Chief’s widow on the run: ‘They want my son dead’

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala

Chief’s widow is wary that KZN premier’s intervention in royalty dispute may not bring about peace in protracted battle that has left a trail of death

Sithembile Mkhize has little faith that a facilitator appointed by KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Premier Sihle Zikalala to bring about peace in a dispute over succession to her late husband’s throne will succeed in brokering a lasting solution between the warring factions.

Mkhize, the widow of deposed Inkosi Sibusiso Zwelibhekile Mbuyazi of the Mbuyazi traditional authority in KwaMbonambi, on the province’s north coast, is particularly worried about the safety of her minor son, who is tipped as heir to the Mbuyazi throne.

She has had to stay on the run to protect the boy, who is allegedly being sought by hired assassins in a succession war compounded by a R67 million royalties payout.

Although the battle is playing itself out in a little corner of KZN, it’s reflective of the prevailing situation in other parts of the province, where communities are torn apart by a new scramble for mineral wealth in rural communities that previously survived on subsistence farming.

An estimated 30 people have been killed in the past two years in what is believed to be hits on people fighting for the rights of communities affected by mining in various parts of the province.

The mining boom has already left a trail of destruction, especially in the KZN north coast in areas such as Empembeni, Somkhele, Mtubatuba, Lake St Lucia and in the coal mining district of Newcastle and Dannhauser.

The killings are allegedly linked to oil drilling and mining activities proposed for the area.

Most of the people killed are community activists who were against the forced evictions of residents to make way for the extraction of raw material and rich minerals from their ancestral soil.

“It seems that corruption lies at the heart of these killings. Some of those who have died knew of gross corruption relating to tender allocation [involving work for Richards Bay Minerals (RBM)] and alleged serious corruption in the traditional authority, possibly linked to a payment to the authority made by the Ingonyama Trust relating to mining income,” Mary de Haas, a KZN violence monitor and researcher, told Mukurukuru Media.

She said there seemed to be no will from government or traditional leadership to pay attention to the grievances of the community and the fact that innocent lives continued being lost.

A distressed Mkhize said she doesn’t have a problem being part of the proposed talks.

“But I need assurance that my son and I will be safe. I was portrayed as an enemy of the people because I took the matter to court to fight for what belongs to my son.

“This made me flee the area because my son’s life was in danger. They want him dead. I also had to change his schools now and again because of his safety. Imagine the impact this has on a child,” Mkhize said.

Recently, a provincial cabinet delegation led by Zikalala met with the warring factions in a bid to mend hostile relations.

Zikalala said a mediator will facilitate talks between the various factions on the Mbuyazi tribal council, a process that would hopefully lead to the appointment of a regent favoured by all parties.

“As government, we plead with everyone to give the Mbuyazi royal family space to discuss their traditional leadership succession peacefully, without any undue interference,” he said.

Zikalala said because the matter was the subject of a court case, government previously made attempts to speak to the family to appoint a regent but failed.

He said this led to government appointing an administrator, but highlighted that it would be ideal to get someone agreed upon by the family.

Zikalala said prominent Durban lawyer Comfort Ngidi had been appointed as a negotiations facilitator.

The provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs will also form part of the negotiations, together with a delegation from the Zulu royal house sent by King Goodwill Zwelithini.

But Mkhize is not convinced that this will work.

“I have my own reservations in any assistance provided for by government. From the outset, since the death of my husband, the government has failed to be a neutral party. Instead it chose sides. What will change now? Even now, I’m in and out of courts and the state has brought in expensive lawyers to stifle my case. So how can I trust the process to be fair?” she asked.

Since the death of Inkosi Mtholeni Mbuyazi in 2005, the village has never enjoyed any peace, with rival factions fighting over the vacant chieftaincy seat.

The royal war eventually spilt over to ordinary villagers, who were forced to pick sides.

Mbuyazi, who had nine wives, died without a will, resulting in a dispute and skirmishes between the self-proclaimed heirs to the throne.

In December last year, Meshack Mbuyazi, who was key negotiator in forcing the two factions to come to an agreement, was shot dead near a local shisa nyama.

Three community activists have also been killed in the ongoing feud.

They were allegedly targeted after they had raised issues about the villagers being sidelined in the community trust.

The attack has been seen as an attempt to instil fear in other activists. No arrests have been made in any of the murders.

In 2006, Mkhize’s late husband ascended the Mbuyazi throne.

However, his half-brother, Mkhanyiseni Mbonambi, contested his ascendency and was installed as inkosi in March 2010.

But he too did not last in the seat.

In 2012, Hloniphi Mbuyazi, the widow of the deceased chief Mtholeni, was appointed by the court to handle administrative affairs of the chieftaincy until the appointment of a permanent inkosi.

That same year Sibusiso passed away, which led to his widow entering the leadership fray on behalf of her husband.

The matter is set for the Supreme Court of Appeal, where Mkhize wants the court to enforce her son’s right to the title and prevent Mbonambi from being installed as inkosi.

She lost her previous court attempts after the provincial government joined in to oppose her application, saying the litigation was straining relations in the community and within the Mbuyazi royal family.

Mkhize said court was her last resort.

“I would have preferred that the matter be handled traditionally by King Zwelithini as a neutral party and as the king of all kings, but my attempts at this failed so I had no choice but to go the legal route.

“This is not about me, but … the birthright of my son,” she said.

She wants a regent to be installed, with strict instructions that once her son is of age he’ll take the throne which “duly belongs to him”.

The Mbuyazi throne contestation is further complicated by mining proceeds amounting to millions in royalties controlled by the traditional authority on behalf of the community.

Community leader Ntozakhe Mkhathini shares Mkhize’s frustrations, saying villagers have lost confidence in any intervention by government.

He blames the introduction of Martin Mbuyazi, “who was branded as a Messiah to solve our problems”, for causing further problems.

He accused Martin of causing further divisions and misusing funds meant for land owners.

About R67 million has allegedly been paid by RBM, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, to the Mbuyazi traditional council as part of land claim compensation.

Mkhathini said the majority of villagers were livid that their money was siphoned off.

He said the committee which was tasked to disburse funds to beneficiaries was later stripped of its powers, which led to the removal of deserving residents.

He alleged that beneficiaries were replaced with fictitious people who were not from the area.

“In fact, when we did our own investigation, we found that those who benefited came from as far as Gauteng and other areas in the province, including some connected to politicians,” he said.

Martin was appointed by former KZN premier Willies Mchunu to look into the affairs of the Mbuyazi traditional authority amid the bad blood between the royal family over who is the rightful heir to the throne.

He was subsequently forced out after a violent protest broke out, with protesters demanding his removal on allegations of fraud and corruption.

Numerous attempts to reach Martin for comment on allegations levelled against him proved futile.

Zikalala said government’s priority was to see a regent being appointed as soon as possible.

The tense situation in KwaMbonambi has already led to many unprecedented closures at the RBM mine as violence spilled over to the mine’s shaft.

Four workers reportedly died when they were ambushed and killed while on duty.

The victims include Ronny Zondi, a human resources manager at RBM, who was heading a committee investigating the allegations of using company resources to divide the community and stoke tensions.

This story has been updated on June 26 to reflect a retraction that Mr Ngidi was a founder of the Friends of Jacob Zuma campaign.

In the article ”Chief’s widow on the run: ‘They want my son dead’” published on March 17 2020, City Press published the following statement “Ngidi was one of the founders of the Friends of Jacob Zuma campaign in the mid-2000s and remains a strong supporter of the former president.”

This statement is false as Mr Ngidi was never a founder of the Friends of Jacob Zuma campaign and we could not therefore use the inference to conclude that he remain a strong supporter of the former president.

City Press retracts the statement and apologises to Mr Ngidi for the inconvenience caused by the reporting.

Mukurukuru Media

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