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The battle between the Zulu King and his prime minister over the Ingonyama Trust is likely to divide KZN voters in 2024

The battle between the Zulu King  and his prime minister over the Ingonyama Trust is likely to  divide KZN voters in 2024
King Misuzulu sits on his throne with other royal family members in Khangelamankengane royal palace in Nongoma north of KZN on 20 August 2022. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

A dispute between the Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and his prime minister, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi over the controversial body could become violent if it is not managed correctly.

A simmering dispute between Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and his prime minister, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, over the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) has the potential for political violence and is likely to divide KwaZulu-Natal voters in the 2024 national elections, according to academic and cultural expert Professor Musa Xulu.

Squaring off will be the governing ANC and rival IFP, of which Buthelezi is a founding leader and emeritus president.

Buthelezi has asked amakhosi (chiefs) and izinduna (headmen) to side with him as he “defends Zulu land”, whereas King Misuzulu has publicly denied a rift between him and Buthelezi and has strongly come out in support of a new board, saying its members would “never allow the sale of the land” under custody of the trust.

The new board was announced last month by Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza. Inkosi Thanduyise Mzimela replaced Judge Jerome Ngwenya, the long-serving ITB chairperson, much to the chagrin of Buthelezi.

King Misuzulu was officially crowned and recognised by the South African government as the Zulu monarch in October last year, with a strong endorsement from Buthe­lezi. King Misuzulu’s father, King Goodwill Zwelithini, died in March 2021 after suffering from an illness related to Covid-19.

In his will – whose authenticity is the subject of various court cases – he appointed his wife, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu, as the regent. She died of natural causes a month after the death of her husband.

In her will she nominated her son, Prince Misuzulu, as the next king of the Zulus.

Buthelezi used his considerable power and influence as the prime minister of the Zulu nation to ensure that Prince Misuzulu became the new king.

The two have had several differences since the coronation, but it is the composition of the ITB that triggered the latest and biggest dispute. The Zulu king is the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust, which presides over about 29.67% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal, about 28,000km².

“There are many other dangerous factors at play here,” says Xulu. “One of these is that the king is forced to defend his throne in the courts. If Prince Buthelezi refuses to sign affidavits supporting the king’s ascension and coronation in court, it would be difficult for the king to defend his throne.

“I also fear that these disputes could lead to violence as you can see that stakeholders such as amakhosi and others are starting to take sides on these issues. Even political parties are not distancing themselves and they are likely to ignite this dispute further ahead of the upcoming 2024 general elections. You must remember that the land is a very emotive issue and it is easy for people to get worked up.”

The king is in a weakened position and “needs Prince Buthelezi more than Buthelezi needs him”, Xulu says.

Mpumelelo Zikalala, a legal expert and commentator in Durban, said though the relationship between the king and Buthelezi was tense at the moment, the two could still work together. Even if Buthelezi withdrew his signature from the king’s court paper, the king could still mount his own defence of his coronation.

“The anger shown by amakhosi and those who support Prince Bu­the­lezi [is] misguided because legally it is not the king [who] chooses the board and its chairperson. That responsibility lies with the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Rural Development.”

When King Misuzulu assumed the position of the sole trustee of Ingonyama, he issued a statement saying: “Ingonyama Trust is an important entity to the Zulu nation as it manages land which is the legacy of the departed and the heritage of the living and those yet to be born. It is [my] view that those who are appointed to the board must be immersed in the understanding of land matters and management of this precious asset to the Zulu nation.”

Didiza appointed the board in May. The king endorsed it, but Buthelezi rejected it.

Reggie Ngcobo, Didiza’s spokesperson, told Daily Maverick that the board was here to stay and would perform its duties as required by the Constitution. It had qualified individuals with specialist skills to serve in the best interests of the trust and the people living on the land it controls.

“The board will serve its term as required by our Constitution. The board consists of the Ingonyama [King Misizulu] or his nominee, who is the chairperson of the board, and four members appointed by the minister after consultation with the Ingonyama, the premier and the chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders in the province and the other four members appointed by the minister with due regard to regional interests, in consultation with the premier, who shall consult the Ingonyama and the chairperson of the House of Traditional Leadership in KwaZulu-Natal,” Ngcobo said.

These matters will be ventilated in court and in the public debates currently raging.

Politicians and political parties such as the IFP and the ANC are playing behind-the-scenes roles in the ensuing disputes, especially ahead of the general elections, say analysts.

Mafika Mndebele, the spokesperson for the ANC in KZN, said his party would not comment at this stage.

“The ANC elects not to comment on the [Zulu] Royal Household internal matter out of respect,” he said.

Mkhuleko Hlengwa, spokesperson of the IFP, declined an invitation to comment on these matters.

Key personalities:

Judge Jerome Ngwenya

Judge Jerome Ngwenya, Deputy Chairperson of Ingonyama Trust Board. (Photo: Flickr)

The former chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board is a former Western Cape judge who resigned from his position to take up the hot seat. In 2019, a panel of experts recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act – which placed KwaZulu-Natal’s rural land under the control of the Zulu king – should be amended or repealed. King Zwelithini threatened “war” if the government touched the trust or the land under it. Buthelezi also rejected the findings. The trust has come under increasing pressure to open its financial books and account to the National Assembly.

Agriculture, Land and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza

Thoko Didiza, SA Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

It is not clear what action Didiza will take with regard to the finances of the Ingonyama Trust and the land under it. Didiza did not hide her unhappiness with the performance of Ngwenya. She is also not happy that the trust has not presented its financial records, as is required by the Constitution.

Five court cases involving the Zulu king:

Prince Simakade Zulu vs King Misuzulu and others

On 30 May, the North Gauteng High Court heard the application by Prince Simakade Zulu, King Zwelithini’s first-born son, to have the recognition of Misuzulu kaZwelithini as the king set aside. This is the matter in which Buthelezi, who had been instrumental in the elevation of Misuzulu as the new king, has been refusing to sign affidavits in support of him. The case has been postponed.

Queen Sibongile Dlamini Zulu vs King Misuzulu, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and others

Queen Sibongile Dlamini Zulu argued she was the first wife of the king and they were married in community of property and therefore she was entitled to half of all the king’s assets. In his ruling, KZN Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo dismissed the queen’s application, saying she must state exactly the estate she wished to lay a claim to as the estate was vast.

Princesses Ntandoyenkosi Zulu and Ntombizosuthu Zulu-Duma vs King Misuzulu, Prince Buthelezi and others

The two princesses, who are the daughters of Queen Sibongile Dlamini Zulu, approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court to have the late King Zwelithini’s will declared fake and invalid. They also sought to stop the then pending coronation of King Misuzulu based on this will. Judge Madondo ruled that the two princesses would not be directly affected by whether or not Misuzulu became king of the Zulu nation.

Prince Mboniso Zulu vs King Misuzulu, Prince Buthelezi and others

In December 2021, there was talk in the Zulu royal house that the coronation of Misuzulu was imminent. Prince Mbonisi Zulu, the brother of the late King Zwelithini, approached the court to interdict the coronation. In his court papers, he said he heard that the coronation was going to happen on 3 December 2021. Judge Madondo dismissed the application and said the prince had no locus standi to make that application.

Prince Mboniso Zulu and other members of the Zulu royal family vs Prince Misuzulu and others

An urgent court interdict to prevent the then heir apparent Prince Misuzulu from addressing the annual commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana was lodged by members of the family. In January 2022, the court dismissed the application, stating that it was not urgent. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • Johan Buys says:

    Why do we (and other nations with royalty and traditional leaders) still tolerate this primitive concept of leaders determined by birth? If you love the pomp and ceremony and tradition, fine : maintain a small ceremonial circus act.

    But these people should not wield power. The Zulu king through the trust controls a land area much bigger than Kruger Park, on which he decides who can live and work. Imagine the economic impact of those “subjects” being given property rights over that land! Then a small farmer can invest in and obtain debt on his/her land.

    What do we spend on the traditional leaders and is there ANY governance or oversight?

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      One thing I know about home ownership in these Tribal Trust lands – you don’t need planning or zoning permission to build ( and build a mansion). No pesky rates need to paid in fact no laws that are enforced on normal rate payers are needed at all!

    • Trevor Pope says:

      Agree. The traditional leaders should be defunded and the money used to feed and transport school children. The title deeds for the trust land should be given to the occupants so that it can be better used.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Democracy and Tribalism do not sit well together.
    It is fascinating how any country trying to enlighten its citizens and give them the benefits of first world innovations can also be beholden to a sector of society that has its own rules based on fiefdom ethics…the very thing that Apartheid encouraged!

  • William Dryden says:

    Why these so called traditional leaders and their wives are given salaries by the ANC government is mindboggling, however it does garner more votes for them??

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