This article explores chieftaincy in democratic South Africa and particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, where traditional leadership is vocal and politically embedded. Informed by institutional theories, we argue that tradition is more persistent than 'resurgent' and that the relationship between ubukhosi (chieftaincy) and wider governance structures in the province and South Africa must be seen as part of a much longer history that exhibits both continuities and discontinuities. Indeed, the article draws parallels between 'indirect rule' under colonialism and beyond, and current plans for involving traditional leaders in local governance but concludes that the analogy has limitations given the broader institutional context of post-apartheid South Africa. Drawing on historical analysis of KwaZulu-Natal and contemporary research among traditional leaders, municipal officials and councillors, as well as residents of traditional authority areas, we consider whether the current recognition of traditional authorities and the powers and functions accorded them, constitute a threat to South Africa's emergent democracy or serve as a site of stability in a politically volatile province.
Journal of Southern African Studies (2005) 31 (4) 755-771 [DOI: 10.1080/03057070500370530]