Family disputes about inheritance often happen when the estate is a sizeable one. When access to wealth and power is combined with polygyny, they are almost inevitable. The practice generates tensions among wives, fuelled by relatives hoping to benefit by supporting a particular house.  The current contestations within the extended Zulu royal family are occurring in a context in which traditional leadership provides access to considerable power and economic resources, including business interests. Changing circumstances shaping the late King Goodwill’s reign illustrate the way in which political and economic factors impact on this leadership, and will continue to do so for his successor.  Taxpayers fund several kings and thousands of others in traditional leadership positions, so far greater fiduciary controls, and transparency, and fiduciary controls are long overdue. Without greater public oversight governing parties will continue to dispense patronage without financial constraints, hoping for the political support and influence of these leaders.

The young Goodwill Zwelithini became king during the implementation of the divisive homeland policy and soon became embroiled in competing family interests inextricably entwined with the KwaZulu government. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, its Chief Minister, is the son of Princess Magogo, sister of the king’s grandfather. He also claimed the title of ‘chief induna’ (privy chancellor) of the king on hereditary entitlement. His own father had served his maternal uncle King Solomon, in that position. However, the young king was believed to be far too close to other princes who were accused of exercising a negative influence over him. He initially ignored summonses to appear before the KwaZulu legislature, and when he did finally do so, in July 1979, he was so humiliated that he fled the legislature.

That same year the KwaZulu government appointed a Select committee of five members, three of whom were chiefs, chaired by its Minister of Justice, C J Mthethwa) to investigate who was creating friction between the King and the government’ (Resolution No 26).  Chief Minister Buthelezi had refused to take homeland independence and it was feared that the apartheid government would exert influence on the young king to follow the same independence course as had neighbouring Transkei. In its report the committee detailed the matters investigated :(1)The exclusion of the Chief Minister from the programme of the King’s installation ceremony (2)The purpose of empowering His Majesty to appoint the Chief Minister (3)The King’s visit to Pretoria (4)the formation of various political parties, including iNala, Mkhonto and the Zulu National Party.

The Committee conceded that it experienced difficulty in obtaining ‘satisfactory evidence’, especially in urban areas like Umlazi.  It reported that ‘people feared it so much that some of the witnesses went to the extent of bidding farewell to their children when they left their homes because they suspected that they might be imprisoned and not come back’  Nevertheless, it found that virtually all interviewees  named the king’s uncle, Prince Clement, as ‘arch instigator’ against Buthelezi, who believed that the position of Master of Ceremonies at the installation  was his by birth.  Clement argued that the MC should be chosen, and he had suggested Prince Herbert for the role.  Prince Clement was said to have been the king’s choice as KwaZulu’s Chief Minister, as the position called for someone of royal birth. It should be noted that although Buthelezi was a prince through his mother’s royalty, in the patrilineal Zulu society he was not a member of the royal lineage, since descent passes from father to son.  Clement was alleged to have been among those who plotted against Buthelezi at secret meetings, and to have had dealings with other pro-independence parties, as they favoured an eSwatini system of royal governance (KwaZulu was hardly a democracy as most legislature members were government approved chiefs, and very few ‘citizens’ voted in elections). Various other people in the region, and in Johannesburg, were named as exercising a bad influence on the king. Singled out for special attention was the king’s second wife, Queen Buhle kaMathe.. She was accused of exerting too much influence over him, and of having also challenged Inkatha being headed by ‘ordinary man’ and not the king.

Predictably, some members of the legislature thought it was ‘high time’ that the KwaZulu government took ‘drastic steps against people who create much friction’, especially Clement. The king had to be warned about Queen Buhle, and it would ‘be good if all her talking ceases’. In insulting Buthelezi she showed contempt for the whole nation. Men were appointed to screen issues affecting the king, his communications were monitored, his movements were restricted and loyal staff were dismissed.

Years of silence from the king followed. At Shaka Day celebrations in the 1980s it was Buthelezi who made provocative speeches in volatile Durban townships, warning of the threats to the Zulu nation from ‘evil maggots’ in their midst [the UDF].   With the unbanning of the ANC the king himself appeared on public platforms, making inflammatory speeches he would not have penned. People close to royals claimed he was a virtual prisoner, while Buthelezi forced political concessions from negotiating parties, and ensured that KwaZulu land was retained in the private Ingonyama Trust.  Credible reports told of the king being desperate to publicly assert his independence, but the northern areas were particularly dangerous for those supporting liberation, even royals. Prince Petrus Zulu had been murdered, a crime for which a man trained by the apartheid military in the Caprivi received amnesty from the TRC.

In the months following April 1994 the king, supported by close relatives, including senior uncle Prince Mcwayezeni,  prepared to publicly assert his independence.  In September, the announcement came, through his newly appointed spokesperson, Prince Sifiso Zulu, that he would henceforth place himself above party politics and work for peace and development in the province. Serious threats to his safety and that of those close to him started immediately, emanating from by groups of armed men opposing his move,  claiming threats to the Zulu nation because the king had denigrated his minister (Buthelezi)  The relatives targeted included Princes Clement and Zeblon, and his sister Princess Nonhlanhla; the induna at the king’s Babanango farm was also threatened. At the urging of the king, constant pressure was exerted on the SAPS and SANDF to increase protection for the king and his family. In April 1996 Queen Buhle and her daughter were seriously injured, and another relative was killed, at a house in KwaMashu. The attackers came from the nearby A Section hostels and no real effort was made to apprehend them. Threats to Clement continued until his death in the late 1990s.  Tensions between the parties continued until 1999, but there was a gradual improvement in the relationship between the king and Buthlezi.

During these tense years the king, supported by his Royal Council, and his lawyer and brother-in-law, Sdumo Mathe, formed the King’s Peace and Development Trust to support the Reconstruction and Development work of government.  However, many people approached him with an eye to their own business interests, including a foreigner seeking ‘concessions’.  Having trustworthy relatives, and his lawyer, around him offered some protection from shady business people.  Mathe also managed the Ingonyama Trust on behalf of the king

In 1999 the king’s main support pillars crumbled.  Following the death of Clement, Prince Mcwayizeni died that September,  and Prince Cyril Zulu, who was extending the development work in Durban hostels, was assassinated. Then, in December 1999, Sdumo Mathe was killed when his car went over a cliff near Nongoma.  There is compelling evidence that it was not an accident.   With these losses, the vulnerability of the king to unsavoury influences increased. Twenty years later the noble aims of the Peace and Development Foundation Trust had evaporated.   

After Mathe’s death a Board was established to administer the Inonyama Trust, and the exploitation of poor rural residents started.  A lease was given for the Mabaso tradition leader (Mbazwane) to operate a private game lodge.  Residents of Mabaso and neighbouring Mbila areas found that their properties had been fenced off without any consultation. They fought back through the courts and eventually won but the exploitative agenda of the Trust was clear. However, a court case to have it declared unconstitutional was opposed by the then Minister of Land Affairs Didiza.

In 2005 the ANC provincial government replaced the IFP as a dispenser of constantly increasing amounts of patronage. Sycophants, including politicians and business people, appealed for the king’s support for projects of dubious value while telling the king what they thought would win him over (e.g. it would bring development) while lining their own pockets. For example,  eMpembeni (adjacent to Richards Bay) residents were told they would have to move from their land ‘for oil’, and a lease was given by the Trust without their knowing about the deal. it was alleged that the king had supported this ‘development’ and that at least one family member had business interests in it.        

Such are the forces impacting on the lives of traditional leaders, and hence the need for strict financial controls, with set budgets, and audits by the Auditor General, for all these leaders. Before colonialism transformed traditional leadership, chiefs needed popular support (or, with state formation, armies) to retain their positions if they wished to avoid deposition or even death. Ideally, tribute to leaders was reciprocated to subjects in need. Tribute (taxes, sundry gifts) continues, without reciprocity. Perhaps salaries for these leaders should be contingent on all of them supporting charitable work to uplift their largely impoverished subjects.

NOTE:This report draws on a large body of data, including a copy of the report of the Select Committee of the KwaZulu government legislature referred to, press clippings, correspondence between KZN Monitor and security forces and interviews and interactions with members of the royal family and the late king’s lawyer Sdumo Mathe