The role of traditional leaders in school governance : learning from two communities in KwaZulu-Natal.
Using lessons drawn from two rural communities, this study examined the role of traditional leaders in school governance in South Africa. The study sought to understand the nature of the role of traditional leaders on school governance and reasons for playing such role as well as the manner in which this role is understood and experienced by selected school-community members concerned in these contexts. The motivation for doing the study was that while traditional leaders are appointed through heritage and only recently have started to be regulated by policy, they remain important structures leading rural communities, and their role in education and governance is crucial to understand. The concepts that are used in this study are role, leadership, school governance, indigenous knowledge systems and Africanisation and school-community partnership. Communities have leadership structures and diverse socio-cultural profiles, all of which need to be understood in order to fully appreciate various kinds of leadership roles that exist in society. The South African Schools Act (No. 84 of 1996) (henceforth, the Schools Act), provides for the establishment of school governing bodies to promote community involvement in schools by ensuring that parents are a major component of these bodies and are actively participating in these bodies. Although the Schools Act is not explicit about the role that traditional leaders can play in schools, it does provide a useful platform for their involvement, either as co-opted members of the school governing bodies or as just parent members of these structures. Drawing from both individual semi-structured and focus group interviews with superintendents of education in management, school managers, parent and learner members of the school governing bodies and traditional leaders, the study discusses the role that traditional leaders play in school governance. Among other things, the study revealed that a dimensional dialogue exists between traditional leadership and school governance in rural communities that are in the jurisdiction of traditional leaders. The emerging picture did not only reveal their perceptions about the schools’ ‘embeddedness’ to their society, but it also revealed the manner in which members of school communities aspire to a particular kind of school-community relationship that can support school governance and learner progression from lower to higher grades, and even beyond schooling. The study shows that the context of interaction between traditional leaders and school governors has provided an important platform where issues of school development, safety and security, school-community partnership, and cultural identity in relation to school governance can both be interrogated and facilitated. While this provides an opportunity for responsive school governance, it is contrary to the manner in which many scholars have perceived traditional leaders as authoritarian and representative of a patriarchal society that is less progressive. The evidence for all this is provided in the relevant sections of the thesis. Given this, understanding the role of traditional leaders in school governance will contribute to a deeper understanding of the manner in which such leaders can make a positive impact on school-communities.