King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini. (RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)
The death of longstanding traditional prime minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and a series of court challenges over the recognition of MisuZulu kaZwelithini as isilo of the Zulu nation being overturned, marked a dramatic 2023 for the Zulu nation.
This year promises to be equally dramatic, as the monarch fights in court to retain his throne, and control over the Ingonyama Trust, in the face of challenges from his half-brother, Simakade, and other members of the royal family.
MisuZulu will also have to appoint a replacement for Buthelezi, who served both his father, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, and his grandfather, Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon, as traditional prime minister of the amaZulu.
On 16 January, Judge Norman Davis is due to hear an application for leave to appeal against his judgment setting aside the recognition of MisuZulu as the king of the Zulu nation by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March.
Both the monarch and the president want the Pretoria high court’s permission to challenge the ruling by Davis early last month, which declared the recognition of MisuZulu to be “unlawful and invalid” and set it aside.
Davis made the ruling in a consolidated application by Simakade, his uncle, Mbonisi, and a number of other members of the Zulu royal family, who went to court to have the recognition set aside.
At stake, along with the throne, is a R79-million-a-year stipend from the KwaZulu-Natal government and millions of rand collected each year by the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) on behalf of the king from commercial tenants on land falling under the province’s traditional leaders.
Davis set aside the recognition and ordered Ramaphosa to appoint an investigative panel, in terms of the Traditional Leadership and Khoi-San Leadership Act, to look into claims that the process in the royal house to nominate MisuZulu as king had been flawed.
But the court did not rule on the validity of MisuZulu’s claim to the throne, saying that it could not sit as a court of appeal on the earlier finding by KwaZulu-Natal judge president Mjabuliseni Madondo that he was the rightful heir.
Davis said he could neither overturn Madondo’s finding, which paved the way for MisuZulu’s recognition by Ramaphosa, nor ignore it in making his judgment.
But the king’s legal team argued in their notice of intention to appeal that the court had erred in not adopting the same approach to Madondo’s earlier finding on allegations by members of the royal house of a flawed internal process.
They said Madondo had made “conclusive” findings in his earlier ruling that there was no evidence and allegations placed before the president that could have compelled him to appoint an investigative panel in terms of the Act.
Madondo had found that the meetings which were held to identify a new monarch had been properly constituted, and process followed, and that there was “no genuine dispute” with regard to MisuZulu’s right to be appointed as king.
The judge had found “complete compliance” by the president in recognising the king and that the court had erred by failing to take this part of his judgment, which was binding on both Simakade and Mbonisi as applicants in the earlier case, into account, they said.
The president’s legal team said in their application that there were reasonable prospects that the appeal would succeed before another court because the court had “misdirected itself” in finding that the recognition was unlawful.
“The court ought to have found that the recognition decision was lawful and valid,” they said.
The court had also misdirected itself in making a finding that the president should appoint an investigative panel because this issue had already been determined by Madondo, who found MisuZulu’s claim to the throne was legitimate.
They said the matters they sought to appeal were of importance “not only to all the parties to the litigation, but to amaZulu as a whole”.
“The decisions sought to be appealed involve important questions of law and the administration of justice in these cases requires the appeal to be heard,” they said.
The appeal will delay any attempt by Mbonisi and Simakade’s lawyers to secure a declaratory order forcing the presidency and the province to withhold MisuZulu’s benefits as king, which they had earlier asked the court to do.
It will also delay a second court application by Mbonisi in the Pietermaritzburg high court to stop MisuZulu exercising his authority over the ITB and the province’s amakhosi.
In that application, Mbonisi has accused the king of trying to profit from the land under the ITB, which raised more than R90 million in commercial leases and mining rights during 2018.
Mbonisi has asked the court to stop the ITB from funding MisuZulu’s legal battles and from supporting his “lavish” lifestyle, accusing the monarch of being a drug addict and alcoholic and of being under the control of “drug mules”.
The exchange of court papers in the matter has given a first glimpse into the financial workings of the ITB, the books of which have never been subjected to public scrutiny, and revealed decades of abuse under former chairperson Jerome Ngwenya.
Ngwenya was fired by MisuZulu earlier this year over a dubious R41 million investment, exposed by the Mail & Guardian. Mbonisi wants him and the board he headed to be reinstated by the court.
In his responding papers, ITB chief executive Vela Mngwengwe blew the lid on multimillion-rand payments made on behalf of the late king Goodwill, including a R2.8 million SUV and several settlements made to the South African Revenue Service on his behalf.
The king’s court battles do not end there — the Madondo judgment in MisuZulu’s favour is also being contested and is destined for the supreme court of appeal during the course of the year.
In addition to his legal battles, MisuZulu will also be hard-pressed to overcome the damage done by his public fallouts with Buthelezi, who was one of his strongest backers in his fight for the throne.
Their relationship soured when MisuZulu fired Ngwenya and the ITB was dissolved, sparking a public and private schism between the two.
Buthelezi attempted to mobilise amakhosi against the king’s decision, but the move failed and a new board chairperson, Thanduyise Mzimela, was appointed by the king.
Buthelezi’s family went public about the clashes between him and the king at the time of his death, blaming MisuZulu for their father’s death.
Buthelezi’s son Zuzifa has been installed as the new inkosi of the Buthelezi clan at Mahlabathini, but is not favoured by MisuZulu, who has his own advisers, to take on the role.
Zuzifa could himself face a legal challenge to his appointment to succeed his late father as there are already rumblings within the Buthelezi clan that this was done irregularly.
While the legal process plays out, the king remains in place and continues to carry out his duties.
His spokesperson Africa Zulu said in a statement that the monarch remained on the throne and would continue with his duties.
Zulu said it was important to note that the court had not made any ruling on the legitimacy of the king’s right to be monarch, which was a matter of birthright and not court process.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said that although the appeal processes were underway, “his majesty King MisuZulu remains the identified heir to the throne”.
Magwenya said that the president had called on all members of the royal family to continue working for the unity of the institution and to “prioritise the interests of his majesty’s subjects”.
“It is vital that all due processes are allowed to reach their natural conclusion without inflaming tensions,” Magwenya said.