South Africa was not atypical in having to accommodate indigenous institutions in its new political order when the country made its transition from minority rule to a non-racial democracy in 1994. In many parts of the world, and especially post-colonial states, customary forms of governance remain salient, being deeply rooted in local institutions. Indigenous institutions are not immutable and have connected with, and been engaged by, colonial powers and western states in a range of ways and to varying effect over many decades. Yet it is increasingly recognised that institutional multiplicity and competing claims to social and political legitimacy need to be taken seriously within hybrid political orders.
State making and peace building in post-apartheid South Africa was made possible by the creation of an administrative machinery that could contain customary authority structures within a broader polity, political structures and processes that channelled the ambitions and grievances of traditional leaders, and a system of local government that drew on the presence and experience of chieftaincies to bring development to hard-to-reach areas. This was a contested process that is by no means over and it has had mixed results. Yet pockets of success have emerged out of the transitional period, especially in the city of Durban, where inclusive elite coalitions have promoted developmental outcomes. The key ingredient for success was the commitment to development of influential political leaders with local links into ubukhosi, the institution of chieftaincy, as well as strong connections to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) both locally and nationally. From this core they were able to forge broader coalitions that included traditional leaders, elected councillors, businessmen, social activists and the church. In some instances they were successful in breaking down political boundaries and antagonisms in the interest of inclusive developmental strategies.
Working Paper No. 55 (series 2), London, UK; Crisis States Research Centre, 35 pp.