A forty-year old report on soils and land usage in the neighbouring Mpukunyoni and Nhlana Traditional Authority areas in northern KwaZulu-Natal extols their suitability for agriculture. However, in these areas, adjacent to the  Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Parks and oldest proclaimed Wilderness area in Africa, such development did not materialise, for 2007 Petmin’s Tendele Coal (Pty) Ltd started its open cast mining operations in Somkhele, Mpukunyoni.  Since 2014 the threat of coal mining has also been hanging over the heads of Nhlana’s Fuleni residents.  Since the Somkhele operations started, mining has moved to new villages, displacing over a hundred families from land they have occupied for generations. The current expansion drive to displace yet more families from Ophondweni – which led to the recent assassination of community leader Mam Fikile Ntshangase – is but one manifestation of the social and environmental degradation caused by this mining.  As long as profit for relatively few is put before the quality of life of thousands of people and their environment, the mine will carry on moving to, and ruining, new areas. By fiddling with coal while the planet burns, the government shows utter contempt for the most basic of human rights to water, food security, safety, health, and a clean environment.  Mining does not alleviate poverty, but it entrenches inequality.  What these areas need is true, community-driven development, utilising all the environmental, agricultural and tourism potential of the area it is part of.

Mining activities bring conflict, for only a select few benefit from what are generally low -grade jobs, the security of which relies on the vagaries of international markets. Even coal truck operators are reportedly not locals. In 2017, as the full impact of the mining operations, including broken promises about employment and training, were felt, opposition to the mining increased.  It was countered by the tactics of an informal coalition in which mine management, traditional leadership and provincial government played different roles.  The traditional leadership, which contributes to the prevailing climate of intense fear, claims, erroneously, that it owns the land. Legal rights to live on the land are vested in residents through the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights legislation, and the Ingonyama Trust merely holds such areas in trust.

The criminal tactics used against community leaders and families refusing to relocate range from threat (including anonymous phone calls), overt intimidation, malicious damage to property/arson attacks, and, in collusion with local police, malicious arrests (over 70 in 2017) Disinformation has also been used against Applicants in two high court cases, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJOI) and the Global Environmental Trust (GET), who are challenging the mine’s expansion.  They are accused of causing unemployment if the mine is forced to close because it cannot expand – an obvious recipe for intra-community strife. This campaign has been stepped up since 2019 when planned expansion to Ophondweni and surrounds was thwarted by some families refusing to move. 2020 saw increased death threats (including to fourteen women), shooting around homes at night, and attempted murder. In May, in a particularly devious move, elderly people in a remote area were served with hundreds of pages of documents (in English) by the mine’s lawyers, ordering them to appear in court in Pietermaritzburg in June. Stress levels among these elderly folks soared (locals claimed stress was a factor in two earlier deaths). After their lawyer intervened, the planned action was withdrawn.

Weeks before Mrs Ntshangase was killed, some members of MCEJO had been seduced by financial inducements to sign a supposed agreement that the court case about the mine’s expansion, set down for 2021, would be withdrawn.  They had no power to do so on behalf of MCEJO, their membership was suspended, and they joined in the violent campaign against their erstwhile colleagues.  After Mrs Ntshangase stood firm against them and refused to be part of their dirty deals she was brutally gunned down.  Already traumatised people are terrified when darkness descends, On 22 November the Ntshangase dog died of suspected poisoning.

Mining affects the whole community.  Houses near the operations are cracked and there is no compensation.  Pollution, including from coal dust, is a violation of human rights. In Somkhele it is linked to an explosion of respiratory illnesses and deaths (the threat of Covid-19 pales to insignificance).  Fearing for their children’s health, some families send them to school elsewhere.  Heritage laws regarding ancestral graves are ignored. Large areas of precious cultivated farmland have been lost, and nutritional levels have suffered.  Worst of all is the community’s loss of water. Coal needs huge quantities of water for washing, and access to the Mfolosi river has been fenced off.  The streams people formerly relied on have dried up, and the mine reportedly uses precious groundwater.  Rainwater storage tanks are polluted with coal dust so water for drinking must be boiled, and electricity is expensive.  Women, especially, suffer, since they must find ways to procure water, even if it means walking for hours and risking sexual assault. WoMin,  a proactive women’s group, did its own research and its report ‘ ‘No Longer a Life Worth Living’ sums up their hardships. Taps are dry and whole areas are without water, even from tankers, despite ongoing appeals to the local and district municipalities.  In July, 29 women protesting with their buckets were arrested and spent nine days in prison.

The plight of people living near the Zululand Anthracite Colliery in Nongoma is the same as that of Somkhele area residents. It is utterly iniquitous that thousands of people, and the environment, should suffer grievously so that relatively few can make a profit from a fossil fuel that is the biggest driver of global warming, that other countries are phasing out and disinvesting from. Even with covid-19, carbon dioxide emissions have risen in 2020, and South Africa contributes more than its fair share.  The government seems impervious to scientific warnings that the planet has a decade to reduce emissions. It continues, and intends expanding, coal extraction, using it for 85% of its electricity generation, and exporting it. By rationalising its policy as providing employment, it ignores the fact that renewables do a far better job. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, while reducing its reliance on coal, created four hundred thousand jobs in renewables in a decade. They now provide 46% of its energy needs. South Africa, with its huge solar and wind potential, manages a measly six percent.

Somkhele areas and nearby Fuleni would be ideal places to start phasing out coal mining, and replacing it with sustainable job creation.  Instead of expanding, Tendele would need to rehabilitate all the damaged areas. Intensive work on restoring soil fertility would allow the return of agriculture – including fruit for export – and its situation near game reserves renders it perfect for creating jobs in tourism and environmental work (clean water, anti-poaching activities, game and Wilderness guides). It is also an area of huge historical significance, a site of struggles which shaped the historic Zulu kingdom, and affordable local accommodation would assist tourism, including local. Its location renders it ideal for healing through the Wilderness experience – a crucial factor in mental health – and educational youth camps. It could be a venue for those gathering to document their clan histories, and recording indigenous knowledge among elderly people, while promoting the considerable local musical, artistic, and performance talent.

This should be the goal to lobby for and work towards, but the first step is phasing out mining and restoring land and water rights. Global warming is likely to make South Africa – already running out of water – hotter and drier.  There is no time to lose.


‘Xolobeni has come to KwaZulu-Natal’.  These were the words of a community leader in mining affected Mtubatuba areas when he called to advise that grandmother Fikile Ntshangase had been gunned down in her home at Ophondweni.  Mrs Ntshangase was Vice Chairperson of one of seven sub-committees of the Mfolosi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) for Ophondweni and neighbouring areas, and a powerful voice in opposing the expansion of mining by the Tendele Coal mine, which will displace rural farmers from their homes.  The MCEJO, which represents thousands of subsistence farmers in the broader area affected by the mine, are Applicants in two court cases challenging the expansion of the mine. This assassination followed on a stepped up campaign by the mining company and the KwaZulu-Natal government since February 2020 to persuade applicants to withdraw the court challenge and for those most affected by the expansion – including in the Ophondweni area – to accept the compensation the mine is offering.

During these past few months several MCEJO members have been offered R300 000 by the mine to withdraw the cases. Some have been seduced by this offer and their membership of MCEJO  as been suspended.  All those refusing to sign their properties over to Tendele Mining have received death threats, some linked to local traditional leadership, one survived a drive-by shooting in her home, and one applicant was attacked in his home.  The threat was ever-present, with suspicious vehicles seen in the area at night, and although the local police station deployed patrols the nature of the deep rural area rendered comprehensive protection of residents difficult.  Locals have also devised their own community watch strategies.

With the Supreme Court of Appeal case due to have a virtual hearing on 3 November, the pro-mining campaign has been stepped up during the past week. On 15 October, former MCEJO members who are now colluding with the mine were among those who disrupted a meeting the organisation’s representatives were having with their legal team and one prominent leader was assaulted.  A case is being opened.  This leader, who works in another area, has been warned that his life will be in danger if he visits his family home.

On Monday 19 October, Mrs Ntshangase, who was widowed early this year, and was staying in Ophondweni with her toddler grandson, reported that her dogs were barking in her yard, suggesting that there were intruders in the vicinity.  She is described as being a very strong, powerful voice against capitulating to the demands of the mining company. One of her close associates in this struggle describes her as a leader in the Somkhele/Mpukunyoni committee, working tirelessly for the community, who ‘ exemplified honesty, integrity and the courage to speak her mind……she did not care about being liked, but cared about what she believed was right ‘.  These qualities probably cost her her life.

The strategies used by the mining company in this area are typical of those found in all areas in which these companies operate, which involve dangling incentives to impoverished residents with the inevitable consequences of stirring deep community divisions, invariably leading  to violence and deaths.  In rural areas which are difficult to police it takes great determination and courage to counter these strategies, and Mrs Ntshangase exemplified the type of leadership which promotes community solidarity and resistance.  There are other leaders of this calibre in the NCEJO and, if anything, the assassination of Mama Ntshangase has renewed their determination to step up the fight against exploitation by the mine.

What is truly disgraceful is that the mine is being supported by the KwaZulu government. In June/July the Department of Community Safety and Liaison sent a staff member – apparently from its Civilian Secretariat arm (which is conspicuous in its absence whenever the threat of violence looms) to persuade community members to negotiate with the mine.  Since then, after MCEJO members thought it only proper to approach the office of the Ingonyama (King Zwelithini) about their struggle they have come under even further government pressure via the office of the Premier and CoGTA (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Leadership department).  This is the self-same government that claims that it needs to expropriate land without compensation to redress the land imbalance – while wilfully pushing to displace rural farmers from their family land from which they subsist, and risk their lives in the process..  Perhaps these hypocrites should ask themselves whether, with the assassination of Mrs Ntshangase, they have blood on their hands.


With breath-taking arrogance, the Chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board declared – in Women’s Month – that a bill aimed at giving women access to land should not apply in land it controlled.  He was supported by the KwaZulu-Natal House of Traditional Leaders, which agreed that giving land to women undermined ‘African traditions’.  Such arrogance, like many other pronouncements about supposedly ‘African’ ways,  ignores the huge diversity of societies on the continent, and the way in which that heterogeneity has historically shaped access to land. It also obscures the way in which colonialism has shaped current land norms and practices. Ironically, the Trust itself, like the contemporary office of traditional leadership, is a product of colonialism.  In celebrating Heritage month, it is appropriate to consider the disastrous implications of these invented traditions on the status of women and their access to land.

What exactly is this ‘African way’ that the Trust and others refer to, given this tremendous historical, political, ecological and economic diversity, which have impacted in so many different ways on forms of social organisation.  While ancestral veneration, in which either maternal or paternal ancestors might dominate, plays a significant role in most societies  so too did the spread, hundreds of years ago,  of Christianity and Islam  Political organisation ranged from societies having no centralised authorities to feudal kingdoms. All of these factors impacted on the status of women, and how they accessed the land on which most of them farmed. Land was valued for subsistence and, with the rise of states, a means of territorial control. It also had religious significance, especially given its association with family- including female – ancestors.  However, it was the advent of colonialism, especially the rampant capitalism of the nineteenth century, that led to land – including rights to mine on it – as a commercial commodity.   The nature of gender relationships, too, was transformed, since the roles of men and women had been complementary rather than hierarchical. The nineteenth century hierarchy of gender relationships – termed by Marx and Engels ‘ the world historic defeat of the female sex’ – was imposed on colonial subjects  Although, in centralised states, men generally occupied positions of authority, women also exercised power in different ways , especially as they grew older. (White women in South Africa only gained voting rights in 1930). In what is now the Northern Province the Lovedu queen – whose reputation inspired Rider Haggard to write the novel ‘She’ – controlled the realm’s forests herself.

The way in which these colonial powers administered what is now KwaZulu-Natal played a crucial role in shaping South African society, including apartheid. It was in this colony that the ‘indirect rule’ policy (the ‘Shepstone system’) took root. The essence of this policy was that indigenous people were confined to designated areas (Reserves), access to ‘white’ towns was restricted, and those living in reserves were governed through their chiefs, who were responsible to magistrates and the provincial governor. Instead of being ‘chiefs by their people’ (who might previously have deposed or killed them if they were unpopular), chiefs became employees of the colonial government. If they failed to obey instructions, promptly, they were removed and even imprisoned, as Langalibabele of the Hlubi found to his cost. In areas in which people lived contentedly without chiefs, Administrator Shepstone created new ones. After Union in 1910 this indirect rule system, and the exclusionary practices that went with it, became the norm country-wide, and was further refined by apartheid.

In a unique move, the colonial government codified what it defined as customary law (the Natal Code) and dealt a mortal blow to the status of women.  Historians have noted the existence of ‘gender co-operation as opposed to gender contestation’ as Professor Sifiso Ndlovu puts it. Male regiments, for example, had female counterparts. They also participated in networks of authority structures, the pivotal role of Regent Queen Mnqabayi (King Shaka’s aunt) being a prime example.  The codified not-very-customary-law* decreed that women would remain life-long minors, always under the control of a man (father, brother, husband or son). Only under exceptional circumstances could they become ‘emancipated’.  By the time the legislation was amended in the 1980s, the normative damage had been done. Ethnic identity is a learned phenomenon and an article by the late anthropologist David Webster, published posthumously, noted that Thonga men in northernmost KZN were adopting a Zulu identity as it was a preferred category for employment on the mines.  In contrast, women rejected an identity change as they considered they enjoyed more power than their Zulu sisters.

In insulting the women of Africa, the Ingonyama Trust apparently does not realise that it, too, has its roots in colonialism, as do the positions of some of the chiefs. Most of the land held by the Trust is nineteenth century Reserve land, some of which had never been part of the historic Zulu kingdom. This land formed the basis of the KwaZulu homeland, and included land ceded to it by then President de Klerk in the early 1990s.   Like the colonial masters, the Trust and some of the chiefs collude to deprive poor farmers of their land, especially for mining-related purposes. It also insists that men are lease holders to land acquired by women.  Truly, colonialism is alive and well in KwaZulu-Natal and the supposedly democratic government lets it live on.

*This term was used by Harvard Professor Emerita Sally Falk Moore,a lawyer and an anthropologist, to describe the departure from customary law of that she saw operating in traditional courts in Tanzania decades ago.


As in some other rural areas there is apparently no enforcement of Lockdown Regulations in Ophondweni, Mtubatuba.  On the night of 17 April the home of Sabelo Dladla was broken into and he was injured and robbed by the assailants.  This incident is perceived as sending a warning message to Dladla, who is the Second Applicant, representing the 4000 strong Mfolosi community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) , in a High Court case in which Respondents include government ministers and municipalities, the Ingonyama Trust Board, and Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd.  The First Applicant in this case (82865/18 North Gauteng High court) is the Global Environmental Trust.  The outcome of this matter,  which is currently set down for Appeal in the  Bloemfontein  Supreme Court of Appeal, has crucial implications for both environmental rights, and the rights of people living on rural land targeted by mining companies.  Fortunately Dladla and his family have gone into hiding as shots were fired outside his house on 29 April.

‘The day before the incident at Dladla’s home local police stations had been alerted by email to tensions, and had been asked to patrol the area, following threats to people who had not agreed to move from their homes for the coal mine to expand its operations.  Whenever mining is planned in rural areas expectations are created that it will bring jobs, which fuel tensions in communities with high unemployment rates.  In the current case, people refusing to sign papers agreeing to move are accused of depriving people of employment, or of leading to retrenchments if the mine is unable to expand.  Those who have not signed these papers are long-standing residents, whose rights to remain on the land are protected in law, and who claim that the compensation offered is not nearly enough to make up for the loss of land which allows them to subsist through farming or keeping livestock. Another important factor is the existence of family graves on the land.   

Among those allegedly making the threats are a former municipal councillor and members of the local Traditional Authority, through which documents had been distributed by the mine for people to sign. Among those receiving threats are members of the M, D, and R families.  From affidavits deposed to, it seems that some of those making the threats have been driving freely in the area in breach of lockdown regulations. On the night of 24 April a vehicle without headlights was able to move around the homes of M and D, with its occupants firing many shots at homes whose residents include elderly people and children.  From descriptions by family members, and the impact marks on the walls, a rifle or rifles were used.

Despite the emailed request for patrols on 16 April, which had been followed up with a further email two days later giving specific directions about the part of Ophondweni under threat, there had been no patrols prior to the attack of 24 April. Nor were any patrols dispatched after a further email sent on 25 April, which had been copied to the Deputy Provincial Commissioner.  Following a telephone call to the local KwaMsane station, a patrol was eventually dispatched that night and the following night.  Since then, despite further follow ups with provincial management, only one patrol has been seen in the area.

The families who have been attacked and/or threatened with attack, are understandably terrified, and threats continue. On 6 May Mr D received an anonymous message on his phone  saying that although ‘they’ did not want to kill anyone ‘they’ wanted D and others to be relocated as ‘they’ had been retrenched from the mine and ‘they’ could return to work if people moved; if they refused to relocate the breadwinners would be shot as it was known where they worked.   Mr D has opened a case of intimidation..

Despite it being known that the traditional authorities themselves have made veiled threats against people who have refused to sign documents from the mine, and despite the presence of well-armed people moving around the area with impunity during lockdown, there are still no regular patrols in the affected area, and no arrests have been made.  Understandably, traumatised residents have no confidence in the local police.  Years of experience shows that local police are generally loth to take action against traditional leadership.  Through the provincial detective head, a request has been made for the Dladla, M and D dockets to be transferred to a task team from another SAPS Cluster. 

While police and army are deployed to stop people brewing beer or drinking in their own homes, and to maliciously arrest people for minor transgressions, the SAPS, which is constitutionally bound to prevent crime, as well as bring perpetrators to justice, is failing completely in its duty to protect vulnerable communities from being attacked and killed while practising ‘maximum enforcement’ against people on the urban streets.

However, government culpability for what is happening in Ophondweni goes beyond the conduct of the police, and extends to environmental and minerals ministries.  Residents in the Mtubatuba areas in which coal mining is taking place attribute high levels of serious respiratory illnesses, and deaths, to the pollution of coal dust, and even send their children out of the area to school elsewhere because of fears for their health. Why, given Global Warming, and the phasing out of coal as an energy source, should the government allow coal mines to expand?  A rush of mining-related legislation by the Department of Minerals and Petroleum Resources provide no real protection for the land rights of rural communities. The passing by parliament of the Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, too, shows contempt for the rights of rural communities since it provides traditional leaders, who fit snugly into the pockets of mining companies, with even more powers than they previously had, to enter into business agreements.  If passed, the second of the Bantustan bills – the Traditional courts Bill – will effectively give them even greater social control over their hapless subjects.  Do all these legislative actions by a government that claims to be democratic suggest that it has any real  concern for the basic rights of all South Africans to health, a clean environment, food security and safety – or any commitment to preserving these rights?


The authoritarianism in Covid-19 Regulations is just the latest manifestation of this growing trend in governance, marked by a culture of secrecy and extensive powers given to ministers. It is not surprising since many parliamentarians and executive members supported the passing of the notorious Protection of State Information bill in 2013.  From their conduct and utterances, some apparatchiks would serve with distinction in totalitarian regimes. The ‘new’ regime is looking suspiciously like the old, except that the deep divisions in society are based on class and not race. The National Security Council established by the President in February 2020 mirrors apartheid’s State Security Council and legislation increasing the powers of authoritarian traditional leaders would do the old regime proud.  The militaristic language of the lockdown media statement issued by the KZN premier on 19 April sounded like a declaration of martial law. In the early 2000s when rural communities beset by violence begged for army patrols, the then government refused to deploy soldiers for civilian policing. The Covid-19 lockdown provisions, some of which have no place in a truly democratic society, may well be a sign of things to come, unless more South Africans pay attention and find ways of stopping this disturbing trend in its tracks.

Excessive ministerial powers plus lack of transparency

It has become increasingly difficult to obtain information from government departments, and even PAIA applications may need the threat of court action to produce results. Simultaneously, corruption in government has grown exponentially. Looting in the once financially stable eThekwini Metro has necessitated its borrowing R1 billion rand, while opacity in governance has increased with the passing of a controversial ‘secrecy’ by-law limiting media and public participation in some meetings in 2017, with a further unsuccessful attempt by the mayor in August 2019 to limit media reporting.  Given this context, moves by ministers to appropriate more powers for themselves should be ringing alarm bells.  Take, for example, the planned take-over of some of the functions of schools’ governing bodies by the inept Department of Basic Education via the BELA (Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill), and the autocratic threats by the same minister to discipline teachers who refuse to teach a highly controversial sex education programme, rejected by many parents.

Of all the pending sloppy legislation, the NHI (National Health Insurance) bill demonstrates just how badly power has gone to politicians’ heads. The minister of this seriously dysfunctional department controls all its operations through appointments s/he makes, including to bodies which supposedly provide ‘independent’ oversight of health services. Its vague wording in places gives the minister carte blanche, including in decisions about the powers of national versus provincial competencies, the type of information users will be obliged to provide, and who s/he will give that information to (raising serious concerns about privacy) As if all this power concentrated in one pair of hands is not bad enough, s/he also appoints an Appeals Tribunal with High Court powers, without any recourse to Appeal decisions.

The powers granted to ministers in pending legislation relating to land and mining are very alarming, and their puerile attempts to justify it in terms of black empowerment are nauseatingly hypocritical. A prime example is the Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Draft bill allowing land expropriation without compensation. The land restitution process has been riddled with gross corruption, by-passing many deserving claimants in favour of well- connected opportunists, while the rights of poor rural residents have become increasingly threatened.

There has been a rush of legislation designed to facilitate mining and the empowerment of the elites without adequate time for consultation and comment. While public attention was diverted, the Minister published, on the first day of lockdown, amended Regulations to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act which ignored submissions and stripped communities of their land rights.   The Draft Upstream Petroleum Resources Development bill was sneakily gazetted on 24 December 2019, and no copy posted on the parliamentary website, despite the deadline for comments being the third week of February.  This bill too represents an extremely serious threat to the rights of people living on land targeted by mining interests.  The apartheid government removed people from their land for its own ideological-cum-economic interests, the present government allows removals for mining activities which only benefit the new elites.

Traditional leaders are among those benefitting and it is in the recent Bantustan Bills that the same apartheid-type agenda is manifest. The Khoisan and Traditional Leaders Act, already signed into law, increases the power of these leaders to conclude business arrangements detrimental to those affected. The Traditional Courts Bill is currently before the NCOP. There is little difference between this legislation and that which it replaces, a section of the Black Administration Act of 1927; if anything, it gives these leaders even more power than the previous racist regimes deemed good for black people. Historically, these courts heard civil cases in terms of some illusionary customary law. Now, their powers are extended to hear certain criminal cases, the details of which are not spelled out in the legislation.  Like his/her predecessor the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs exercises full power about the nature of crimes included, and their punishment, which s/he will publish in government gazettes – which are inaccessible to those at the receiving end of ‘justice’ meted out by leaders (some of whom engage in criminal activities themselves with impunity). Like apartheid, these political concessions to traditional leaders incorrectly use the abused term ‘culture’ as justification –  but they are racial:  Not only are they are applied only to black people, but their application is not voluntary , as our supposedly democratic parliament has not allowed rural people to opt out of this feudal system.

How are they getting away with it?

While people accept the necessity for regulations relating to, e.g. social distancing, the lockdown was badly planned since it failed to factor in the reliance of a large sector of the population on informal sector and piecemeal work. Hunger has escalated, together with anger at corrupt councillors stealing food for the poor. It is not inconceivable that more poor people will die of poverty-related illnesses than of the Covid-19 virus, especially if they cannot face taking HIV and TB medication without food. The government has no right to decree what legal products people may purchase to consume in the privacy of their homes, or to stop them walking on their own. Nor can their measures be justified in terms of links between trauma and violence, since it is state organs who fail to police taverns and roads properly, as happens in other democracies where governments would not dare incur the wrath of citizens by imposing such ridiculous bans. In South Africa, many simply break the law, depriving the State of desperately-needed revenue – which further feeds avaricious organised crime networks, such as those politically well-connected operators described in Jacques Pauw’s book ‘The President’s Keepers’.

This lockdown has exposed the fallacy that South Africa is a real democracy, and the one lesson everyone should learn from it is that we will never build a democracy if we allow this increasingly blatant authoritarianism to continue. 


Since the Covid-19 lockdown was implemented from 27 March, there have been reports of abusive, bullying behaviour by SAPS members towards people in the streets and, elsewhere in South Africa, even deaths. Such incidents should not surprise us because abusive police behaviour, ranging from damage to property to torture which may lead to death, is common in KZN and victims seldom experience justice. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate ( IPID) in KZN is riddled with problems and, at a national level, the Directorate is in a critical state following the assassination of one of its best investigators and the suspension of others with proven track records. Urgent legislative and structural changes are needed. Justice is also defeated because of the atrocious state of KZN forensic services, including mortuaries. After years of inaction, however, it is encouraging that national SAPS management seems to be taking gross police abuses more seriously.

IPID’s narrow interpretation of its mandate

As the death toll from the violence which erupted in Glebelands hostel in 2014 rose the evidence of police complicity grew. In  April 2015 an email to IPID management detailed how Sipho Ndovela had been instructed by a notorious Umlazi police member to alter a statement about a murder;  it was also sent a copy of an April letter to SAPS management about threats to Ndovela, stressing that the police would be held accountable if he were killed.  IPID referred the complaint back to the SAPS because defeating the ends of justice was not part of its mandate. On 18 May Ndovela was shot dead outside Umlazi court before he could make a supplementary statement. Despite mounting evidence of systemic police corruption IPID ignored Section 28 of the governing legislation and denied it was its job to investigate. At that stage around 25 people had died, but, with no constructive intervention, the death toll had escalated to around 100 by the time the alleged police kingpin and some associates faced the trial which is currently ongoing.

Protracted investigations and lack of feedback

Of the Glebelands abuse and torture cases reported since 2014 there have been no successful prosecutions, including in the K matter, in which the victim lost consciousness after being beaten and tubed in 2016.  Around the same time, V, living in a Durban shack area, had a near death experience when a police member sat on him (as demonstrated to the TRC by an apartheid era security policeman) and pulled a plastic bag over his face. Investigations should have been straightforward, and, amidst fears that the case has been closed, there has been a steady stream of tame excused about the lack of progress.  In the mean- time, the only witness, V’s brother, was almost killed by a criminal with a gun 2019; he was too scared to report the incident (and the gun possession) to the local police because those who abused his brother had operated from that station, and the family fears revenge.  Malicious arrest rates are extremely high, and may be accompanied by abuse, as in the case of M who suffered physical injury and financial loss. Nine months later he has received no feedback from IPID and, when contacted, the investigator sounded hostile.  There are many reports of serious abuses by the Ministerial Task Team established in 2018 to investigate political killings in KZN, including numerous malicious arrests frequently accompanied by abuse and tubing.

However, in one successful investigation, members of the Umhlali K9 unit were dismissed by the SAPS following an internal disciplinary hearing recommended by IPID.  These members (implicated in other tubing incidents) had gone to a rural home where they had tubed a man who had died. To try and cover their crime, they had put the body in a police van and crashed it.  Fortunately, a post-mortem revealed that the cause of death was suffocation.  Disciplinary action by the national SAPS office is pending against CIS members who were with the canine unit members, and the docket is with the DPP awaiting a decision about prosecution.

Police in balaclavas – and a positive SAPS response

In June 2019, following requests to SAPS management, an ORS (operational response) team headed by a POP (Public Order Policing) commander was deployed in eMpembeni (near Richards Bay), where a series of killings had led to a climate of intense fear.  Earlier ORS patrols had done excellent work in providing security, but the June team terrorised residents.  It is not unusual for SAPS members, without identification (let alone search warrants) to damage property and abuse people (and steal money) in rural areas. However, these members raided certain homes (apparently strategically) and beat and tubed residents while wearing balaclavas.  One man required hospitalisation for a week. Some people opened cases, others did not, and the matter was reported to IPID, with a great deal of information by way of leads.  A letter of complaint was also sent to the National SAPS Commissioner who ensured that this grossly irregular SAPS conduct was also investigated internally by a senior SAPS member who reported his findings to national management. This member also assisted the IPID investigator to acquire relevant information from the police. Nine months later victims await feedback, and the last two emails to the investigator remain unanswered.

Inadequate, shambolic forensic services

Due entirely to gross Department of Health mismanagement and corruption the province has a critical shortage of well qualified forensic doctors to assess torture victims properly, especially in rural areas, and very few experienced pathologists to conduct thorough post-mortems. It is imperative that bodies of gunshot victims be X-rayed, but machines may be out of order for long periods, and important forensic evidence is destroyed by unqualified, ill-disciplined mortuary staff.   In most cases in which police shoot and torture people crucial evidence is lacking to bring them to book, especially as poor people lack access to independent pathologists and lawyers.

The way forward

It is encouraging that SAPS management appears to be taking police abuse more seriously than in the past. Hopefully they will continue to do so.        However, an urgent overhaul of IPID is required, starting with a change of legislation to place the Directorate under an independent body (not the Minister), and a complete staff restructuring which does not allow former police members to manage it. For the sake of all victims of violent crime, it is absolutely essential that forensic mortuary services be removed from the control of the Department of Health and placed under an independent Board.


Reports about the shooting of Ndovela can be found on this website for Nlovela (2014) and eMpembeni (2018 and 2019)


On 12 February eNCA’s Checkpoint ran a programme on the failure of the government to protect corruption whistle-blowers who are loyal comrades and to bring any successful prosecutions against those implicated by prima facie evidence in corruption. The programme provoked a flood of Twitter outrage about rampant corruption, and the failure of the government – especially the ‘arrogant’ Minister of Police, who was accused of ‘gambling with people’s lives’ to take remedial action. ‘Hall of Shame’ focussed on the consequences suffered by those ANC councillors and their associates to expose those involved in corruption totalling almost R38 million rand of taxpayers’ money which had been earmarked for the renovation of the Umzimkhulu Memorial Hall. Two councillors, including Sindiso Magaqa, had been killed, another had survived the attack which had resulted in the death of her colleague, and she and two of her ANC comrades, who were dedicated to serving their communities and exposing corruption, were living under constant threat of death. This whole saga raises extremely serious questions about the nature of governance in South Africa, including its commitment to the Constitution of the country, and to fighting corruption – and the failure of Chapter 9 institutions to fulfil their mandate.  

The Public Protector’s reports and the failure of the government to act

In her 2018 reports the Public Protector confirmed the veracity of corruption allegations relating to the supposed renovation of the hall. The matter was handed to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) for investigation, but the unit has already closed its file.  One of the reports confirmed that the lives of whistle-blowers Les Stuta and Thabiso Zulu, who had taken up the anti-corruption baton of Sindiso Magaqa, were in grave danger. The Minister of Police was instructed to provide them with the security recommended by two State security threat assessments.  Both Stuta and Zulu had spoken out strongly at Magaqa’s funeral and Zulu subsequently went even further giving evidence at the 2017 Moerane Commission which pointed fingers at the involvement of senior regional ANC figures in the Magaqa death. It is believed that the National Commissioner of Police had already approved the protection, but it was blocked by his Minister’s immediate referral of the report for High Court review.  Continuing pleas to protect them fell on deaf ears and in October 2019 Thabiso Zulu was shot and injured, narrowly missing death. 

President Ramaphosa reneges on agreement

Soon after Zulu was shot he spoke telephonically with President Ramaphosa, who agreed that he would receive the necessary protection.  It has not materialised, raising questions about who really runs this country. Why does he retain in his cabinet a minister who is in clear breach of his constitutional obligations to ‘prevent, combat…..crime [and] ‘to protect and secure the inhabitants of the country’ ( Section 205(3).  It has been known for over two years that the lives of Zulu and Stuta are in grave danger since that was detailed in two, thorough threat assessments by state security agencies, including the police – and confirmed by the attempted murder of Zulu.  The question is why, especially as countless government functionaries, including in  municipalities rendered dysfunctional by corruption, are costing taxpayers a small fortune in excessive bodyguards?  What sort of government rewards rogues with perks but denies protection to those who are risking their lives by acting in support of its own stated fight against corruption?  Italy even provides protection to investigative journalists. There is no known animosity between Cele and Zulu, who are comrades of long-standing – so who in ANC leadership positions with grudges against Zulu are pressurising the President to backtrack on Zulu’s safety?  Zulu was fighting corruption before Magaqa’s murder, and in the process, has made political enemies outside of Umzimkhulu. Together with then Speaker of Sisonke municipality, Mandla Ngcobo, he exposed hundreds of millions of rand in irregular expenditure which, despite confirmation by the auditor, is still under investigation by the SIU and the Hawks.  Ngcobo was persecuted and removed from his position, and both men received death threats.  Zulu’s ongoing work has secured several court convictions, the most recent being that of a traffic policeman found guilty of fraudulently assisting learner license applicants to pass their tests.

The Chapter 9 institutions

Despite her report – which drew on existing threat assessments – the Public Protector has failed Zulu and Stuta by not challenging the review in court, her excuse being that her office has ‘financial constraints’.  It is thus puzzling that her office has found money for other high court challenges which do not involve life or death issues, such as the apparent vendetta against Minister Pravin Gordhan.

In terms of the powers given to it in Section 184 of the Constitution, the SAHRC is, among other things, mandated to ‘take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated’ (Section 184(2)(b).  From the point of view of independent human rights defenders their performance has been disappointing, the perception being that it backs away from confronting the government.  The failure of the Department of Health (DoH) in KZN to service almost new oncology machines – which conduct reeked of corruption – resulted in the needless and painful deaths of countless hundreds of cancer victims. The SAHRC produced toothless reports, which apparently ignored, and failed to act on, a dossier sent to it by a medical rights advocacy group. The dossier detailed serious illegal and corrupt actions by DoH , and how parliament had been misled. Those responsible – senior government functionaries – have been let off scot free and remain in powerful positions,   while families who lost loved ones have been denied even the limited closure of the families of the Life Esidimeni patients.

Since the right to life is the most fundamental of human rights, will the SAHRC  use the constitutional powers given to it to take whatever steps are needed to protect Thabiso Zulu (and, by extension others in the same predicament) – especially as the Minister of Police is, himself, in clear breach of his constitutional obligations.  The Commission has already issued a public statement of concern and reportedly the Chairperson and the CEO have been very supportive of Zulu.   From previous experience, it is clear that one of the problems facing the Commission is that it is a cumbersome bureaucratic body and, if decisions are taken to offer legal assistance to Zulu (who has, after all, suffered, and continues to suffer, severe emotional trauma as well as  physical injury), they may even be undermined by people within their ranks who enjoy an unacceptably close relationship with government functionaries in the criminal justice system, including in the police.   Hopefully, the Commission will not be deterred by these potential pitfalls, but take appropriate precautions against them.  Given the intransigence – and contempt for the Constitution – showed by the most senior members of government – appropriate action by the Commission is our last hope.  Will it grasp the nettle and demonstrate to us that it is courageous enough to challenge the government on constitutional grounds?


On Wednesday 11 December six people in the Msomi home at Hammarsdale, near Durban, died, when a group of gunmen surrounded the house and opened fire on those inside it.  Similar attacks in peri-urban and traditional rural areas are not unusual. While most attacks on farmers and on politicians receive media coverage few of the murders or ordinary folk do. That it is possible for well-armed men to operate with impunity in these areas points to serious problems with policing, including intelligence, at local station and Cluster area.  These killers have access to a range of guns and seem to have no problem acquiring ammunition.  The bodies of Mhlengezi Khumalo, killed in an apparent political hit in Pietermaritzburg in February., and Gundane Mthethwa, killed in the reign of terror in eMpembeni near Richards Bay the same month, were riddled with an estimated two dozen or more bullet wounds.  There have been some positive developments in national and provincial policing in 2019 and priorities for 2020 must include improved rural safety and an intensified clampdown on illicit guns – which should start with vastly improved policing of the taxi industry.

The taxi industry, hitmen and guns

The taxi industry is associated with the deployment of hit men, including for political assassinations. It may also employ armed guards who are not necessarily PSIRA compliant. It is a threat to state security.   Many police members allegedly operate taxis or receive protection money from one or other faction, and some powerful operators are well connected politically. Convictions are few and far between, including when buses are attacked.   Despite claims by the Department of Transport that it regulates the industry without fear or favour there is a conspicuous lack of transparency in its operations, including those relating to the implementation of a new public transport system in Durban.

Mandeni was one of various areas in which taxi violence claimed several lives. In June, Siyabonga Mbonambi who had, for years, played a prominent role in a local taxi association, was gunned down.  In 2010 he had survived an attack by armed men at his rural home in which a brother and a toddler nephew died. Nothing has changed in the past decade. Those allegedly behind the violence then were linked to a long-distance association accused of operating illegally in his association’s route, with evidence of complicity on the part of certain police. The present context is one in which there are tensions around leadership within Mbonambi’s association. An informer, who was subsequently killed, named the hitmen and alleged they had been sent by a taxi rival. The only witness to the killing was Siyabonga’s brother, Sam, whose life has been in great danger since the murder. Investigators claimed that they could not trace the killers, despite reports that they were seen visiting contacts in the Mandeni area. Sam gave up his job and moved around. He was not at his home when police arrived there in September looking for him. They claimed an informer had linked him to a crime.  Only when pressed to do so did they identify themselves properly, and advised that they had come from Empangeni, a distance away. They had not notified the local Sundumbili station of their presence, which is against SAPS regulations. Sam subsequently reported to Empangeni SAPS together with his lawyer; he was not charged.  On 28 November, when Sam was at his own home, gunmen apparently sent to kill him murdered his fourteen-year old nephew who presumably saw them. At another Mbonambi home a short distance away, another nephew of Sam and Siyabonga was murdered on 14 December by men who appear to have been looking for another close relative of theirs who has also been threatened with death. The police acted swiftly and NIU members arrested the alleged hitmen at a hostel at Umlazi. Sam has finally been placed in Witness Protection.  At the end of December, one of the alleged killers of Siyabonga was arrested near Mandeni.  It is now up to investigators and prosecution to ensure they build a strong case.

The shooting of Thabiso Zulu

In 2018 the Public Protector (PP) instructed the Minister of Police to provide protection for whistle-blower and ANC stalwart Thabiso Zulu whose life has been in grave danger since 2017,  Despite two State security threat assessments confirming that Zulu’s life is in grave danger the Minister blocked the protection and referred the PP’s report for court review. Amidst continuing threats, Zulu has continued to spend most of his time locked away and moving only with people who try to protect him. Appeals to, among others, President Ramaphosa and parliament have fallen on deaf ears.   

On 25 October Zulu was warned by a security industry person that there were plans to kill him in within days. The next night he was shot and injured walking with a friend near where he was staying in Pietermaritzburg. Handguns and a rifle were used but, by the next morning, the Mountain Rise SAPS, an historically problematic station, had not secured the crime scene nor retrieved the cartridges. Why did police intelligence not have, or use, that information to pre-empt an attack?

Loss of confidence in DPP’s office

Following a failure by local police to arrest anyone for a spate of killings in eMpembeni, the office of the national commissioner arranged for a new team to report to the Cluster Office. Arrests for three separate murders followed swiftly.  Accomplices initially charged indicated that they would turn state witness, made statements, and were placed in Witness Protection, and the arrests of two members of the widely feared N family followed. Petitions with hundreds of signatures were presented to court opposing bail. The investigators did commendable work, even risking their own lives in what is an extremely dangerous area. However, in a shock decision seven months after the arrests a senior prosecutor declined to prosecute the N family members on the grounds that the two state witnesses claimed to have made statements under duress. This appears a blatant lie because they had been examined on more than one occasion by a District Surgeon, and appeared in court, and had never mentioned any abuse. What is truly incredible is that charges have not been re-instated  against the two men who had themselves faced charges, and had also perjured themselves – raising serious questions about whether people facing such charges can now avoid prosecution by turning state witness and later retracing their statements.  Community members have completely lost confidence in the prosecution service, especially as a very wealthy member of the N family had boasted during his bail application that he enjoyed a good relationship with two prosecutors, including one working in the DPP’s office.  A climate of intense fear prevails, once again, in eMpembeni,

Lessons for 2020

Rural safety of all, farmers and residents of traditional land alike, must be a priority in 2020, starting with a drastic improvement in the gathering and use of intelligence, and the monitoring by management of stations in which gunmen appear to operate with impunity.  Road-blocks of taxis, and investigations of all those involved in guarding them, could impact on the circulation of illegal guns (if no warning is given). The Firearms Unit of the SAPS should be strengthened with further personnel with proven clean records. Prosecutors also need to work with, and guide, investigators from an early stage, and not wait until investigations are nearing completion.


See for reports on eMpembeni and Thabiso Zulu (2018/2019) and re: taxi violence. 2010 report ‘The attack on the Mbonambi family, Dendethu : An Indictment of the failure of the SAPS and KZN Transport to enforce the rule of law’


August 2019 saw the passing away of an unsung hero of the struggle for democracy and justice in South Africa, John Motlalepula Motloli.  As a serving apartheid era police member Motloli used his job as a cover to provide invaluable assistance to the ANC and to  families of MK operatives who had disappeared, or who had died at the hands of the security police, and to expose the truth of what had happened to them.  Despite being described as a ‘pillar to the new dispensation’, who ‘worked for the country’,  Motloli never received any recognition for his work from the ANC, possibly because the type of information he uncovered would have alarmed  ambitious comrades with skeletons in their own closets. Instead of accolades, Motloli, like many other former long serving black African South African Police( SAP) members, remained side-lined for promotion – yet another casualty in the new government’s inexcusable failure to transform the apartheid era police force.

Motloli was born in Orlando in 1947 but after the death of his parents in 1957  he was sent to live with family members in Mount Fletcher (Eastern Cape) where he herded their cattle.  Only in 1961 did he start primary school, but he was so intelligent that he passed the first two years combined with flying colours and despite having skipped what were then Standards 4 and 5 came first in Standard 6 (Grade 8).  However, there was no money for him to continue high school, so he spent a period working on the mines. A friend persuaded him to return to school and, at the age of 25, he matriculated at Moroko High School. After working for the Chamber of Mines for three years he joined the SAP in 1975, telling friends that the move might protect him from being targeted for his anti-apartheid sentiments.

By the 1980s he was working as a detective at the KwaDabeka SAP near Pinetown, Natal.  His investigations in the latter 1980s into state sponsored violence in the townships was to lay the foundations for his later exposure of the forces behind this violence. During his investigations into the notorious A Team who terrorised Chesterville township he discovered that they were being armed by a KwaZulu Government Deputy Minister, Samuel Jamile. With KwaDabeka colleagues he investigated Jamile for killing several Clermont residents opposed to the incorporation of the township into KwaZulu. With threats to the lives of the investigators, it was decided to hand the docket to an outside team headed by Frank Dutton and his partner Wilson Magadla, a ‘homeboy’ of Motloli’s. The Dutton team secured the conviction of Jamile and followed it with convictions of those, including police, implicated in the 1988 Trust Feed massacre. Motloli, who had also worked with Dutton, was later to join his Goldstone team of investigators. From there, in 1994, he transferred to the Special Investigation unit investigating Third Force activities headed by Jan D’Oliviera, and subsequently became involved in TRC investigations.

However, Motloli had been working on police involvement in disappearances and deaths of operative such as Stanley Bhila, Phumezo Nxiweni and Dion Cele, under the cover of other investigative work, since the late 1980s. Some of the TRC exposures were the result of his early work, which had been spurred by appeals from families of exiles who had disappeared. Cases he investigated included those in which police informers had primed grenades for use by operatives, or police had wrongly claimed that those they had shot had been robbers killed in self-defence. He was a man of few words whose quiet, unassuming manner won the confidence and trust of people who were prepared to provide information, including askaris (some of whom he assisted).  Although he was to win the confidence of some black African security police members, his investigations made him extremely unpopular with their colleagues who threatened and insulted him but, after 1990, found it more difficult to act against him, especially when he worked for the Goldstone or d’Oliviera teams.  He was a loving family man who went to great lengths to shield them from this work and when, during this period, he sensed a threat to them in the township in which they lived, he moved them to a formerly white suburban area.

Through the leads he had followed up, and the relationships he had established he knew about some of the Vlakplaas operations, including those linked to the C10 unit active in what is now KZN before they were exposed publicly. These included the 1986 killings of a group of operatives known as the Quarry Road Four, and four men in Chesterville. The late Colonel Andy Taylor and other security police were later to apply to the TRC for amnesty for the latter killings. Other disappearances and deaths for which he had done the groundwork included those of MK members Ntombi Khubeka who had been abducted by an askari from her KwaMashu home on the instructions of Vlakplaas C Section and the Natal Security police, and Portia Ndwandwe, who had been abducted from Swaziland. Their bodies were exhumed during TRC investigations as were those of some of the other missing activists. Although he had done his best to assist the Phewas of Lamontville, the bodies of Sobho Phewa and Musa Phewa, who were abducted from the township in 1987 were never found.

It was Motloli who exposed the truth about the disappearance in 1990 of Operation Vula operatives Mbuso Shabalala and Charles Ndaba after the security police spread false rumours about Ndaba having betrayed Shabalala. Although the TRC found that their bodies had been dumped in the Thukela River mouth, Motloli had continued to follow up information from a knowledgeable man he worked with in the 2000s who died after being knocked down by a vehicle, apparently deliberately.

After leaving the TRC Motloli spent several more years in the SAPS, including in Crime Intelligence.  However, he was utterly frustrated because while he remained a warrant officer the command structure to which he reported included former security policemen who had been promoted well above him. Academic research in the 1990s showed this type of skewed promotion was commonplace. The severe stress was impacting negatively on Motloli’s health, and he took early retirement. He was not the only competent, highly experienced black African police member to do so, for the same reasons.  Motloli’s exceptional work was a product of his support for the liberation struggle, and it succeeded because he was an excellent investigator who knew how to follow up leads and win the confidence of informers, including those who had killed for apartheid. Post liberation policing could have been very different had the new government recognised, rewarded, and fully supported the work of Motloli and colleagues with similar skills.


It is ironic that some of the arguments used by defenders of the Ingonyama Trust differ little from those used by the apartheid government to justify the homelands policy.  In his recent article in the Daily Maverick Mbongeleni Mazibuko unwittingly falls into this trap by drawing on discredited history and by his misuse of concepts such as culture and tradition.  He also conveniently side-steps the gross infringements of the land rights of rural residents by the Trust, and by some traditional leaders.

Most of the Ingonyama Trust land is that which constituted the KwaZulu bantustan, some of which, such as southern and far northern areas of KZN, was never part of the historic Zulu kingdom.  From its heartland north of the Thukela river, King Shaka deployed his well-trained warriors to areas much further afield to raid for cattle. In the process, people either dispersed or, in some cases, bowed to the use of force and became client chiefdoms supplying Shaka with cattle, and guarding his far- flung cattle outposts.  He did not have the political or military capacity to incorporate these areas into the kingdom. With his enemies, including within his own family, multiplying, Shaka’s position became increasingly precarious. Accompanied by armed traders from Port Natal he had vanquished his main opponents, the Ndwandwe, but internally the powerful Qwabe grouping was posing an increasing threat. This threat may have been one of the reasons that he decided to build his new homestead further away from them, at KwaDukuza (just south of the Thukela river) shortly before his ten-year reign ended with his assassination. His half-brother, Dingane, was unable to retain the type of military control Shaka had over his own subjects and the client chiefdoms outside of the kingdom, so many fled the kingdom to what was later to become the colony of Natal and others returned there from further afield.

The kingdom founded by Shaka was an amalgamation of discrete chiefdoms, and it was stratified according to historical and clan relationships to the king.  The lowest stratum comprising ‘outsider’ groupings, to which a derogatory label was applied, lived in the coastal areas or around the Thukela.  Excluded from politics, they provided menial labour and cattle tribute to the elites.  Falling into this category was the powerful Hlubi grouping who, posing an increasing threat to King Mpande, prudently migrated to the colony in 1848 to avoid the risk of an all-out war.

Contrary to what Mazibuko avers, it is  highly unlikely that the majority of the traditional leaders in what is now KZN are descendants of the clan-based groupings of the Zulu kingdom, which was itself subject to a divide-and-rule policy by the British after the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. The forebears of many of today’s leaders had never been part of the kingdom and, in the colony, new chiefs were created by administrator Theophilus Shepstone when he found people living without any. Mission areas appointed their own. Chiefs were needed for the implementation of the indirect rule system – rule through chiefs – developed in what was then Natal, exported to other colonies, and further refined by the architects of apartheid.

The office of traditional leadership today is a product of colonialism and apartheid because, since the 19th century, chiefs have not been ‘chiefs by their people’. The general trend in pre-colonial times was for an unpopular chief to be deposed or killed – or people might simply migrate elsewhere. However, with indirect rule they became accountable to the government which paid their salaries and, pre-1994, would be deposed if they were not politically compliant.  Democracy and accountability are still absent in many traditional areas today and it has proven virtually impossible to get the government department responsible, COGTA, to take any action against leaders who abuse their positions, or even commit crimes.

While there is a tendency to see traditional leadership as some distinctly pan-African phenomenon, it is an office which exists, or has existed, in societies all over the world at a certain stage of state formation.  Many societies in Africa did not have this system of governance. While colonising governments used the position for their own purposes, the stance taken by post-liberation governments varied.  Most retained the position, but restricted incumbents to ceremonial and developmental roles, Uganda – which had historically included different kingdoms – restricted their powers drastically, and Tanzania abolished traditional leadership. Swaziland is probably the only country in Africa in which traditional leaders have more powers than they do in South Africa.  The office is not under threat since they are recognised in Chapter 12 of the Constitution. In the mid-1990s the ANC government, which was then divided over the subject, made a serious mistake by not insisting that the incumbents could not occupy both traditional and political offices (as in Botswana). Many have allowed themselves to be used as political tools, when they could have played a far more constructive role in their communities had they been above party politics.

There is probably no word which has been as badly abused in South Africa as ‘culture’. Drawing on the ideas of Scientific Racism embodied in what was termed ‘ethnos theory’ this term was used by the apartheid government to justify, and disguise the racial basis for, homelands. Culture is simply an analytical construct used to describe what people have in common such as shared norms, values, knowledge and beliefs, which are learned. Even within a group speaking a common language what is interpreted as its culture may be highly variable. These ideas change as the socio-economic structure of the society of which they are part does, as may traditions and customs embodying these ideas. While there are regional similarities, families are the custodians of customs, which may vary from one clan to another. Contemporary Zulu identity as it is portrayed today is a product of societal changes, especially economic and political, the 20th century. However, there is no single ‘Zulu’ identity in KZN, for many residents would identify with other historically-based groupings such as Bhaca, Hlubi, and Thonga, and others would emphasise their Ndwandwe roots (i.e. the enemies of the Zulu kingdom).

There is thus no historical basis for the privatisation of state land in the hands of the Zulu king who cannot be said to have ‘owned’ it in the past :  Contemporary ownership of land, focussing on commercial value,  should not be equated with ideas prevailing in the past when  it had very different meanings for the families who were living on it, based on intimate relationships between the living and the dead (buried on it), and the way in which these were related to the fertility of land (to meet subsistence needs).   King Zwelithini enjoys widespread support and respect in his own right – especially since he publicly distanced himself from party politics in 1994 –  not through his association with the Trust. The Board administering the trust, of which the king is the sole trustee, was appointed a few years after the Trust was established in April 1994. Prior to that it had been overseen by the king’s lawyer, the late Sdumo Mathe, with the Board taking over soon after Mathe’s untimely death. Calls to dismantle the Trust have nothing to do with a ‘clash of cultures’ but are rooted in economic realities. The Trust, through its Board,  not only contests the transfer to the government fiscus of mining royalties due to it, but acts as a virtual parallel government itself issuing leases which are often cloaked in secrecy, and which trample on the legally protected rights to the land, and the security, of those living on it.  As a result of the issuing of these leases people have lost the land they lived on, and used for subsistence, to mining companies or other business ventures. They may be removed, or face the threat of removal, from their land, as during apartheid years.  Their water becomes polluted and cattle become sick. In coal mining areas such as Somkele (near Mtubatuba) the rate of respiratory illnesses is extremely high and linked by locals to most deaths. In the kwaMzimela area homes and graves are blasted away by sand mining. There are many other examples, and despite the black empowerment rhetoric, it may be white businesspeople who benefit from Trust deals.

It is traditional leaders who give permission to the Trust to grant leases, regardless of the consequences for their subjects, who may not even know about them until they are told to move (as in eMpembeni)*._ The democratic government, which claims to represent ‘the people’, has dealt rural folk a further blow by passing legislation which will give even more powers to traditional leaders to enter into such agreements.  Not for nothing is these two pieces of legislation –  one of which amends the 2003 Act governing traditional leadership, and the other governing traditional (chiefs’) courts – referred to, with good reason, as the ‘bantustan bills’.  To avoid a further retreat into the past this legislation must be opposed at all costs.

*See other 2018 and 2019 reports on the Ingonyama Trust and on eMpembeni

Reference notes  : This report draws on a wide range of historical material,  including chapters in Duminy and Guest (eds) 1989 Natal and Zululand a New History;   Chapters in Carton, B, J Laband and J Sithole (eds) 2009 Zulu Identities; Laband J 2017 The Assassination King Shaka ; Wright J 2016 ‘Making Identities in the Thukela-Mzimvubu Region cc1770-1940 in Hamilton C and N Leibhammer Tribing and Untribing the Archive   

Other references include academic publications on culture, traditiion and traditional leadership. See , for example, Boonzaier E and J Sharp (eds) 1989  South African Keywords : Th uses and abuses of political concepts