The royal battle over Zulu kingdom succession takes a new legal twist
Dramatic scenes related to the bitter and potentially violent fight for the Zulu kingdom throne, and the battle for the hearts of millions of AmaZulu people, shifted to South Africa’s administrative capital Pretoria this week.
Both uniformed and plain-clothed police and intelligence officers were in full force inside and outside the North Gauteng High Court as the Zulu royal succession battle played out in the courtroom.
The case in Pretoria is one of those brought by various members of the Zulu royal family against King Misuzulu and the government. This case came about after Prince Simakade Zulu approached the courts, seeking to nullify or set aside all the processes that led to the coronation of King Misuzulu as the AmaZulu monarch, including the validity of the coronation process itself. Misuzulu and President Cyril Ramaphosa – both of whom are listed as respondents – are opposing the application.
The security presence was deemed necessary amid fears that supporters of either side could attack the other. Prince Simakade is the oldest son of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini, who died in February 2021, sparking the still-raging succession contests.
In his court papers, Simakade argued that the process of the royal family identifying their rightful heir was not followed, yet Ramaphosa announced Misuzulu as king.
Inside the court – part of the proceedings were televised live – Judge Norman Davis listened attentively – only occasionally interrupting to seek clarity – as senior legal eagles on the side of Misuzulu argued against those of his half-brother and contender to his throne, Simakade, about whether or not the Zulu royal house meeting that nominated him (King Misuzulu) was properly constituted and legitimate, and whether Ramaphosa erred when he awarded then Prince Misuzulu a certificate as a Zulu monarch that led to his crowning on 29 October 2022.
The crowning ceremony – held in Durban and presided over by Ramaphosa and attended by heads of state, dignitaries and thousands, including colourful Zulu warriors and maidens – meant that Misuzulu succeeded his father King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, who died in February 2021 of Covid-19 complications, after he had been admitted to a Durban hospital.
In his will, read at the fateful meeting that nominated then Prince Misuzulu as the next king, Zwelithini stated that his wife and Swazi princess, Queen Mantfombi, would choose his successor. Queen Mantfombi died less than two months after her husband. She had married Zwelithini in 1977 and her bride price was collected from members of the Zulu nation. In her will, which was also read after her untimely death, she nominated her first-born son, Misuzulu, as the next king nominee, and her choice was supported by leading members of the Zulu royal family, including Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
The North Pretoria High Court case is the latest in a series where the Zulu royal house members are litigating and warring against each over the Zulu kingdom crown and various other assets, including properties, farms, livestocks, investments, etc. (Other cases are listed below)
The judgment in this matter has been reserved indefinitely, but it is widely expected that whichever side loses this case is likely to appeal, and the matter is expected to go as far as the Constitutional Court.
Arguments in North Gauteng High Court
The matter was set to be heard over three days, and lawyers from different sides ventilated the positions of their clients.
Simakade’s lawyer Advocate Alan Dodson said Misuzulu was “prejudged” to be the successor by Ramaphosa, who did not give considerations to other Zulu princes with a viable claim to the throne.
Advocate Cedric Puckrin, who represents Misuzulu, said that his client was the rightful heir as the first-born of the two royal parents.
Advocate Thabani Masuku, who represented AmaZulu royal Prince Mbonisi Zulu, told the court that Misuzulu kaZwelithini is not entitled to the throne by birthright, since his father did not name him as his successor. Masuku was rubbishing the argument that Misuzulu had a birthright to become king, saying if Misuzulu did, his father Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu would not have nominated his wife, Queen Mantfombi, to be the regent when he died.
“That is where the whole birthright theory falls away because if the late king, who was the highest expert in the royal law, did not, in his will – assuming it’s valid – follow that custom by nominating the child who has been identified as a child born for the purpose of being a king, then we must ask ourselves if that theory is really entrenched in our tradition?”
“The (late) king could never suggest that he didn’t understand traditions that governed succession. He understood it very well. All his sons, who are old enough, are eligible for nomination for the Zulu kingship.
Why are Zulu royal family members in court?
The battle for the throne of South Africa’s biggest ethnic group, AmaZulu, has been playing itself out in the public, and in court galleries since the death of the previous king, Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, in February 2021.
Since then members of the Zulu Royal family have been deeply divided over the succession debate, with some supporting Misuzulu and others favouring his half-brother and the late king’s oldest living son, Simakade, for the position. As the cases listed below show, some of the Zulu royal family members dispute the authenticity of both King Zwelithini’s and Queen Mantfombi’s will, saying these documents could have been forged to achieve the goal of installing King Misuzulu.
The stakes are high in the case. If Simakade wins, his win could effectively dethrone Misuzulu and start the chaotic process of nominating and crowning a next king.
What caused the Misuzulu vs Buthelezi tiff?
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the founder of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the prime minister of the Zulu nation, is credited with being the key figure in the revival of the Zulu nation after it was defeated and vanquished by the British and Boer armies.
Buthelezi played a pivotal role in the aftermath of King Zwelithini’s death in February 2021. He summoned members of the Zulu royal family into the meeting, in which the late king’s will was read to members of the Zulu royal family. Some members of the Zulu royal family, who were against the elevation of Misuzulu, were overpowered by Buthelezi and his allies, and they managed to get Misuzulu onto the throne.
But soon after the crowning of King Misuzulu, the wedge between him and Buthelezi widened to the point where the two men were not seeing each other at the time of Buthelezi’s death in September 2023.
As a result of the feud, Buthelezi refused to sign documents in support of Misuzulu’s elevation in the North Gauteng High Court matter. The non-signature by Buthelezi was seen as a big blow to Misuzulu as he was preparing for the biggest defence of his crown yet.
Why do these disputes matter?
AmaZulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with an estimated 12 million Zulu-speaking people, predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). isiZulu is the home language to about 24% of South Africans. Data shows that in 2022, South African taxpayers were paying up to R75-million (over US$4-million) each year to support the king and Zulu royal family members.
The KZN Premier’s office is responsible for the administrative support of the Zulu king, regarding his official roles, duties and functions in terms of the KwaZulu-Natal Traditional Leadership and Governance Act. It also pays his remuneration, subsistence and travel expenses, as well as claims for trips he undertakes.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Battle for the Zulu throne is a matter of Royal House Trust and the stakes are much higher
Instability in the Zulu royal family affects who is king of the AmaZulu and this also affects the stability of KZN, one of the biggest regions in South Africa and home to South Africa’s biggest harbour.
What are the dangers?
The outcome of the fight for the Zulu crown will not have consequences not only for court protagonists, but could be far-reaching for peace and stability in KZN and the parts of Gauteng where many AmaZulu people live.
KZN already has some of the highest levels of violent crime incidents, and there is an added rupture of a thriving hitman industry, whose presence is being felt in the prevalent contract killing of councillors and taxi owners, and in business and across the political spectrum. There are fears that the fight for the Zulu crown will add to this maelstrom of violence.
Is the king’s wealth at stake?
The Zulu king presides over many farms and livestock ranches in the province and has many investments worth millions, if not billions. But these properties and assets are handled in secrecy.
Also, there is the little matter of Ingonyama Trust and the land under it. The Ingonyama Trust Act was the result of secret negotiations, spearheaded by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the last days of apartheid in 1994.
The Ingonyama Trust Act gave birth to a controversial entity called the Ingonyama Trust Board, which is the nominal owner of some 2.8 million hectares of land in KZN that was previously owned by the “homeland” government of KZN. As a result of this act, the Zulu king is the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust Board and therefore controls what happens to nearly 30% of KZN provincial land.
The trust gets nominal rents and other benefits from users of this land, such as mining companies, other business users and even government departments, who build their facilities on this land. Previously, the board was at loggerheads with the Minister of Agriculture, Land Affairs and Rural Development over the opening of the trust’s financial books and the board’s failure to abide by legislation that compels it to account to the National Assembly.
The tug of war between Buthelezi and his former protégé Misuzulu came to a head when the two publicly clashed over whether Misuzulu travelled to eSwatini seeking medical attention after suspected poisoning. It also emerged that Buthelezi was refusing to sign affidavits to support Misuzulu’s crown in court. DM
A TIMELINE: 55 YEARS OF ROYAL INTRIGUES
Zulu King Cyprian Bhekuzulu dies of natural causes and a regent, Prince Mcwayizeni, is appointed as the Zulu regent. Intrigues in the royal house come to the fore when a plot to poison Prince Goodwill Zwelithini – to prevent him from ascending to the Zulu throne – is discovered. He is spirited away to live with his relatives in rural Mpumalanga (then Northern Transvaal).
Zulu prince and frontrunner to the throne of the Zulu, Goodwill Zwelithini, marries Sibongile Winifred, in community of property.
Prince Goodwill Zwelithini is crowned the new king of the AmaZulus.
12 March 2021:
King Goodwill Zwelithini dies in a Durban hospital from Covid-19 and diabetes complications.
21 April 2021:
The official mourning for the Zulu king ends. The will of the late king is read at a meeting attended by members of the royal family. In the will, the late king nominates his wife as the regent of the Zulus.
29 April 2021:
Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu is buried in a private ceremony in KZN after dying unexpectedly.
Queen Mantfombi’s will is read by Zulu royal family lawyers. Her will names her son as the successor to the Zulu monarch. It is accepted by some members of the Zulu royal family; others reject it out of hand.
2 May 2021:
Queen Sibongile Dlamini applies for an urgent court interdict, seeking to set aside the implementation of the late king’s will.
Two of the late king’s daughters, princesses Ntombizosuthu and Ntandokayise, launch a separate court application challenging the validity of their father’s will and interdicting the process of installing the new Zulu king.
2 December 2021:
Prince Mboniso Zulu, the late king’s half-brother, launches an urgent court interdict to prevent the process leading to the coronation of Prince Misuzulu as the new Zulu king.
11–12 January 2022:
The Pietermaritzburg High Court hears arguments and counter-arguments about various aspects of Zulu royal family disputes. Judgment on the matters is reserved.
19–20 August 2022:
Misuzulu enters the royal kraal and the royal hunt takes place on the night of Friday, 19 August 2022, until the early hours of Saturday, 20 August 2022. The symbolic event is attended by thousands of people from all over the country, coming to watch the elevation of the new Zulu king.
29 October 2022:
Prince Misuzulu kaZwelithini’s coronation as new Zulu king takes place on 29 October 2022 and is attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivers a powerful speech. Many other dignitaries include former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, former deputy president David Mabuza, Eswatini King Mswati III and business tycoon Patrice Motsepe.
The tug of war between Prince Buthelezi and his former protégé King Misuzulu comes to a head when the two publicly clash over whether Misuzulu travelled to eSwatini seeking medical attention after suspected poisoning. It also emerges that Buthelezi is refusing to sign affidavits to support King Misuzulu’s crown in court.
9 September 2023:
Prince Buthelezi dies in hospital after a short illness, aged 95. His death brings into sharp focus the precarious nature of his dispute with the Zulu king and how this will play out after Prince Buthelezi’s death. Two days after Buthelezi’s funeral, King Misuzulu – whose role prevents him from attending funerals and means he cannot even bury his own wives or children – visits the Buthelezi’s homestead in KwaPhindangene to express his condolences and to extend an olive branch.
16/17/18 October 2023:
For three days this week, the North Gauteng High Court sitting in Pretoria hears arguments for and against the crowning of King Misuzulu as the Zulu king. Presiding judge Norman Davis reserves his judgment in the matter. But it is widely expected that the losing side will appeal his decision.
Five court cases involving the Zulu king
The battle for the Zulu kingdom crown and Zulu royal assets are being contested in a number of court cases:
Prince Simakade Zulu vs King Misuzulu and others
On 30 May, the North Gauteng High Court hears the application by Prince Simakade Zulu, King Zwelithini’s first-born son, to have the recognition of Misuzulu kaZwelithini as king set aside. This is the matter in which Buthelezi, instrumental in the elevation of Misuzulu as the new king, has refused to sign affidavits in support of him. The case is heard over three days in Pretoria from 16 October 2023.
The court hears legal arguments in the royal succession battle between King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and his half-brother, Prince Simakade Zulu, who believes he is entitled to be king. After three days of long legal and technical arguments in the proceedings, Judge Norman Davis reserves judgment in the matter.
Queen Sibongile Dlamini Zulu vs King Misuzulu, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and others
Queen Sibongile Dlamini Zulu argues that she was the first wife of the king and they were married in community of property, and is therefore entitled to half all the king’s assets. In his ruling, KZN Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo dismisses the queen’s application, saying she must state exactly the estate she wishes to lay a claim to as the estate is vast.
Princesses Ntandoyenkosi Zulu and Ntombizosuthu Zulu-Duma vs King Misuzulu, Prince Buthelezi and others
The two princesses, daughters of Queen Sibongile Dlamini Zulu, approach the Pietermaritzburg High Court to have the late King Zwelithini’s will declared fake and invalid. They also try to stop a pending coronation of King Misuzulu, based on this will. Judge Madondo rules that the two princesses would not be directly affected by whether or not Misuzulu becomes king of the Zulu nation.
Prince Mboniso Zulu vs King Misuzulu, Prince Buthelezi and others
In December 2021, there is talk in the Zulu royal house that the coronation of Misuzulu is imminent. Prince Mbonisi Zulu, brother of the late King Zwelithini, approaches the court to interdict the coronation. In his court papers, he says he heard that the coronation was going to happen on 3 December 2021. Judge Madondo dismisses the application and says the prince has no locus standi to make that application.
Prince Mboniso Zulu and other Zulu royal family members vs Prince Misuzulu and others
An urgent court interdict to prevent the heir apparent Prince Misuzulu from addressing the annual commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana is lodged by members of the family. In January 2022, the court dismisses the application, stating that it was not urgent. DM