Government spending on traditional leaders sparks controversy

The revelation of the Limpopo government spending R55 million on 102 bakkies for traditional leaders has ignited public debate. Critics argue against using taxpayer money for leaders’ salaries and vehicles, advocating for voluntary support. Tiego Thotse questions the necessity of citizens funding leaders whose heritage may be irrelevant. The article explores the potential economic role traditional leaders could play independently and speculates on the timing of the purchases in relation to the upcoming 2024 elections.

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Why does the government purchase vehicles for established leaders?

By Tiego Thotse

Why the South African government pays traditional leaders’ wages is incomprehensible, as is the fact that the government also purchases their cars. It has been revealed that the provincial government of Limpopo spent R55 million on 102 bakkies as gifts for traditional leaders. In an official ceremony held in Polokwane on 27 November, 2023, Chupu Stanley Mathabatha, the Premier of Limpopo, handed out 57 bakkies to traditional leaders.

But whose leaders are they, anyway?

The fact that governments at both national and provincial levels spend taxpayer money on purchasing cars for traditional leaders, and paying wages to the likes of Kings and Queens, senior traditional leaders, headmen and headwomen, and so on, begs the question: whose leaders are these, anyway?

Since traditional leaders are the guardians of their language, diet, religion, ancestry, and related cultural issues, it stands to reason that the people they lead and on whose behalf they are guardians should be the ones responsible for their financial well-being and for buying them ‘tools of trade’. (The Limpopo government described cars bought for traditional leaders as ‘tools of trade’ in a media statement released on 24 November 2023). Why should I, Tiego Thotse, as a taxpayer, have to foot the bill for the salary of a chief whose heritage I know nothing about and am completely indifferent to?

Read also: South Africa’s watershed 2024 elections – Katzenellenbogen

Support for traditional leaders should be voluntary

No one should be forced to support traditional leaders of any ethnic group, not even those who happen to be members of that particular ethnic group. Such an action ought to be voluntary on the part of every individual, particularly considering that some of us, even though we are members of specific ethnic groups with traditional leaders, do not view those leaders as being vital to our existence.

However, traditional leaders do not need the people they are leading to give them handouts to survive. Since they are the guardians of their people’s land, traditional leaders just need to use their creativity and find ways to make money from the land they are responsible for safeguarding. If they really worked to encourage investment and innovation in their respective areas, they could also play the role of earning a living and generating development funds for their areas, while also creating employment opportunities for their people.


One thinks of traditional leaders in the Sekhukhune region of Limpopo, especially in the Burgersfort area, where there is much mining activity, as an example. Imagine what these leaders could accomplish in their areas, if they were dedicated to finding innovative ways to develop sustainable economies for their territories and to open up employment opportunities for the people under their leadership? There are over 20 mines in the area, including the Twickenham Platinum Mine, Marula Platinum Mine, and Sefateng Chrome Mine.

Each year, these mines outsource a large number of multi-billion-rand goods and services from outside the Sekhukhune region and province of Limpopo. Without doubt, some of these goods and services would be extremely beneficial to both the traditional leaders and their communities if they could draw in investors who would produce the goods and offer the services in their local communities to the mines. Of course, naturally, in order to do this and win over investors, these traditional leaders would need to persuade their people to allow for the privatisation of some portion of their land, since no investors want to make investments in places where they could wake up one day and be forced out. A private title deed is what guarantees the right to a property.

Read also: South Africa urgently needs privatisation for economic revival

The cars are, of course, a vote-buying tactic

To conclude, let me state that I do not believe it is a coincidence that the government of Limpopo purchased cars for traditional leaders within its jurisdiction on the eve of significant provincial and national elections in 2024. Based on my comprehension of the ANC’s operations, I believe that the ANC government has taken this action on purpose. The provincial government has discussed in recent years the possibility of ceasing to purchase traditional leaders’ cars, to reduce government expenses. This was a serious topic, and it appeared that the argument against continuing to buy traditional leaders’ cars was winning, but now here we are: with the upcoming elections, the change of policy happens to be quite difficult!

In my opinion, the purpose of the cars is to sustain the ANC’s popularity with many traditional leaders in the province and their local communities. However, this trick may not be as effective as they think. Hopefully, our people are so fed up with the ANC’s corrupt, inept, and heartless leadership that they will not be swayed by bribes to support it.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and was republished with permission

Tiego Thotse, the former Operations and Advocacy Manager of the Freedom Advocacy Network (FAN), a unit of the Institute of Race Relations, is the DA Youth Chairperson in Limpopo. His opinions are his alone and may not always reflect those of the DA.

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