Chieftaincy, the State, and Democracy

Chieftaincy, the State, and Democracy

Political Legitimacy in Post-Apartheid South Africa
J. Michael Williams
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/23/2009
Format: Paperback 6 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-22155-1
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As South Africa consolidates its democracy, chieftaincy has remained a controversial and influential institution that has adapted to recent changes. J. Michael Williams examines the chieftaincy and how it has sought to assert its power since the end of apartheid. By taking local-level politics seriously and looking closely at how chiefs negotiate the new political order, Williams takes a position between those who see the chieftaincy as an indigenous democratic form deserving recognition and protection, and those who view it as incompatible with democracy. Williams describes a network of formal and informal accommodations that have influenced the ways state and local authorities interact. By focusing on local perceptions of the chieftaincy and its interactions with the state, Williams reveals an ongoing struggle for democratization at the local and national levels in South Africa.

Author Bio

J. Michael Williams is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego.


“This post-apartheid analysis focuses on local perceptions of the controversial and influential institution of chieftaincy and its interactions with the state, revealing an ongoing struggle for democratization at the local and national levels in South Africa.”

“Makes an important and substantive contribution to our understanding of political change in South Africa.”
 — Clifton Crais, Emory University

“Examines the complicated interactions between the central state, chieftaincy, and local people in rural areas of post-apartheid South Africa.”
 — Lauren Morris MacLean, Indiana University Bloomington

“Williams (Univ. of San Diego) has added to a gradually growing collection of analyses focusing on the functions of chieftainship in South Africa and their role in the democratization process. His book is based primarily on dissertation research for three case studies from 1998 to 1999, completed in 2001, and taking into account changes and transitions in the decade following his initial research. His focus is on how the chieftaincy 'seeks to establish and maintain its legitimacy' and how it blends the 'principles of liberal democracy with principles of hereditary rule.' He updated his evidence during brief visits in 2003 and 2009, adding numerous surveys, journal articles, news accounts, and interviews to his bibliography. [H]is analysis . . . reflects chieftaincy interactions in the democratization process between the people, the state, and the chief's authority as it has evolved over many decades. An extensive bibliography, numerous informative footnotes, and a useful index add to the book's scholarship. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate and research collections. -- ChoiceAugust 2010”
 — M. E. Doro, emerita, Connecticut College

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Table of Contents


1. Introduction: The Chieftaincy, the State, and the Desire to Dominate
2. "The Binding Together of the People": The Historical Development of the Chieftaincy and the Principle of Unity
3. The Making of a Mixed Polity: The Accommodation and Transformation of the Chieftaincy
4. The Contested Nature of Politics, Democracy, and Rights in Rural South Africa
5. The Chieftaincy and the Establishment of Local Government: Multiple Boundaries and the Ambiguities of Representation
6. The Chieftaincy and Development: Expanding the Parameters of Tradition
7. Legitimacy Lost? The Fall of a Chief and the Survival of a Chieftaincy
8. Conclusion: The Chieftaincy and the Post-Apartheid State: Authority and Democracy in a Mixed Polity