Opinionista Oscar Van Heerden 11 July 2018

A Monarchy that makes a Mockery of our Constitution

There is no way that the Zulu Royal House or any other traditional leader should be allowed to dictate terms to the representatives of our constitutional democracy, which was bought at the price of blood and suffering.

It is 1994 and all preparations have been concluded for the day we’ve all been waiting for. One man, one vote was finally going to be a reality. But the weeks preceding this day were all but great; bombs, intimidation and killings were all part of the potpourri of the liberation pot.

Black on black” violence was a clear strategy by the Nationalist Party State Security apparatus, which continued unabated from 1990 until the eve of the general elections on 27 April 1994.

KwaZulu-Natal was their base of operations and that’s also where the training took place. What kind of training, you may wonder? The “how to kill” kind. Inkatha Freedom Party fighters were being trained just like the Koevoet soldiers in Namibia and elsewhere. Branded T-shirts openly stated, “Killing is our business and business is good”.

Two or three generals in the then SA Defence Force also attempted to stir up dissent among some of their men in uniform and then president FW de Klerk had to take matters into his own hands and place three of them on suspension in order to quell the dissent.

Meanwhile, on my birthday in 1994, literally one month before the said elections, the IFP marched in the Johannesburg CBD. It had, of course, applied for permission but decided at the last minute to deviate from the planned route and make their way towards the ANC Head Office, Shell House as it was known then.

I happened to be at Shell House on the day, attending a preparatory meeting for the setting up of the “Communications Nerve Centre” or “War Room” for the first democratic general elections in South Africa’s history.

While we were in the meeting, a lone figure rushed through the door. Out of breath, he informed us that “they” are coming. “Who?” was the obvious question, to which the response was, “the IFP!”

The meeting immediately dispersed and the security personnel of head office kicked into gear. There was commotion on every floor, windows were being opened and guns were being handed around. I, of course, being a university student, simply stood by and observed the military precision unfolding in front of my eyes.

Defend the organisation, comrades, was the clarion call.

The next thing, bullets started flying, but what struck me the most throughout this episode was the police doing absolutely nothing and just standing by for a good few minutes.

It was as if they were dumbstruck, caught completely off guard and did not know what to do. Do we shoot the IFP supporters who clearly broke the law by deviating from the planned route or do we shoot the ANC supporters who are firing and defending themselves from the attack? It was only after what seemed like an eternity that the police started using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, which brought some order and stability to a very volatile environment.

We later learnt that there were unfortunately about 20 dead and many more critically injured. Years later, through the TRC process, 11 individuals received amnesty for this unfortunate event.

As if that was not enough, a bomb exploded at the then Jan Smuts International Airport and then later again another bomb blast just one block away from the ANC HQ injured scores of innocent bystanders.

It turned out that white supremacist right-wing elements were protesting their disagreement and dissatisfaction with the new political order unfolding in SA.

The point of all of these events is that our liberation did not come easily or without its tragedies.

All the while, the IFP, as a political party, refused to be associated with this new order and refused point blank to be on the ballot paper; instead it threatened further violence and political upheaval.

So, what eventually brought the IFP to the ballot? Land!

Yes, it was here where a compromise was struck. If you want the IFP to participate in this all-historic election, then we want certain concessions and the most important one is that all tribal and communal land in KZN must be under a trust of which the King of the Zulus will have dominion and final say.

The deal was struck and this is what we have to contend with to this day, the Ingonyama Trust. Millions of hectares over which the various chiefs and the king hold sway and not necessarily in the interests of the people or, better yet, the subjects of the king.

A king that uses and abuses his subjects and who rakes in millions of rand every month due to leasing and other agreements with mining houses, industry and corporations. None of this ill-gotten wealth is shared with the citizens of the province or the king’s subjects.

Parliament, in its wisdom and wanting to check whether it had fulfilled its overarching mandate of transforming society through eradicating all apartheid laws and repealing, rescinding or scrapping all discriminatory laws, appointed a high-level panel with clear terms of reference (ToR), to investigate whether such a mandate had indeed been fulfilled over the last 24 years.

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe was appointed as chairman of the panel and the three thematic areas in the ToR were:

  • Poverty, unemployment and the equitable distribution of wealth;
  • Land reform: restitution, redistribution and security of tenure, and
  • Social cohesion and nation building.

The panel, upon concluding its work on the land matter in particular, recommended that, among others, the Ingonyama Trust as envisaged and with its current mandate and practices is unconstitutional and therefore the legislation governing these must be amended and the land must be returned to the citizens of the affected areas.

Evidently, this did not go down well. Instead the king now threatens the state with violence and civil war should the recommendations of the panel see the light of day.

It seems a curious case of personal rights versus public safety when one considers the various threats coming from the Zulu Royal House.

Threats which are clearly unconstitutional and threaten national security of the state. The president, who appointed a high-level ministerial group to deal with this very matter, also visited the Royal House recently, perhaps to indicate that there exists no bad blood between the government and the Royal House.

After all, this is a province with 11 million people and at least half of these listen to their king and their local chiefs; whether because of threats of violence or because they are obedient subjects, we will never know.

We must therefore ask the question, what is more important for us as citizens, our personal rights (land dispossession) or our public safety (the threat of civil war)?

We cannot allow anyone, let alone the Zulu king, to threaten the state with violence or, worse yet, civil war.

Our president, given the upcoming elections, must of course tread very lightly, but such threats undermine our constitutional democracy.

I am the first to state that I understand realpolitik and the gestures that go with it. The kneeling down by the president of the Republic in front of the king means rather little to me if it sends a clear message that there exists mutual respect between the two leaders.

It does rather remind me of a time when I interviewed former president Thabo Mbeki and he indicated that perception in politics can speak volumes.

Take the time when I had to broker an impasse between the warring factions in that country, after hours and knowing that the world press was waiting for us outside, as we made our way outside towards the media, President Mugabe suddenly took hold of my hand and interlocked his fingers with mine,” Mbeki said.

I, of course, could not shrug off the gesture in front of the media, who merrily took dozens of photos. The next morning, guess what the headlines was, ‘Mbeki and his pal Mugabe!’”

So I don’t read too much into such meaningless acts such as the kneeling.

What we cannot allow, however, is to sit idly by while our Constitution gets trampled on.

The Zulu royalty is no monarchy of mine and when the law gets transgressed in such a blatant and careless manner, people must be brought to book. We will not and cannot be held ransom by an outdated and historically backward traditional leadership and tribal authorities.

Realpolitik, on the one hand, Mr President, is one thing, but condoning and turning a blind eye to our Constitution being openly violated is quite another. DM

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