African problems are better solved by African traditional justice institutions, South African media on Friday quoted President Jacob Zuma as saying.
"Let us solve African problems the African way, not the white man's way," Zuma was quoted by The Times as telling traditional leaders on Thursday.
Zuma spoke as the Traditional Courts Bill, aimed at empowering local chiefs to act as judge, prosecutor and mediator, with no legal representation and no appeals allowed, has been submitted to parliament.
Critics of the bill, including the minister for women's affairs Lulu Xingwana say the proposed law takes people back to the "dark ages".
Activists argue that it creates a separate second class justice system for rural communities, where women have fewer rights.
Drafters of the bill argue it is aimed at providing "speedier, less formal and less expensive resolution of disputes and promotes and preserve traditions, customs and cultural practices".
Zuma urged the traditional leaders: "Let us not be influenced by other cultures and try to think the lawyers are going to help. They tell you they are dealing with cold facts."
"We are Africans. We cannot change to be something else."
"Our view is that the nature and the value system of the traditional courts of promoting social cohesion and reconciliation must be recognised and strengthened in the bill," he said.
The powers proposed by the bill will affect some 19 million rural people who live in tribal lands ruled by chiefs.
Traditional courts, often situated in remote areas where people do not have formal schooling, are conducted only in local dialects.