Traditional Authorities and State Functions in South Africa: A Complex Relationship of Private Participation?




traditional leaders, customary law, traditional authority, state functions, private participation, public-private partnerships, democratisation


This contribution explores the relationship between traditional authorities and state functions in South Africa. The authors argue that traditional leaders, while not organs of the state, have functions similar to state functions, especially on a local government level. The authors suggest that this relationship can be characterised as a form of private participation in exercising state functions, although it does not amount to full privatisation. The recognition of traditional law systems in the Constitution and relevant legislation provides a legal basis for this relationship. The authors also examine the role of public-private agreements in enhancing legal certainty and clarity. Finally, the authors consider the potential benefits of transforming traditional authorities into state organs, aiming to promote the development of traditional communities and enhance the delivery of essential services.


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Author Biographies

Christa Rautenbach, Faculty of Law at the North-West University

B Iuris (cum laude), LLB (cum laude), LLM, LLD (PU). Professor Faculty of Law, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. Email:

Gerrit Ferreira, North-West University

B Iuris LLB (PUCHE) LLM (RAU) LLD (UNISA) LLD (PUCHE). Professor Extraordinary, Faculty of Law, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa.




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How to Cite

Rautenbach, C., & Ferreira, G. (2023). Traditional Authorities and State Functions in South Africa: A Complex Relationship of Private Participation?. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 26, (Published on 23 November 2023) pp 1 – 38.



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