In May 1996, President Nelson Mandela and the nation of South Africa celebrated the adoption of the South African constitution. There was a sense of optimism surrounding the new democracy. But it was clear that if the young democracy was to succeed it would have to deal with issues of land tenure and poverty in rural communities. The African National Congress (ANC) created the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which outlined development goals for urban and rural areas and described a land reform program aimed to provide secure tenure to all South Africans. There was a plan for land redistribution in order to address remaining disparities: apartheid had left 87 percent of land in the hands of whites and 13 percent of land to the majority black population. In order to address rural poverty, municipal governments were created in all urban and rural areas. Almost 20 years later, however, many communities are still organized under traditional leadership and/or traditional councils. Similarly, communal land tenure continues in many rural areas. The puzzle, then, is how have these institutions persisted despite government efforts to overturn or weaken them? The number of South Africans who live in areas with traditional leaders is significant. Koelble and LiPuma (2011: p. 8) estimate that 15 million South Africans (total population in 2010 approximately 50 million) are part of a community overseen by traditional leadership.
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