Resistance to SPLUMA: Traditional leaders' lack of trust in SPLUMA instruments and processes

The article forms part of a series of articles which examines the five major reasons traditional leaders opposed the implementation of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act of 2013 (SPLUMA) in the areas they govern. The previous article unpacked the third reason, namely, the exclusion of traditional leaders from the Municipal Planning Tribunals (MPTs). This article analyses the fourth reason, namely traditional leaders’ lack of trust in SPLUMA instruments.

The article argues that the lack of trust in SPLUMA instruments is informed by what transpired in the past when these instruments were introduced in some areas governed by traditional leaders, as well as the impact the use of these instruments and processes has on proposed developments in areas governed by traditional leaders.


Like the preceding articles, this article is based on interviews conducted with various traditional leaders across three provinces namely, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. The interviews were conducted in line with the University of Western Cape’s Ethics Policy. In many of the interviews, it appears that traditional leaders did not have faith in SPLUMA instruments and processes facilitating a speedy implementation of proposed developments that traditional leaders have already approved.

It must be noted that SPLUMA is an adapted version of planning law that originates from Europe. The original planning statutes were initially brought to South Africa in the 1900s by the British to regulate municipal areas which were inhabited by white settlers under the strict control of provincial governments. The British aggressively extended the use of these instruments in areas governed by traditional leaders by way of proclamations and ordinances to strip the remaining wealth of black rural residents. One of the insidious programmes through which planning instruments such as zoning and planning frameworks and processes were used in rural areas was the Betterment Programme. The Programme was announced as a strategy to help prevent further soil erosion caused by the “unscientific” use of farming methods and accumulation of livestock by black rural residents. However, the outcome of the Programme was not the prevention of soil erosion, but a state of landlessness and the unjustified culling of livestock. Since then, traditional leaders do not trust planning instruments and frameworks. This is corroborated by information gathered during the interviews.

When asked to comment on whether traditional leaders participate in spatial planning and land use management processes, a municipal official said:

“Most of the traditional leaders in our municipal area have said they do not trust these planning processes we want to extend to their areas. They see these instruments as being foreign and not beneficial for rural areas”.

A councillor from Limpopo also stated that most traditional leaders do not see these planning instruments and the associated planning processes as being suited for the rural context:

“In our meetings, traditional leaders always say these instruments are designed for urban areas and not rural areas. They say it was through these instruments that their land was taken away from their forefathers during colonialism. They have also complained about red tape and long waiting periods which people who want to do development are subjected to”.

Another respondent had this to say:

“In the research I have conducted with my students, this is one of the issues that came up. We found that most traditional leaders are sceptical about the use of these instruments and following the planning processes for a number of reasons in their areas. They say they have lived on their land for many years and therefore know very well what should be built where. Traditional leaders think municipalities may use these planning instruments to take over development they have approved for the betterment of their communities”.

It appears that distrust not only characterises the relationship between traditional leaders and municipalities but also extends to legislation, instruments and processes administered by municipalities in areas governed by traditional leaders. What the above quotes illustrate is traditional leaders' negative perception of SPLUMA. These sentiments could arguably be the reason why some traditional leaders were reluctant, or even refused, to participate in the spatial planning and land use management processes of the municipality.


The proverb “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” seems to be apt in this case. Traditional leaders have not forgotten the suffering they experienced in the wake of the Betterment Programme and other oppressive policies. Those tragic memories of both land and livestock losses seem to now have come back to haunt SPLUMA, a post-colonial and apartheid planning legislation designed to eradicate past spatial planning and land use laws and practices which were based on racial inequality, segregation and unsustainable settlement patterns. Traditional leaders do not trust the SPLUMA instruments because these were the very same instruments that were used by the colonial and apartheid regimes to rob rural residents of their land and livestock. Essentially, traditional leaders are saying we were lied to once, we are not going to be lied to again even by a democratically elected government. Another valid concern which was conveyed by traditional leaders was that they did not trust SPLUMA and its associated processes. This in turn unduly delays the commencement of proposed developments and in some cases results in developers taking business opportunities elsewhere. To build trust in the instruments and processes of SPLUMA in managing land use and facilitating development, it is suggested that municipalities should introduce shortened procedures and timelines for development earmarked in areas that are governed by traditional leaders. This would assist in shifting the perception that SPLUMA processes delay development instead of expediting it. Traditional leaders and rural communities are not so concerned about knowing in depth what spatial development frameworks and zoning schemes are, but rather focus on seeing the practical social benefits that these instruments can bring. The next article will examine the fifth and final major reason behind the rejection of SPLUMA by traditional leaders, namely traditional leaders’ lack of trust in municipalities.

By Dr Xavia Poswa, Postdoctoral Fellow, North West University

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