Traditional Institutions and Leadership, marginalisation and the shame of the South African constitution

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Traditional Institutions and Leadership, marginalisation and the shame of the South African constitution


What is Mabutheto Precis?

The concept, Mabutheto consists of two parts. Mabu refers to soil and theto means praise. The concept Mabutheto owes its semantic structure to the Northern Sotho language of the Sotho tribes of Limpopo province, South Africa and was conceived out of our realisation that oral traditions and indigenous knowledge systems have survived many centuries of isolation and suppression up until today. These oral traditions and indigenous knowledge systems are embodied in Traditional Education (i.e. proverbs, folktales, music, rituals, games, idioms, names, storytelling and initiation as a rite of passage) which was greatly marginalised with the arrival of Missionary Education imposed on the indigenous people through colonisation by European colonial rulers.

Later the former Apartheid government introduced what was known as Bantu Education, a curriculum that was designed to elevate Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools. Since English had previously enjoyed a privileged position during the early days of colonial rule, the apartheid government wanted to elevate the Afrikaans language to the same level of prestige. The end result was the separation of Africans, coloureds, Indians from whites. The chief architect of the Bantu education system Dr Verwoed, believed that different races should be schooled in such a way that people would be kept apart in the job market. This resulted in poor education being offered to Africans, coloureds and Indians thereby rendering these races incompetent in careers exclusively reserved for whites such as engineering for instance.  There was widespread dissatisfaction with the Bantu education system and in 1976, the Black Consciousness movement emerged and was later said to be the brains behind the students riots in Soweto and elsewhere in the country. The basic idea was to inculcate a sense of pride in those oppressed by the apartheid system.

In 1994, a new National Curriculum statement was introduced when the new democratic government was elected. There are now eleven official languages which are said to enjoy equal status although English and Afrikaans still dominate. According to the democratic constitution, traditional cultural education is now centre stage in a quest to correct the injustices of the past.  Mabutheto Precis™ is a collection essays which aim to highlight the need to bring back  Oral Traditions and Indigenous Knowledge System into mainstream education and social development systems in a bit to promote practice, usage and sustainability. The mission is to use literature to support the new educational landscape that has been created with the adoption of the new constitution where all cultural, linguistic and religious groups have a right to practice without any discrimination. The time has come for Oral Traditions and Indigenous Knowledge Systems of Southern Africa and Africa to be part of national and global dialogue. We trust the reader will enjoy the introductory issues of an upcoming collection of Green Essays on traditional community life, its role and relevance in today’s world.


Introducing Mabutheto(see first essay published below)




Molepo, M . 2011. Traditional Institutions and Leadership marginalisation and the shame of the South African constitution. Mabutheto Literature: Ga Molepo

When a friend of mine posed a question to me on the role and relevance of traditional institutions and leadership in democratic South Africa I immediately took the chance to share with him a crude perspective on being one of the members from so called royal families of post-apartheid South Africa. I had just finished listening from a mobile radio network, to a speech by a government official facilitating a seminar in preparation for an upcoming COP17 Climate Change Conference which was being broadcasted by SA FM’ AM Live show.
“My dear friend, I am curious”, he continued while we sat down for an interesting exchange of ideas at a student cafeteria table on University of South Africa’s Florida campus. I wasn’t in the best of mental shapes for I had just listened to a monotonous and separatist investigation into the real causes of climate change in today’s world. Of course, the government official on the radio show had spoken at length about the intentions to involve all sectors of society in all discussions relating to the climate change topic. Those included, as reiterated by the flamboyant government official, the democratic parliament of the ruling party (the African National Congress), “civil society” and a bunch of environmentalists local and from abroad. “And did he mention the role of traditional institutions and leadership in all this?”- retorted the friend. Not that I heard of I replied, but we must revert back to indigenous knowledge systems. As we continued engaging on the subject, I could feel tension mounting in my nervous system since the participation of traditional institutions and leadership in democratic South Africa was such a sensitive issue, one that disproves of the popular belief that “South Africa had the best constitution in the world”. Where they are involved, I continued with my answer, participation is so minimal it often amounts to a herd boy’s duties. Almost seventeen years into post-apartheid South Africa there is irrefutable evidence of an axiom of awe, bitterness, fury, anxiety, shame and hopelessness in traditional leadership circles.


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  4. This review is the report on a 3-year series of workshops and seminars at the University of Cape Town that have sought to explore the debate about indigenous knowledge in South Africa. Engaging with a wide range of scholars, particularly in the global south, the project has explored a range of approaches to the challenge of confronting the entanglements of sciences, capital, regional intellectual heritage and colonial history. The review begins with a broad overview of regional debates on indigenous knowledge systems, in India, Latin America and Australia, followed by an account of the contradictions that attend the South African science war over traditional and natural medicine with respect to antiretrovirals. Thereafter, various approaches that the project has begun to pursue in order to open up the conversation on intellectual heritages in South African scholarship are explored.

    • avatar mahlaga says:

      Hi there!

      Thanks a lot for sharing with us events as they happen in South Africa.

      I am very passionate about Indigenous Knowledge Systems and would really love to partake in events of these kind.

      Please leave a message at for future correspondence.



  5. avatar silver price says:

    In the current era of IMF / World Bank structural adjustment impositions and debt repayment, there are serious financial constraints. We are aware also of the impact of these programs on the funding of educational institutions and library systems, and therefore the search for excellence is also a search for affordable resources, whether at the level of instruction or resource management. Because AIK research is largely community based, a major investment in the enterprise is the well being, health and survival of the most valuable resource of all, people. This is all the more why the current AIDS pandemic is tragic. On a positive note, though, observe that indigenous systems of knowledge production facilitated the discovery of the healing properties of the African willow (South Africa) and the hoodia plant (Namibia) and iboga (Gabon and Cameroon), botanicals which are about to revolutionize the Western medical establishment in terms of cancer treatment, dietary care and anti-addictive therapy, respectively. In the case of the potential cancer cure, the principle at stake is the interruption of the flow of blood to the cancers in patients, and not to the healthy tissue. The traditional doctors who brought this herbal, ‘combrettum caffrum’ to the attention of Dr. Bob Pettit of Arizona State University did not use the herbal for cancer treatment, but they were certainly aware of its scientific significance in health care. It is not inconceivable that a benign cure for AIDS could emerge from the resource base of AIK. If AIDS does not exist there must be something killing the people in such large numbers and that entity, whatever its name, must be destroyed. If AIDS is the product of biological warfare and genetic engineering and deliberately infected monkeys in the wild, the challenge is all the more greater for us as researchers, educators, scientists and healers. Burying one’s head in the sand to ward off disaster is not a credible strategy for coping with tragedy.

    • Hi Siver Price!

      Its always a challenge to Indigenous Communities to have investors pumping money into ensuring traditional medicines are intergrated into the mainstream. We have seen such developments by the KwaZulu-Natal Provicial government gradually becoming a success since there is now vertical intergration between modern medicine and traditional medicine. These two industries are still far from complimenting each other in other provinces since the traditional medicicine industry is not properly regulated and merging the two is always going to be a problem.

      Whats needed is a model that will help re-engineer the traditional industry as a way of preparing it to attarct investors. This requires that important stakeholders such as Traditional Institutions and Leadership as well as Traditional Healers be hands on in the process. Do we need funds? Of course we do.

      I am part of Traditional Council which precides over a sizeable population and have tried to contribute new innovative ways to this noble cause. See the following blog at and a knowledge sharing intiative at!/groups/mjspg/ and all created to ensure the traditional community in question has access to information through an organised communication infrastucture created to also help traditional adminstration manage its affairs in this era of information.



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