Chieftaincy dispute ties up R30m development funds

Development funds amounting to R30 million have been withheld since 2010 because of a protracted court battle over the succession process regarding the chieftaincy in the local Mbuyazi clan in KwaMbonambi, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The money, paid to the community by Richards Bay Minerals as compensation for mining on the clan’s ancestral land for the past 40 years, is locked in a trust until the dispute over the chieftaincy is resolved by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg.

Three neighbouring communities have already been paid a lump sum of R15.5 million for community development initiatives, and have received an annual payout of R3 million since 2009.

A sitting chief of the Mbuyazi clan stands to receive R150 000 a year as part of the deal. The community was awarded R66 million on its land claim.

Last week, KwaMbonambi residents in the Uthungulu District Municipality, which is 29km northeast of Empangeni, blocked access to the mine and burnt heavy machinery, forcing it to shut down for three days.

Residents want jobs and contracting opportunities, and want Richards Bay Minerals to increase the amount of money it invests in community development initiatives.

The dispute over the chieftaincy reached a climax in 2010 when then premier Zweli Mkhize deposed Sibusiso Mbuyazi and replaced him with his half-brother, Mkhanyiseni Mbonambi.

Sibusiso went to the high court to challenge his removal, but died before the matter could be heard.

His widow, Sithembile Mbuyazi, then went to the high court to apply for an order to allow her to act on behalf of her minor son’s legal standing as heir apparent, and also as executrix of her late husband’s estate. When her application was turned down, she went to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which ruled that the KwaZulu-Natal High Court should hear the matter.

She then returned to the high court and filed an application to be allowed to use R2 million from the trust fund for legal costs. Her attorney, Johan Bekker, told City Press that the matter would be heard on May 31.

However, Sithembile’s application is being opposed by former Premier Senzo Mchunu.

Bekker said the high court would have to decide on the dispute over the chieftainship. Should the deposal of Sibusiso in 2010 be declared unlawful, his son, who is now nine years old, will be technically first in line to assume the chieftainship.

Sithembile, who went into hiding after the judgment because of death threats from the community, no longer lives in KwaMbonambi, according to Bekker, who said her life was “still in danger”.

“The inkosi is a vital trustee and the trust cannot function if there is a dispute over the chieftainship. The matter has been a very drawn-out one,” Bekker said.

He said his client had been forced to go to the high court to seek intervention so that she could secure the right to represent her child and enforce his rights to the chieftaincy as the eldest son of the first wife of the inkosi.

“The proceedings have been going on since 2010. People are understandably getting disgruntled with the system as there is no apparent resolution. Maybe that explains some of the protests in the area,” he said.

Richards Bay Minerals spokesperson Fundi Dlamini confirmed that the money was being held in a trust by the company because of the court dispute and would be disbursed, with interest, once the courts had ruled.

Ndabezinhle Sibiya, spokesperson for Mchunu, said: “As you are fully aware, the matter is before the court of law. At this stage, we prefer to allow the court process to unfold. We are therefore not in a position to make any further comments.”

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