Traditional affairs

Traditional leadership
Traditional councils
National House of Traditional Leaders
Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims




The Department of Traditional Affairs is mandated to oversee issues related to traditional affairs and support the development of stable and cohesive interfaith communities. The 2003 White Paper on Traditional Leadership and Governance sets out a national framework, and the norms and standards that define the role of the institutions of traditional leadership in South Africa.

It seeks to support and transform the institutions in accordance with constitutional imperatives and restore the integrity and legitimacy of traditional leadership in line with the African indigenous law and customs subject to the Constitution. South Africa also has provincial houses of traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West.

National and provincial houses of traditional leaders enhance the cooperative relationships within national and provincial government. Local houses of traditional leaders deepen and cement the relationship between municipalities and traditional leaders on customary law and development initiatives.

Over the medium term, the department will focus on:

  • monitoring partnerships and agreements between government and traditional and Khoi‐San leadership, in line with the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act 2019, (Act 3 of 2019);
  • conducting investigations and research on applications for the recognition of Khoi‐San leaders and communities; 
  • supporting royal families in documenting customary laws and genealogies to mitigate against persistent traditional leadership claims and disputes; and
  • ensuring that customary initiation is practised safely by regulating the environment for initiates.

In an effort to regulate and standardise traditional leadership, the department will monitor the implementation of partnerships and agreements between government and traditional and Khoi-San leadership and communities, in line with the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act of 2019, in eight provinces per year over the medium term. It plans to finalise the Traditional Leadership Handbook by 2024 to establish norms and standards for, and benchmark the costs of, traditional affairs across provinces. The department will also mitigate against traditional leadership disputes and claims by documenting customary laws of succession and genealogies for kingships and queenships in eight provinces.

To carry out these activities, spending in the Institutional Support and Coordination programme is set to increase at an average annual rate of 0.2%, from R93.4 million in 2021/22 to R93.9 million in 2024/25.

To create a safe and regulated environment for initiates, the department plans to monitor the implementation of the Customary Initiation Act, 2021 (Act 2 of 2021) over the MTEF period, and establish a national initiation oversight committee and a database for information on customary initiation activities.

These activities will be carried out in the Research, Policy and Legislation programme, in which spending is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 10.5%, from R21.7 million in 2021/22 to R29.2 million in 2024/25.


The department’s mandate is informed by the following legislation:


Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities

The commission supports communities in developing and fostering social cohesion, peace and tolerance.

Over the medium term, the commission will continue to advocate for the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities by implementing programmes on the promotion and development of tolerance in a diverse society. Accordingly, it plans to hold 185 seminars, dialogues and conferences over the period ahead as part of its Public Education and Community Engagement programme. Spending on Public Education and Community Engagement programme is set to increase at an average annual rate of 5.6%, from R2.9 million in 2021/22 to R3.4 million in 2024/25.

Expenditure is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 2.2%, from R46.3 million in 2021/22 to R49.4 million in 2024/25. Transfers from the department account for an estimated 99.5% (R142.9 million) of the commission’s revenue over the medium term. Revenue is expected to increase in line with expenditure.

Traditional leadership

The Constitution states that the institution, status and roles of traditional leadership, according to customary law, are recognised.

Government acknowledges the critical role of traditional leadership institutions in South Africa’s constitutional democracy and in communities, particularly in relation to the Rural Development Strategy. It, therefore, remains committed to strengthening the institution of traditional leadership. To this end, numerous pieces of legislation have been passed and various programmes implemented to ensure that traditional leadership makes an important contribution to the development of society.

The department is also working on a range of issues, including policies on unity and diversity, initiation, traditional healing, traditional leaders’ protocol, family trees, the remuneration and benefits of traditional leaders based on uniform norms and standards, and involving the Khoisan people in the system of governance in South Africa.

Parliament extended the term of the Commission of Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims from 2016 to 2020 – to allow the commission time to finalise outstanding disputes and claims, and deal with the 320 traditional leadership disputes and claims per year that were envisaged.

Traditional councils

Legislation has transformed the composition of traditional councils to provide for elements of democracy. It states that 40% of members must be elected and that one third of members must be women.

Legislation has also opened up an opportunity for municipalities and traditional councils to achieve cooperative governance. Traditional councils have been given a strong voice in development matters and may now enter into partnerships and service-delivery agreements with government in all spheres.

The National Khoisan Council aims to unite the Khoisan communities and create a platform through which they can raise issues affecting them as a group of communities. The most important issue is the statutory recognition and inclusion of the Khoisan people in formal government structures.

National House of Traditional Leaders

The Constitution mandates the establishment of houses of traditional leaders by means of either provincial or national legislation. The NHTL was established in terms of the then National House of Traditional Leaders Act, 1997 (Act 10 of 1997). Its objectives and functions are to promote the role of traditional leadership within a democratic constitutional dispensation, enhance unity and understanding among traditional communities and advise national government. 

Provincial houses of traditional leaders were established in all six provinces that have traditional leaders. The national and provincial houses of traditional leaders enhance the cooperative relationships within national and provincial government, while the establishment of local houses of traditional leaders deepens and cements the relationship between municipalities and traditional leaders on customary law and development initiatives.

It was established to:

  • represent traditional leadership and their communities;
  • advance the aspirations of the traditional leadership and their communities at national level;
  • advance the plight of provincial houses of traditional leaders, traditional leadership and their communities at national government level;
  • participate in international matters that have to do with custom, traditions and matters of common interest; and
  • influence government legislative processes at national level.

Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims

The commission was established in terms of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, (Act 41 of 2003). It is tasked with restoring the dignity of traditional leaders and their communities by investigating and ensuring that the institution of traditional leadership is restored to where it belongs. It also investigates all claims to any position of traditional leadership (king/queen/principal/senior traditional leader, and headmen and headwomen), including disputes over the boundaries of traditional councils.

Section 25 of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act of 2003 requires that the commission investigate and make recommendations on cases where there is doubt as to whether a kingship, principal traditional leadership or senior traditional leadership and headmanship was established in accordance with customary law and customs.