Let us not misread Motlanthe
It is unfortunate that former president Kgalema Motlanthe chose to use "village tinpot dictators" in reference to some traditional leaders during the ANC's land summit at the weekend.
The anti-apartheid Struggle for liberation was also a struggle to restore the customs and indigenous institutions that were destroyed during colonial conquest and occupation.
Traditional leadership was one of those institutions and today - despite ours being a fairly industrialised and urbanised country - millions of South Africans still believe in the role of dikgosi or amakhosi.
However, only those who choose not to see would deny that some of our traditional leaders do abuse their positions in this institution with the aim of enriching themselves at the expense of rural communities on whose behalf they are supposed to rule the areas under their jurisdiction.
This is the practice that Motlanthe was bemoaning during the ANC's land summit when he accused some of the dikgosi of being "village tinpot dictators".
"Some traditional leaders support the ANC, but the majority of them are acting like village tinpot dictators to the people there. The people had high hopes the ANC would liberate them from these confines of the homeland systems, but clearly we are the ones who are saying the land must go to traditional leaders and not the people," Motlanthe said.
In the debate that is likely to ensue about traditional leadership, we would be making a great mistake if we ignore Motlanthe's central message by focusing exclusively on his unfortunate use of the term "tinpot dictators".
A thoroughgoing land reform programme would be impossible if it does not include the interrogation of how rural communities access land in areas that fall under traditional authorities.
As much as traditional leaders are supposed to be custodians of land under their authority, on behalf of the people they rule over, they should not be allowed to exploit the very people by demanding exorbitant annual land usage fees.
We agree with Motlanthe that communal land does not belong to traditional leaders but to rural communities.