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Costs of SA royals in the spotlight as union calls for the abolition of Zulu monarchy

Costs of SA royals in the spotlight as union calls for the abolition of Zulu monarchy
Proceedings during King Misuzulu kaZwelithini's coronation at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, South Africa, on 29 October 2022. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

On Monday, the General Industries Workers’ Union of SA released a statement calling for the abolition of all South African royalty. The union is a rare voice of dissent in a country where traditional monarchs are usually presented as untouchable — despite the cost to the taxpayer.

The September death of the world’s most high-profile sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, prompted serious discussion and heated debate about the ongoing justification for hereditary monarchies worldwide. But not so much in South Africa — until now.

The certification ceremony for Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini, held on Saturday, “cost millions of taxpayer rands, standing in stark contrast to the horrendous conditions of life suffered by the great majority of Zulu working-class people, in whose name this new king is being coronated”.

In photos: Zuma, Mbeki and more — see who attended King Misuzulu kaZwelithini’s coronation

That’s according to the General Industries Workers’ Union of SA (Giwusa), in a strongly worded statement released on Monday. Giwusa’s stance is an unusual one in a country where questioning the legitimacy of the Zulu monarchy, in particular, is often taken as tantamount to blasphemy.

In August 2022, EFF leader Julius Malema fired verbal warning shots at anyone considering such criticism, telling a media briefing that the Zulu royal family must be “jealously protected” on the grounds that it is “one of those black institutions that are still run by black people and led by black people and are run in a dignified manner”.

According to IOL, Malema “added that it should not be allowed that those remaining monarchs in the country be destroyed by those who did not want to see anything black united”.

Such messages appear not to have deterred the leadership of Giwusa, an independent trade union working across industries. Giwusa’s president is Mametlwe Sebei, who previously stood for election under the banner of the short-lived Workers and Socialist Party.


Zulu royal household received R67.3m from state

In Giwusa’s statement on Monday, the union describes it as “shocking but not surprising that not only the governing ANC but the entire political spectrum of the ruling class, from the left wing to the right-wing neoliberal opposition”, supports the granting of public funds to “obsolete parasites” like the Zulu royal family.

The union states that the R67.3-million that the Zulu royal household received from the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government for the 2022/23 financial year will be used in part to “maintain and cater for six royal palaces, including a fleet of luxury cars for the royals, payment of royal aides and praise singers, school fees for royal children in the country’s top schools”.

In addition to the financial allocation for the royal household, Misuzulu himself receives an annual salary of R1,277,116 from the state.

These disbursements are “even more remarkable”, Giwusa suggests, “in the context of the province that is failing to provide for communities devastated not only by the devastating floods early this year, but that hasn’t bothered to repair damage from the floods of 2019 and 2017, or from the rioting of July 2021”.

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Announcing the royal household allocation in May 2022, erstwhile KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala said that one of the most important uses for the money was to support the Zulu Royal Household Trust’s drive towards financial self-sustainability.

This trust was established in 2009 with the aim of reducing the taxpayer burden presented by the Zulu royal family — but there has been little sign of this working.

In 2019, opposition parties in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature questioned why the trust did not seem to be moving the Zulu royals towards financial sustainability a full decade after its establishment.

In 2022, the trust is still being cited as a potential vehicle for “supporting greater financial independence in the near future”.

The Zulu royal family further benefits from its sole control of the Ingonyama Trust, which owns 30% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal and extracts tenancy fees accordingly. The Ingonyama Trust reported an income of R76.7-million in the 2019/2020 period.   

The justification for the taxpayers’ funds directed towards the Zulu monarchy is usually based on the idea that the royals play important roles in serving as cultural figureheads, promoting social cohesion — a hard sell in the case of the late King Goodwill Zwelethini — and supporting good causes.

Giwusa is having none of it — describing South African royals in general as getting paid “for mostly living a life of complete idleness, and … at worst, upholding an oppressive regime against the poor, women and other marginalised groups”.

South African royals are ‘parasites on the public fiscus’

The union notes that the Zulu monarchy is the most prominent, but “by no means the sole parasite on the public fiscus and the working-class people of this country”.

A commission set up to look into traditional leadership disputes under the administration of former president Jacob Zuma in 2010 found that there were seven “legitimate kingships” in South Africa, Zuma announced at the time.

The recognised monarchies were those of the AbaThembu, AmaXhosa, AmaPondo, AmaZulu, Bapedi, AmaNdebele and VhaVenda. A number of others are still currently fighting for recognition – such as the AmaHlubi nation from KwaZulu-Natal.

With recognition comes state remuneration. All the countries’ kings and queens collect an annual salary of R1,277,116, as per the latest gazetted salaries for traditional leaders.

“It is the position of Giwusa that the existence and recognition of traditional royalty as a public authority in a republican democracy is not only a waste of enormous amounts of resources but an affront and subversion of the democratic foundations of the country, for which many people laid down their lives in the struggle against successive colonial and apartheid regimes,” the union contends.

Giwusa is calling for royal salaries to be cancelled, the vast land-owning trusts of the monarchies to be expropriated, and for all traditional authorities to operate henceforth as voluntary membership associations.

When it comes to consultations on aspects like applications for mining licences, with mining being a lucrative revenue source for South Africa’s traditional leaders, Giwusa says the only legitimate voices of communities should be those stemming from “community assemblies, democratically organised community civics and interest groups for young people, rural women, etc”.

Giwusa’s voice is likely to be ignored or dismissed with anger by the Zulu royal household in particular. Yet, research suggests ordinary South Africans hold less positive views towards traditional leaders than those leaders might hope.

An Afrobarometer study released in September found: “fewer than four in 10 [South African] citizens express significant trust in traditional leaders”. DM  


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Trevor Pope says:

    The emperor has no clothes. (Only animal skins.) At last a voice of reason.

  • Steven Burnett says:

    Financially independent, owning 30% of the land would think this is rather easy.I see Kardashian type reality tv shows as unfortunately the only viable solution.

  • Mark Holgate says:

    Maybe cultural leadership is better than traditional leadership which seems stuck in reverse. Cultural leadership should not only preserve but progress the culture of a people, set high standards and transcend (each groups negatives) to a culture worthy of being admired. I wish my people had such cultural leadership too and R67m a year would help as well I suppose.

  • talfrynharris says:

    Its not for me to say whether traditional monarchies are still wanted in South Africa. In Britain the cost of the monarchy is said to offset by benefits to tourism and national unity. In South Africa the situation is more complex and its not easy for those outside a tribal identity to see what the benefits are. It does seem to have been an oversight of the democratic project in South Africa that traditional leaders (which were very much encouraged and co-opted to serve a colonial and Apartheid agenda) were retained. Given that the Zulu royal family is allowed to take rents from all land in the Ingonyama Trust, its a bit of a mystery why they still need a state subsidy. That people in “tribal” areas are not able to get title to their land does keep them in a form of serfdom and probably works against the interests of female–headed households, and those without resources. Such people are often the losers when traditional leaders make deals with mining houses and suchlike. No-one is suggesting that people should be deprived of their right to have a royal sovereign but if state subsidies are needed then royal families should perhaps step up and show us what their value is to SA as a whole. Most politicians do not want to start this much-needed debate for fear of losing support in those areas.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    better start would be to abolish trade unions who with their strikes and reckless behaviour,etc., cost a great deal more than the monarchy

  • virginia crawford says:

    They don’t need to be abolished but they shouldn’t receive a cent from the state. This is a constitutional democracy and an unelected, unaccountable monarchy has no place in it. To spend millions on them is just crazy.

  • Ian McGill says:

    At last ! Something in SA is not well known . There are more kings in SA than in Europe! I do hope these people live a traditional lifestyle? No colonial trappings such as Benz and BMW!

  • Nicol Mentz says:

    I fear in absence of these traditional structures anarchy will reign. Of course the whole idea of a monarchy existing in a democratically elected republican state is absurd, baby steps, our democracy is still in it’s infancy. These figureheads yield a lot of influence.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    If the Zulu people want a monarch they can have a voluntary contribution scheme to fund them and their expensive lifestyles. Same goes for any other tribe/group or whatever. The State should not be responsible for the upkeep of inherited privilege and luxurious living.

  • jeyezed says:

    Celebration of culture is well and good and builds community spirit. But to make it a function of a parliamentary democracy to support it financially is an entirely different question. The involvement of unelected and unqualified people in the legislative process of this country through the NCOp has not yet created a problem oaf serious magnitude, but it might easily happen. The existence of the NCOP is something which needs serious reconsideration as regards its replacement with a proper second chamber of parliament to enforce and enhance oversight . A regards the Zulu monarchy, or any other, as long as it as it self-sustaining, and provides for no drain on public funds, then there should be no problem. As soon as any dependance arises however, then questions of motivation and loyalty will arise. These are counter-productive to democracy. So an unviable monarchy must cease.
    That the recently appointed Zulu King needed a certificate of recognition from the political authorities smacks of subordination of culture to political ideals, and surely this should be anathema for a monarchy? Further, that a lavish ceremony was held in a soccer stadium, rather than at the King’s home (which is good enough for the Reed dances) , and the following banquet held at a commercial venue took place puts further into question the issue of independence of a monarchy from political influence.

  • Kevin Jacobs says:

    You definitely have my vote. ALL monarchs are useless as they add no value.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      I disagree. The best form of democracy is where the head of state is independent of the political running of the democracy i.e. the British monarchy or the presidency in Ireland. Do you really want the situation where a Jacob Zuma clone is the state figurehead?

  • Denzil Williams says:

    I believe that the Zulu’s should have a King but that it NOT be subsidised by the Country

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    6 palaces? What’s wrong with 1? All a racket if you ask me

  • Russ H says:

    I agree that there should be no state funding for royal families. Royal support could however could be done on a voluntary basis. The cost of these royalties are outrageous given that they give nothing back to society. In fact in KZN, the royalty seems to pillage the Ingonyama Trust. This land could and should be donated to those living on it and they be given title deeds. This will create huge economic activity.

    I however believe that the damage the unions do to the country is massively greater. Wildcat strikes, claiming raises that are unsustainable. They protect, overpaid and unnecessary Eskom workers, teachers that don’t teach, policemen that are corrupt, healthcare workers that don’t care, goverment workers that don’t work. I can go on and on.

    • Mark K says:

      I don’t believe the problem is with unions per se. They can play a constructive role in workplace safety and helping to balance power in the workplace to avoid the kind of horrible exploitation that occurred in the 19th century. The problem is that unions in South Africa are both ideological and political rather than practical and focussed on real workplace problems. They behave as adversaries to employers rather than aiming for fairness. They act as a political platform with no heed to the realities faced.

      The tripartite alliance including COSATU seeded these weeds at the beginning of the democratic era. It’s time we uprooted the weeds that are choking our country and replace them with unions that have been depoliticised.

  • Cobus Elstadt says:

    The British monarchy is paid for by the British taxpayer. The Zulu taxpayer should pay for the Zulu monarchy. Keep him out of my pocket.

    • Sydney Kaye says:

      Even that’s not so straight forward because not all the British tax payers think the Monarchy is worth paying for. Similarly you may find that not all Zulus would voluntarily pay up. Unfortunately we are stuck with paying for His Majesty et al and its not even worth discussing it because the ANC won’t risk the Zulu vote

  • Lilla Amos says:

    I think those who want a Zulu royalty must pay an extra tax, which will then be used for the upkeep of the king. The millions used for the extravagant life may be redirected towards the poor, who are struggling to feed themselves.

    • Graeme de Villiers says:

      And by ‘extra tax’ I assume you are implying that an initial tax is actually being paid for? I wondr if SARS is aware of this … seems there is only a tiny percentage of people paying tax in SA to cover the bloated grant system – requesting a secondary tax will probably not work!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Julius sucking up to the Zulu vote! This man has no conscience! Neither does Zulu royalty….with the taxpayer footing the bill for their expenses and getting no value for it…why should they worry!

  • SAM VAN WYK says:


  • Johan Buys says:

    when we scrap the medieval concept of royalty, we must transfer the trust land to the people. There is just in Zulu trust an area one and a half times the size of KNP on which millions live with no title rights with which to raise finance for farming or building. It would also make a massive difference to our land ownership race stats.

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