South African Government

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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 DTA will continue to strengthen its regulation and oversight of, and the setting of standards for, traditional leadership. Central to the department’s work is the strengthening of traditional leadership structures and institutions. This entails, among other things, capacitating traditional leaders to resolve disputes and instituting uniform remuneration benefits for them.

In working towards this objective, the DTA plans to implement the Traditional and Khoi‐San Leadership Act, 2019 (Act 3 of 2019), and monitor traditional structures to ensure compliance with the Act and its regulations. This will entail the establishment of a commission on Khoi‐San matters to facilitate the recognition of their communities and leadership, and the reconstitution of traditional Khoi‐San councils.

As a result of these interventions, expenditure in the Research, Policy and Legislation programme is set to increase from R16.9 million in 2020/21 to R18.2 million in 2023/24 at an average annual rate of 2.5%.

This expenditure will also enable the department to strengthen its oversight role, over the MTEF period, by conducting nine research studies on traditional leadership.


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

  • the Traditional and Khoi‐San Leadership Act of 2019; and
  • the Commission for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Act, 2002 (Act 19 of 2002).


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. It plans to host a targeted 165 seminars, campaigns, dialogues, conferences, outreach events, road shows and colloquiums over the medium term.

The commission also plains to produce four research reports per year to restore the diminished heritage of communities, and conduct investigations into cases and resolve disputes emanating from cultural, religious or linguistic differences.

The commission’s total budget for 2020/21 was R47.9 million.

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.