Traditional authority and state in conflict in the Free State

The Thaba Nchu clan is fighting to reclaim its land, for acknowledgement by the state in line with other traditional leaders and, ultimately, its very survival.

Dispossession of land – by the apartheid regime as well as the current government – and a strained relationship with the Free State government will lead to the fall of the Barolong Boo-Seleke clan, says Barolong Traditional Council deputy chair Maleho Goronyane.

“I see the fall and the decline of Barolong Boo-Seleka in 10 years to come, because government does not care about us,” says the deputy chair. “They are evil.”

This is Goronyane’s 13th year as deputy chair.

Moroka II, the traditional leader of the Boo-Seleka section of the Barolong, migrated here with his people in 1833. They settled in Thaba Nchu in the Free State after being granted territory by the former king of Lesotho, Moshoeshoe I. Over time, their numbers grew, added to by other Barolong that had been scattered by Mzilikazi.

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A community of predominantly Tswana-speaking locals, Barolong Boo-Seleka oversees 42 villages sprawled across the territory that once extended from the eastern banks of the Leeuw River to the Phata-ya-lobelo hills in the west, where the former central hunting farm of Oranje Jag was established under the apartheid government.

The original boundaries of Thaba Nchu skirted the Mokopu Motseke Mountains at Jammersdrift and ran to the Morojaneng hills near Dewetsdorp. According to Goronyane, the towns Excelsior, Verkeerdevlei and Ngakantsispoort also belonged to the clan.

The farming community numbers 70 118.

28 February 2019: Deputy chair of the Barolong Traditional Council and member of the Royal Council Maleho Goronyane walks toward the entrance of the Barolong Boo-Seleka meeting place in Thaba Nchu.

Land dispossession

The town, 60km east of Bloemfontein, grew after the 1913 Natives Land Act that proclaimed Thaba Nchu as one of the former Orange Free State’s African reserves.

Goronyane says the annexation of Thaba Nchu to the Orange Free State in 1884 by then republic president Johannes Brand left the clan with only a quarter of its original land. A law prohibiting black farmers from selling their land to black people was passed and, consequently, they were forced to sell land to white settlers.

The Orange Free State was an independent sovereign Boer republic in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century. It later became a British colony and a province of the Union of South Africa. It is the historical predecessor to the present-day Free State province.

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Goronyane criticised the current government for failing to restore the original borders of Thaba Nchu, to address the lack of access to land after 1994.

“Government is doing as they like. Like now they are giving some people plots without our consent,” Goronyane says.

According to him, the town is saturated and can barely give land to the locals. Although traditional leaders don’t provide services in the area, Goronyane said his office is inundated with problems about water and access to land.

Thaba Nchu falls under the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality.

Communication between councillors and the traditional leaders in the area has reached an all-time low. “Even the mayor, we don’t know them, even the councillors.”

The leadership deals mostly with community issues, such as helping to resolve family disputes and ensuring that culture and traditions are upheld.

28 February 2019: A view from the hill overlooking the homes of those living in Thubisi Trust.

Government relations

Goronyane is unfazed by the tense relations with the Free State government and says the general elections on 8 May will see the ANC and many other political parties heading his way to appease the traditional house in the hope of influencing poll outcomes.

In 2015, former Free State premier Ace Magashule was accused of abusing his powers after he handed over six brand new Mercedes-Benzes to Free State traditional leaders, costing taxpayers R3.2 million.

The Free State government was criticised for purchasing the vehicles during the province’s drought crisis.

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Traditional leaders dismissed claims that the cars were meant to soften relations with the state to sway votes for the ANC ahead of the 2016 local elections.

Goronyane also denied that traditional leaders get perks during election season to influence locals ahead of the polls.

He did accuse the state of “sweetening relations” with the royal family ahead of elections. But it “sours after elections”, he added.

He denied claims that the state has given the clan funds to campaign for the ANC.

“We encourage our people to vote, but we don’t have a budget to lobby for the ruling party for the elections. We allow political parties to lease the Barolong Hall to hold party meetings. The hall also creates revenue for the traditional house of leaders,” said Goronyane.

He criticised the ANC for handing out food parcels, which he said are given to sway votes in poverty-stricken communities. “Now that they want the votes, they give you the sweets for the votes.”

28 February 2019: Homes in Thubisi Trust

Unequal treatment

Goronyane pointed out the disparity in the way the state treats royal families in the country.

Referring to the reigning king of the Zulu nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini, the deputy chair said “the state does not treat us equally … in the way that they treat my brother King Zwelithini … They should treat us the same.”

Zwelithini receives an annual salary of more than R1.1 million, an amount set aside to pay kings and queens in South Africa.

Apart from his salary, the Zulu king has an annual budget of almost R60 million, which comes out of the provincial budget for KwaZulu-Natal. The money is used to maintain Zwelithini’s lifestyle.

State recognition

In 2010, the traditional leadership commission recommended that South Africa lose six of its kings and queens. The government recognises seven royal families.

Subsequently, of the 13 traditional kingdoms, the government will recognise only seven once the current incumbent rulers of the deselected kingdoms have died.

Goronyane said traditional leaders have been marginalised, even in the new dispensation. “In the next 10 years, the Barolong Boo-Seleka nation will no longer exist.”

The traditional house has since asked the Free State premier to consider the possibility of restoring the boundaries of Thaba Nchu.

Barolong Boo-Seleka want back the land that white settlers and the South African government at the time took from them. The clan also want a title deed in respect of this land to be registered in the name of the Barolong Boo-Seleka Traditional Authority.

28 February 2019: Maleho Goronyane at his home in Thaba Nchu.

Traditional leaders

According to the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), a traditional leader is defined as an individual who, by virtue of his or her ancestry, occupies the seat of an area, and who has been appointed to it in accordance with the traditions and customs of the area.

These individuals exercise authority over the people who live there in the name of tradition. 

Goronyane said a decade-long succession debate, which has divided the Moroka royal family, has created mistrust between the family and its subjects.

Villagers from Thubisi Trust on the outskirts of Thaba Nchu share this sentiment. The apartheid regime relocated locals with livestock to the trust lands in the 1960s to make way for a new township development.

28 February 2019: Thubisi Trust resident Oganne Tsatsinyane outside a friend’s home.

Squabbles and uncertainty

One of the villagers born at Thubisi Trust in 1971, Oganne Tsatsinyane, says internal squabbles over traditional leadership created uncertainty in the community.  Tsatsinyane’s family relocated to the trust lands in 1964.

“We lived at Ratlou area. My family was moved because they had livestock and the former government wanted to build a new township”.

Tsatsinyane said the Free State government has yet to fulfil its promise to compensate families moved to the trust lands. About 100 households live in the vast land mostly dedicated to grazing.

The father of one implored the government and royal family to address unemployment and access to land.

His neighbour, Piet Stilo, 63, is not entirely convinced the state will deliver on its promises. Stilo is a cattle herder.

While the clan utilises traditional authority to fight to get back land taken by the apartheid government, that authority fears extinction under a democratic dispensation.

28 February 2019: Cattle herder Piet Stilo has lived in Thubisi Trust since 1986.
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