During the 1990s, most African countries experienced what has been termed their ‘second independence’ (cf. Bratton and Hyden 1992), a period of political upheaval and transformation leading to the introduction of democratic rule. In many countries including South Africa and Cameroon, the process triggered fresh debates about the status and role of chiefs. The popular assumption in ‘struggle circles’ such as the African National Congress (ANC) was that chiefs would be relegated to the background in the democratic era, thus giving room to people’s power and new forms of accountability. But the reality was that the introduction of democracy created a situation whereby many rural people felt excluded economically from the boundless promises of the new dispensation. This dissatisfaction among rural people brought into question the legitimacy of some structures such as the local government even though the ruling ANC continued to enjoy much support among the masses. This in turn provided an enabling environment in which some, but not all, chiefs could make new claims for legitimacy. This is because some chiefs remain discredited by their past association with apartheid authorities. Chief Tshivhase is one of the few chiefs who has successfully associated himself with the ANC both at the national and provincial levels. This has given him space to act decisively in certain ways on behalf of the poor at the local level, thereby winning credibility among rural people. Thus, his credibility is two-fold – with the national politicians, because he is one of them, and with the people of the chiefdom. Chief Tshivhase’s ability to renegotiate his status and gain new legitimacy as chief is a particular example of how the game of neo-liberal democracy is played out in post-apartheid South Africa. In the chiefdom of Bali Nyonga in Cameroon, Chief Ganyonga’s career looks rather similar to Tshivhase’s in so far as he too has risen to national prominence in the ruling party in Cameroon, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) in the era of democracy. But Cameroon’s democratic transition was contradictory in the sense that it introduced the form of democracy but not its substance, leaving the ruling party the ability to manipulate and suppress the opposition and civil society. It was against this background that Ganyonga’s prominence in the CPDM contributed to undermining his legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects because they believed that his prominence in the party left them without any shield from the predation and manipulation of the state. Ganyonga was seen to be in ‘illicit cohabitation’ with a self-serving ruling party, at a time when his subjects wanted to use their newfound rights as citizens to vote the opposition into office. But Ganyonga’s involvement in the politics of the so-called ‘Anglophone problem’ helped to legitimise his participation in modern politics as a chief. Against this background, this thesis examines why both chiefs used their positions as a springboard into national politics? It also establishes the kinds of legitimacy claimed by these chiefs and to what extent the masses are persuaded by such claims and how the chiefs’ involvement in national politics has affected the relationship between them and their subjects. This thesis therefore makes a case for the importance of comparative research on chiefs in the era of democracy and the predicaments they face therein. The thesis argues that contrary to exhortations about the incompatibility of chiefs and democracy, the reality is that political transition in both countries produced contradictions which created space for chiefs to fill but on condition that they were able to draw from different kinds of legitimacy and had not been discredited by their past or present involvement with the postcolonial state.
Dissertation (MA (Social Science))--University of Pretoria, 2005.