Inside track with Ndebele King Makhosonke II

2013-06-02 06:00

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As the most senior traditional leader, King Makhosonke II is rather easygoing.

It took just half-an-hour to secure an appointment with him, and he calmly answered his phone to give us directions to his offices, situated 11km north of KwaMhlanga.

A middleman got involved at our unintended request – we had wrongly assumed access to the Ndebele monarch involved passing a chain of retinues. We did, however, find three men in his company. Among them a prince, Thomas Mabhena.

The walls of his office buildings and traditional court are beautifully decorated with Ndebele art on the outside and, except for his framed photo on the wall bearing his name, the hide draping his office chair is the only item that hints at royalty.

King Makhosonke II was pronounced the legitimate Ndebele leader in 2010 following a five-year investigation by the presidential Nhlapho commission, which was assigned to resolve kingship disputes and declare legitimate kings in the country. We met the king at a time when the Ndebele culture has been put under public scrutiny following the deaths of more than 30 boys undergoing the ingoma (passage to manhood) ritual since the second week of May.

“Let me rather start by giving you background to the second issue about the Ndebele kingship,” he said, handing us a copy of a government notice from the presidency dated November 5 2010 with the headline: Recognition of kingships and kings in the Republic of South Africa.

Our first question was about the deaths in the initiation schools, but we obliged.

“The understanding was that after the Nhlapo Commission has made its determination, all kings in the country would be treated equally. Up to now that has not happened. Our argument has always been that government treated the Zulu king [Goodwill Zwelithini] better than all of us,” said King Makhosonke II.

The Zulu monarch’s annual budget and perks amount to R60 million from the KwaZulu-Natal government, while King Makhosonke II has to be content with R300 000 a year to do his work. Mabhena added: “The government has not yet treated Ingwenyama as a real king.”

The king is also concerned about the “two centres of power” created by the amendment of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003, that allowed those kings found to be illegitimate to keep their throne until they died. The Ndebeles have two kings now and are divided between two groups known as Manala and Ndzundza. The other leader is King Mabhoko III of the Ndzundza group.

“The amendment shifted the goalposts. The ruling party knows that you can’t have two centres of power. This has never been easy for us as the Ndebeles,” King Makhosonke II explained.

This reflected in the deaths at the Ndebele initiation schools this year. The buck here stops with the other monarch, King Mabhoko III, because he authorised these initiation schools where some of the deaths occurred.

“We can only sympathise with the families who lost their loved ones. I wasn’t involved with these schools this year. I authorised initiation schools last year and there were no incidents,” King Makhosonke II said.

King Mabhoko III’s family members and officials kept us waiting for an interview the whole week. It eventually did not happen.

King Mabhoko III’s spokespersons have even attributed the cause of deaths to witchcraft.

As King Makhosonke II walks us out after the meeting, he apologised for not offering us something to drink. “This interview wasn’t planned on time. Next time, we’ll organise cold drinks,” he said.

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