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Getting to know the Institution of Traditional Leadership

The institution of traditional leadership is recognised as one of the South African leadership and therefore its existence is governed by a number of pieces of legislation such as;

  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 which recognises the institution of traditional leadership in Chapter 12 and the significant role that it plays in protecting the customs of traditional communities, and also defines the institution as an organ of state, which justifies its place in the democratic dispensation with regard to governance issues. The Constitutional recognition of traditional leadership according to customary law is an affirmation that traditional leadership is based on the application of culture and custom.


  • Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (Act No 41 of 2003 as amended) and other subsidiary provincial pieces of legislation, which recognize different levels of traditional leadership positions and structures.


  • The National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) Act, 2009 (Act No. 22 of 2009) and other subsidiary provincial pieces of legislation which provide for the establishment of houses of traditional leaders.


  • The Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, 1998 (Act No. 117 of 1998), which provides in section 81 that traditional leaders may participate in municipal councils, to ensure that matters relating to traditional councils are considered in the decision-making processes of municipal councils.

What is the National House of Traditional Leaders?

The National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) is a statutory body established in terms of the National House of Traditional Leaders Act, 2009 (Act No. 22 of 2009. The NHTL is a House of Traditional Leaders representing the Institution at a National Level. The NHTL is comprised of twenty three members from respective provinces. Three members are elected by the provincial houses of traditional leaders to serve in the NHTL. However, Gauteng does have a provincial house as the province only has two senior traditional leaders. In terms of the Act, the NHTL is addressed by the President of the Republic of South Africa or any other person as designated by the President for its annual official opening. The term of the NHTL is five years.

Other Houses of traditional leaders

At the provincial level, the structure of the institution comprise of the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders and the Local House of Traditional Leaders. The Provincial House is a structure representing traditional leaders at a provincial level in respective provinces while the Local House is at the local level. In terms of section 16 (b) and 17 of the Act, there should be an alignment of term of the houses of traditional leaders with the term of the National House of Traditional Leaders. This is due to the fact that members serving in the National House are elected from the provincial houses, hence the alignment of terms.

Traditional Leadership Landscape in South Africa.

Currently the institution of traditional leadership is found in 8 provinces in South Africa.

Statistics of traditional leaders per province and level

Provinces Level of traditional leadership position
Kingship/Queenship Principal Traditional Leaders Senior Traditional Leaders Headmen/women
Eastern Cape 4 2 215 1193
Free State 1 1 13 96
Gauteng 0 0 2 14
KwaZulu-Natal 1 0 296 3100
Limpopo 3 0 183 2118
Mpumalanga 2 0 58 522
Northern Cape 0 0 8 25
North West 0 0 54 59
TOTAL 11 3 829 7127