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CALS and Afrika Ikalafe join in historic partnership to advance rural democracy

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS has signed a memorandum of understanding with Afrika Ikalafe on an important project to train traditional leaders

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Wits University, and Afrika Ikalafe Pluriversity (Afrika Ikalafe) have begun work on a joint project advancing rural democracy. The purpose of the project is to train traditional leaders on the existing constitutional framework, and use traditional courts to develop research on how to make the justice system work for indigenous communities.

CALS Director, Prof Tshepo Madlingozi, and Director of Afrika Ikalafe Pluriversity, Dr Mmatshilo Motsei, signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of our institutions on 20 October 2023. CALS and Afrika Ikalafe are together undertaking a project aiming to advance scholarship on rural democracy in the context of the Constitution and the lived experiences of people living in rural communities in South Africa. Our ultimate aim is to contribute towards making the existing legislative framework faithful to the ever-evolving cultural practices of African people.

The project will be conducted in four phases. Beginning in June 2024, the first phase of the project will see CALS and Afrika Ikalafe conducting training with traditional court personnel on subjects ranging from accountability, to the authority of traditional councils and courts, to issues around traditional ownership and communal land. In addition, we will be piloting a training programme with the traditional council of the village of Kgomo-Kgomo in Hammanskraal on the effectiveness of traditional courts and the powers of traditional councils.

In phase two, the project moves on to searching for indigenous legal solutions essential for building an African legal system that works for African people. This will be cultivated by conducting interviews with people living in rural communities, traditional leaders and various experts to unpack legal pluralism and what it means for rural democracy. This leads straight on to phase three of the project where we plan to host a national conference on indigenous knowledge systems and rural democracy in South Africa. Finally, phase four sees the development of a short course accredited by Wits University on indigenous knowledge systems and rural democracy.

“South Africa has entered a volatile period in so far as upholding good governance and noble leadership. Looking through the physical, mental, cultural and spiritual lens, it has become clear that we may soon experience an irreversible state of decay.  Based on the Setswana proverb  ‘Kgosi ke kgosi ka morafe’ meaning a king/leader is a leader through his/her followers, communities have deferred their power to leaders. In the process, followers have abdicated their capacity to lead. Civic engagement and rural governance is therefore not foreign to pre colonial Africa. Using underlying Indigenous philosophies and values like letsema (people coming together for a common purpose), rural communities engaged in cooperative economics and philosophies that ensured that the outcomes of their actions benefit the greatest number of people In this project, we retrace our steps by engaging with leaders and followers in three villages in search of means of reviving the society from inside out, as well as bottom up,” says Dr Mmatshilo Motsei.

“We are honoured to be collaborating with Afrika Ikalafe on this important project,” says Prof Tshepo Madlingozi, CALS Director. “CALS believes that advancing rural democracy in South Africa to cater for those who have a dual identity and belonging, is essential to the missions of our institutions. This MOU is part of CALS’ strategic objective to contribute to a society where historical justice is achieved and state institutions are strengthened. We understand that there is no democracy without strengthening the state and traditional leadership. Through this project, we hope to revive and strengthen traditional leadership.”

For inquiries, please contact:

From the Centre for Applied Legal Studies:

From Afrika Ikalafe:


The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) is a civil society organisation based at the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Our vision is a society where historical and social justice is achieved, state institutions are strengthened and oppressive systems are dismantled. Read more about our work at or follow @CALS_ZA.


Afrika Ikalafe Pluriversity is a centre for land-based healing, learning, and living which aims to build an African consciousness that provides fertile ground for healing individuals and building self-reliant sustainable communities in Africa. Read more about our work at or follow @AfrikaIkalafe.