve the right to elect their own leaders in terms of their living and evolving customary law.

"We collectively condemn the decision of the provincial government to launch this appeal. This appeal amounts to a denial of rural people their right to enjoy the full fruits of their own democratic customary practice. This appeal shows that the provincial government regards rural people as non-citizens.

"We are extremely angry that the provincial government is wasting taxpayers’ money through launching court appeals that roll back rural democracy. Even at this late hour, we call on the provincial government to withdraw this appeal and to implement the Nhlangulela judgment and to also review the problematic laws that retribalised the countryside and give unaccountable powers to traditional leaders."

The organisations also said that rural South Africans in areas under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders have yet to enjoy the rights enjoyed by citizens in urban areas.

"This is as a result of a narrow interpretation by the provincial government of the Eastern Cape Traditional Leadership and Governance Act 4 of 2005 and the national Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act 41 of 2003. The Eastern Cape law actually does allow for the right of the people of Cala Reserve to follow their own customary law," they claim.

"Although colonial and apartheid rulers imposed chiefs on the people of Xhalanga, from the 1880s the people of Xhalanga fought for their democratic customary practice to elect their leaders.

"Even under the Transkei Territorial Authorities Act 4 of 1965, they were granted the right to choose who would lead them. They persisted in following that practice until the present day."

They claim that today, the democratically elected provincial government seeks to reverse that "basic right won through hard and principled struggle by the people of Xhalanga".

"Through this appeal, the provincial government seeks to enforce the power of the royal family to impose their preferred candidate as the inkosana of Cala Reserve, over the customary-law right of the people of Cala to self-rule. The provincial government is doing this in blatant contravention of customary law, its own law, national legislation, and the Constitution.

“The October 2014 judgment by Judge Nhlangulela declared that the customary law of Cala Reserve requires its headman to be elected by members of the community and declared that the royal family and the Premier must follow local customary law.

“Judge Nhlangulela’s judgment meant that government should have followed the democratic customary practice of the people of Xhalanga, where Cala Reserve is located, to vote for their headman. This judgment implied that problematic interpretations and implementation of the provincial and national laws are inconsistent with the democratic ethos contained in our country’s Constitution.”

The organisations further claim state that when headman Fani announced that he wished to retire as headman at the end of 2012, the people of Cala Reserve expected that they would elect their new headman.

“The Eastern Cape Traditional Leadership and Governance Act says that custom must be followed: ‘the royal family concerned must… identify a person who qualifies in terms of customary law’. But this did not happen.

“Instead of allowing the people of Cala Reserve to elect their headman as per their long-established democratic customary practice, the royal family proceeded with a unilateral appointment and the Premier of the province endorsed this appointment.

“The local chief, Chief Gecelo, stated that he has no obligation to consult the community. He also argued that this Eastern Cape law has stopped the operation of the local custom and now the royal family can appoint whom they want.

“The people of Cala Reserve went and complained to Chief Gecelo, to the KwaGcina Traditional Council, to the abaThembu Royal Council in Qamata, to the Premier and to the Department of Local Government and Traditional Affairs, but no one could give them clear answers. Thus the legal case. In the midst of all this, the royal family proceeded to install their own headman.”

According to the organisations, the Cala Reserve case is important for rural democracy throughout the Eastern Cape province and to challenge undemocratic laws to retribalised the countryside that the national government has introduced since 2003.

“Ultimately, the Nhlangulela judgment shows that rural governance will never be the same again. It challenges the skewed power balance characterised by the lack of consultation of rural people that we have witnessed over the past 15 years bolstered by government legislation.

“Friday’s protest is also to demonstrate solidarity with the brave and principled people of Cala Reserve, and to show that a large number of people in the province reject what government is doing. We can bring the power to rural citizens and enable them to force traditional leaders to consult them. It is now up to rural citizens to take, democratise and transform power instead of leaving it in the hands of undemocratic traditional leaders.”

The coalition includes the organisations listed below:

Afesis Corplan (East London);

Amadiba Crisis Committee (Mbizana, Xholobeni);

Border Rural Committee (East London);

Cala University Students’ Association (Cala);

Ilizwi Lamafama Small Farmers’ Union (Buffalo City Municipality);

Khanyisa Education and Development Trust (Port Elizabeth and Cacadu District);

Makukhanye Rural Movement (Cacadu District);

Masifunde Educational Project (Grahamstown);

Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda (Keiskammahoek);

Rural People’s Movement (Ngqushwa, Bathurst and Grahamstown);

Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza (University of Cape Town);

Siyazakha Land Rights Forum (Cala);

Unemployed People’s Movement (Grahamstown); and

Vul’ amasango Singene Campaign (across the entire Eastern Cape province).