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Tribal Levies

Countrywide community consultations on traditional leadership laws, held by the Centre for Law and Society, showed tribal levies to be a pressing issue. These levies are compulsory fees charged by traditional authorities from members of rural communities. They can take the form of either a fixed annual sum or ad hoc amounts for specific purposes.

A particular complaint by communities has been the withholding of “proof of address” letters by traditional leaders on the basis of non-payment of levies. “Proof of address” letters, required by the Department of Home Affairs and other institutions, are crucial for people to exercise basic citizenship rights, such as acquiring identity documents, or to access financial services by opening bank accounts.

This “double taxation” of rural people was a violently contested feature of the former Bantustan system. Although the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act does not expressly allow tribal levies, some ambiguity is created by a provision of the Act that requires traditional councils to meet at least once a year to give account of the “levies received”.

Three of the provincial statutes enacted in terms of the Framework Act declare levies unlawful but allow for “voluntary contributions”, while another three are silent on the matter. The Limpopo Act No. 6 of 2005 is the only piece of legislation that specifically authorises the levying of a compulsory traditional council rate.


Victory in Limpopo High Court: compulsory tribal levies are unconstitutional (Mohlaba case)

On 1 November 2023, the Limpopo High Court declared section 25 of the Limpopo Traditional Leadership and Institutions Act 6 of 2005 inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid. This provision enabled traditional authorities in the province to levy a rate upon every taxpayer in traditional areas.

The applicants in the case are members of seven traditional communities and were represented by the Legal Resources Centre, with support from Nkuzi Development Association. They provided evidence of traditional authorities (the respondents) imposing levies on their communities without consultation, as required in terms of customary law. The types of levies that are enforced include annual levies; levies to raise money for a specific purpose; levies to access a common resource (e.g. to allocate a stand, run a business or bury a family member); and for services like providing a proof of address letter.

Levies are imposed by withholding access to services or resources from those who refuse to pay. The court heard evidence about those who do not pay being denied access to land, access to burial services, and access to governmental services. Fines are often imposed for non-payment.

The High Court additionally declared that customary law only permits voluntary levies, and only after consultation with the community about the need for, amounts and purpose of the levy. This is a victory for rural communities.

To access the judgment, click here

To find out more about the Legal Resources Centre, click here

To find out more about Nkuzi Development Association, click here

Download the Limpopo Act No. 6 of 2005 in PDF

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