Pretoria - The institution of traditional leadership must be strengthened and afforded its rightful place in the hearts and minds of our people, says President Jacob Zuma.
Speaking at the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) conference in Durban on Saturday, the President said South Africa must find a meaningful role for traditional leaders in constitutional democracy.
He said it should also be done sooner rather than later, to ensure that traditional leaders become part of the country's transformation. It should also be done in a manner that does not render traditional leadership irrelevant or that makes amakhosi to feel they are being treated with disrespect.
Zuma said that he was aware of the many outstanding issues the amakhosi wished to engage government on, including the need for urgent rural development and land reform.
"They want to see roads, water, sanitation and proper housing in their areas. They want outstanding land claims to be resolved. They asked for the clarification of their role and relationship with the local government sphere."
He said the question of unity for traditional leaders was paramount, so that all these issues can be attended to holistically. The President requested Contralesa to play a role in uniting amakhosi around one programme of action to protect their interests while advancing the goals of building a better life for all.
Government has made a commitment to improving the quality of life of rural communities.
"Our vision is to turn rural areas into habitable human settlements and to boost economic activity and infrastructure development. Our view is that people residing in rural areas should be able to make a decent living from the land on which they live.
"We also want to ensure that our rural communities have access to clean water, decent shelter, electricity and services that are obtainable in urban areas," said Zuma.
He added that children in the rural communities must have access to quality education, health care centres, government resources, recreational facilities as well as the opportunities that are available in the cities and urban centres.
Government is further committed to ensuring that land reform through redistribution and restitution, is more coherently linked to the creation of livelihoods for the rural poor. The fight against crime has also been made a top priority.
The President said that in addition to commanding respect and authority over rural communities, Amakhosi would work with government to re-instill the values of ubuntu, inhlonipho, amasiko nokuziphatha.
"These are the values that Amakhosi have represented over the years that are now greatly needed in our ongoing efforts at rebuilding communities," said Zuma.