Jury is out: will the real king please stand up?

King Misuzulu kaZwelithini. Picture: Supplied.

King Misuzulu kaZwelithini. Picture: Supplied.

Published Dec 15, 2023



Theoretically, the ruling of the Gauteng High Court on December 11, 2023, declaring the recognition of Prince Misuzulu as king or isilo of the AmaZulu nation illegal and unconstitutional has caused some anguish and worries.

The court has directed the president to constitute an investigating committee on the customary and legal process for recommending and confirming a king. What are the implications of the decision? The stability of governance in KwaZulu-Natal especially?

An application was brought before the court by Prince Mbonisi, who is a brother to the late King Zwelithini, and Prince Simakade, the elder brother to King Misuzulu. It is centred on the process followed to nominate the king. They alleged that the meetings of May 7, 2021 and May 14, 2021 did not satisfy the standards set by the law governing the recognition of indigenous leadership, the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act, no 3 of 2017.

They contended before the court that the late prime minister of the kingdom, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi had silenced some members of the royal family, including Prince Thokozani, who was denied a chance to speak at a televised meeting.

They argued that the second meeting was convened improperly because the communication to royal family members did not include the agenda, nor an indication that the meeting would discuss the nomination of a future king as set out in the law.

The court did not just give credence to the allegations. But it also found that though President Cyril Ramaphosa knew that there was a dispute over the nomination of Prince Misuzulu, he did not give a hearing to the dissenters, as required by law and the principle of fairness. An impression is created that not only were meetings to nominate a king improperly constituted but also that the president failed to consult fully over the disputed nomination.

The judge deliberately steered clear of the subject of who was the rightful heir to the throne and focused on procedural flaws that have a huge nearing for settling the dispute. The matter is now in the hands of the royal family, in a properly constituted meeting, and the president.

It is likely that the first respondent, Ramaphosa, will take the judgment on appeal, thus staying it for a time. This means the decision about whether the king remains in his seat or a change happens is a matter for perhaps weeks or months to come. Until then, it is reasonable to think King Misuzulu will keep his seat.

Professor Siphamandla Zondi is the director of the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation. Picture: Supplied

The decision has sparked two debates whose conclusions will have a bearing on how we see institutions of traditional leadership. The first is about the courts and decisions on holders of seats of kingship/queenship.

There is a misunderstanding of the fact that the courts are empowered to interpret the law governing the selection of traditional leaders. It seems some think the courts are interfering when, in fact, they are applying the law.

It is the duty of the royal family to nominate a king and submit to the president through the provincial premier. It is the responsibility of the president to do due diligence, carefully checking that what he is given is legit.

The second debate is about how the royal family will be able to reach a consensus again after all the recriminations in the past few months. It seems the divisions have deepened, making consensus in the future difficult. It is not clear how much effort has gone into uniting the family.

We are not sure if senior members are working on this or if elders previously touted to help heal the rift, such as former premiers Willies Mchunu and Dr Zweli Mkhize, have played this role at all. We are not certain if the king has himself been trying to unite the family in any way.

The family is lucky that the queen mother, uMaZungu, a grandmother to King Misuzulu and King Janguxolo ka Sandile of the Rharhabe Kingdom in the Eastern Cape, is alive and well enough to be allowed to bring the family together. Amakhosi of the province have strongly supported the idea of uniting the family.

Should the investigating committee recommend that the matter be taken back to the family to establish their consensus again, the dynamics in the royal family could make or break the stability of the kingdom. Much wisdom and cool heads will be needed to resolve things amicably. We ought to pray for wisdom as instability in the royal family will impact negatively on the stability of the kingdom months before the elections.

This is a testing time again for the kingdom of AmaZulu as well as for the president to whom the act gives powers to recognise monarchs.

Professor Siphamandla Zondi is the director of the Institute for Pan African Thought and Conversation.

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