For Immediate Release: 26 June 2017
On Tuesday, 27 June 2017, the Amahlathi Crisis Committee, representing eight villages near King Williams Town, will ask the Bhisho High Court to set aside the decision of the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims, and of the Premier, that recognises the legitimacy of a chief who had been imposed upon them, for the first time in 1982, by the violent Ciskei regime.
The Amahlathi Crisis Committee is represented by the Legal Resources Centre.
The people of Amahlathi arrived in the area that they occupy today in the 1850s. They had no chief, but governed themselves through a system of elected chairpersons and have continued to practice this customary law until today. However, in 1982, President Sebe of the then Ciskei created a chieftainship over the area and installed Mr Maqoma (allegedly not his real name) as chief.
The community ignored this new development as far as they could at the time, so much so that the position disappeared around 2000. However, in 2005, with the promulgation of the Eastern Cape Traditional Leadership and Governance Act of 2005, Mr Maqoma was emboldened to reassert his authority over the area and even attempted to take over the pending restitution claims that individual Amahlathi villages had lodged in 1998.
The Amahlathi people took their grievances about this unlawful imposition to several government departments before being advised to lodge a complaint with the Commission. The Commission, the Amahlathi people say, misconstrued their mandate in adjudicating the matter. Instead of investigating whether the customary law of the communities of Amahlathi provides for a chief, they focused on the history of the land in question and insisted that an antecedent of Maqoma had authority over the area before the Amahlathi people arrived there.
Professor Jeff Peires has submitted an expert report to the Bhisho High Court indicating that, in any event, the Commission relied on misinformation in assessing the history of the land.
The community is asking the Court to set aside the decision to confirm Mr Maqoma’s chieftaincy, and to order that the area cannot be placed under the authority of a chief as long as it is inconsistent with the customary law of the people who live there.
Whilst the Premier and the Commission initially opposed the application, they have withdrawn their opposition and will abide by the Court’s decision.