Why are traditional leaders rejecting the implementation of SPLUMA?

This article is the first instalment in a series of articles that unpack the five main reasons behind the rejection of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management of 2013 (SPLUMA) by traditional leaders in rural areas.

SPLUMA places municipalities at the forefront of spatial planning and land use management decision-making. It gives the impression that municipalities are the exclusive or primary institutions that exercise authority over land use management throughout the Republic, including areas that are governed by traditional leaders. This has led traditional leaders to believe that their power to allocate land will be taken away by municipalities, resulting in seething tensions between the two institutions.

This and the following articles are based on the findings of recent research based in part on interviews conducted with over 30 respondents working in the different spheres of government, traditional leaders, academics, and consulting planners across three provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. The interviews were conducted in line with the University of the Western Cape’s Ethics Policy. The research examined the intersection of the role of traditional leaders in land allocation and the role of municipalities in spatial planning and land use management. The research interrogated the reasons why traditional leaders resisted the implementation of SPLUMA. While each of the articles will focus on one of the five main reasons, this article sets out the background as to why most traditional leaders are rejecting the implementation of SPLUMA in the areas they govern. This will be followed by a discussion of the first reason, namely a lack of meaningful consultation. Traditional leaders have raised the lack of meaningful consultation as the reason why they are opposing the implementation of SPLUMA in traditional areas. The article argues that the lack of meaningful consultation of traditional leaders by the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform (DARDLR) responsible for the development of SPLUMA sowed the seeds of the other four reasons that traditional leaders have raised to viscerally reject SPLUMA.


On the 1st of July 2015, the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013 (SPLUMA) came into operation. On the 4th of July, traditional leaders took to the streets to protest against the implementation of the Act in their areas of jurisdiction. Angry traditional leaders dared the government to arrest them after vowing to defy the newly enacted SPLUMA for a number of reasons. At the same, a meeting on SPLUMA between the then Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti and members of the National House of Traditional Leaders took place. The main demand of traditional leaders was that the implementation of the Act must be suspended with immediate effect and if not, they would defy the government by resisting its implementation.  In the end, SPLUMA was not suspended which then led to traditional leaders rejecting the implementation of SPLUMA in their areas of control. Why did traditional leaders reject SPLUMA?

It appears that during the stakeholder engagements when SPLUMA was being drafted or finalised between the years 2011 and 2012, the manner in which it was introduced to traditional leaders by national government officials was without care or careful regard for the institution of traditional leadership. A municipal official from Limpopo, when asked for his opinion on why SPLUMA in particular is being rejected by many traditional leaders, he had this to say:

“When SPLUMA was introduced to the traditional authority, a lot of misinformation went through. Nobody explained to them to say this is a kind of legislation that is going to bring improvement in as far as the development world is concerned. Someone construed it as someone in authority, not the municipality but the government itself wanting to take away the land from traditional leaders”.

Another respondent who is a provincial official from KwaZulu-Natal corroborates this. When asked the same question she said that-

“It does appear that the build-up towards promulgation of SPLUMA, there are certain things that did not go so right in terms of how the law itself was introduced to them (traditional leaders) and what they understood the law to be about and it does seem like the damage started from there. What we are dealing with now are things that started from there which made it so complicated that you can’t go back and correct those wrongs”.

A traditional leader from the Eastern Cape explained the general feeling, he and other traditional leaders felt because of the way SPLUMA was introduced at national level. He stated:

“Sometimes you can have a certain attitude about someone just by the way they greeted you and then afterwards you just don’t want anything to do with them let alone talk to them. I think we need to resolve this issue of how they dealt with us when they started to talk to us about SPLUMA and thereafter talk about being capacitated to understand exactly what is it that they want to achieve with SPLUMA and whether it will benefit our communities and our institution”.

However, a national government official who was involved in the development and rollout of SPLUMA refuted the allegations that the Department responsible for the rolling out of SPLUMA did not consult the relevant stakeholders, including traditional leaders. When asked for input on the matter, he had this to say:

“i can assure you that we travelled extensively across the country to meet traditional leaders and other stakeholders. We even went to the Western Cape to meet the Khoisan leaders and more importantly the former King of KwaZulu-Natal. The assertions that we did not consult is not entirely true in my view”.

These three quotes illustrate the contrasting points regarding the consultation of traditional leaders or lack thereof that preceded the adoption of the Act. The conclusion of the research is, however, not based only on these three quotes.


The biblical concept, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems befitting in this case. Traditional leaders raised the lack of meaningful consultation by the DARDLR as a key reason for rejecting the implementation of SPLUMA in their areas of jurisdiction. It is quite ironic that it is traditional leaders in this case who are angry about not being meaningfully consulted, something rural communities have on many occasions accused traditional leaders of not doing. Nevertheless, the allegations levelled against the DARDLR regarding the manner in which they consulted traditional leaders about SPLUMA must be treated with the seriousness they deserve for two reasons. First, whether these allegations are true or not, on the ground that the implementation of SPLUMA has been rejected by traditional leaders in their areas of control. Second, the DARDLR is duty-bound by the Constitution to facilitate public participation, including by traditional leaders, through meaningful ways for traditional leaders, as key stakeholders, to be heard in the drafting of a law that governs them. To this end, the lack of meaningful engagement by the DARDLR resulted in traditional leaders viscerally rejecting SPLUMA and gave rise to the other four reasons behind the resistance to the implementation of the Act, namely misunderstanding of SPLUMA, lack of trust in municipalities, lack of trust in SPLUMA instruments and processes, and exclusion of traditional leaders from municipal planning tribunals. Traditional leaders have raised these reasons in their fight against the implementation of SPLUMA in their areas of control.  The next article examines the second reason, namely misunderstanding of SPLUMA which traditional leaders have mentioned as another reason why they are rejecting the implementation of SPLUMA in their areas of jurisdiction.


By Xavia Poswa, Doctoral Researcher

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