King's house

2008-03-15 00:00

Whenever the royal budget comes under consideration, controversy follows. Given the anomalous position of a monarchy within a democratic republic this is perhaps inevitable. For many people the king is a personage of the highest status who is entitled to all the trappings of royalty. To many others, a hereditary monarchy within a democracy is a contradiction, and an unelected leader should enjoy little more than titular respect. Beyond matters of constitutional principle, it is the way in which the royal finances are managed that repeatedly exacerbates the difficulty.

The royal guesthouse in Hillcrest is a case in point. Some R2,5 million was spent on buying it and a further R3,4 million budgeted for refurbishing it as accommodation for the king on his visits to the area. The purchase price was, arguably, not excessive and the motivation for acquiring it — that it would reduce the costs of hotel accommodation for the king and his travelling entourage — is valid. The problem is that having first approved the purchase, King Goodwill Zwelithini has since reportedly refused to use the house, citing a security risk.

A number of questions arise. What is the nature of the threat to the king’s security? Is it something specific to this locality? Is it political? Or is it much the same criminality that every householder has to deal with? And if security was inadequate at the outset (for a royal personage does have greater security needs than the ordinary citizen) why were these not dealt with as part of the refurbishment process? Was R3,4 million not sufficient? And a further question: Durban already has a residence, aptly named King’s House, designated for the accommodation of heads of state and other visitors of high status and apparently under-utilised. Why could the Zulu king not use that?

There may be excellent reasons why the king cannot use either the Durban or the Hillcrest house, but the bottom line is that the public has funded the acquisition of a costly white elephant. As long as this sort of thing goes on, questions will continue to arise about the king’s needs and about whether they are being as responsibly and frugally managed as they should be.

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