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    Conference Papers

    Mistaking Form for Substance: Reflections on the key dynamics of pre-colonial polities and their implications for the role of chiefs in contemporary South Africa - Peter Delius

    Peter Delius describes how colonial impositions have tarnished contemporary chieftaincy in South Africa

    The recent ANC conference decision to limit traditional leaders’ authority over communal land has resurfaced sometimes acrimonious debates about land, legitimacy, power and custodianship in rural parts of the country.

    In this MISTRA Working Paper, Prof. Peter Delius, draws on precolonial history to unsettle some of our key assumptions about the nature of chiefly authority and its relationship to land. Indeed, one of the assumptions he debunks is that traditional leaders were the owners of land. His paper forms part of an ongoing MISTRA research project on [Insert title of PRP].  The final research report is due to be published towards the end of 2018. The research explores   traditional authority in a constitutional democracy, pivoting on themes of leadership, land and law.

    ‘Since conquest and post 1994’, says Delius, ‘a colonially-defined form [of traditional leadership] has been entrenched at the expense of the precolonial substance of chieftainship.  The effect of this substitution has been to make the institution far less compatible with a democratic order than might have been the case if precolonial practice had informed policy formation and practice’.​

    The views expressed here are those of the author and aim to stimulate a wider national debate on the role of traditional leadership in our contemporary society. 

    Access the full paper here: Delius Working Paper_ 201802.pdfDelius Working Paper_ 201802.pdf

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