Game of thrones: A battle for Zulu riches

16 December 2021 - 10:44
By zimasa matiwane AND Zimasa Matiwane
The funeral procession of Queen Regent Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu makes its way to her palace and final resting place at KwaNongoma, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu The funeral procession of Queen Regent Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu makes its way to her palace and final resting place at KwaNongoma, in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

To celebrate our award-winning journalism, Sunday Times Daily is republishing some of the best articles of the year, including those that walked away with an accolade in the Vodacom journalism awards. The below piece won the provincial Investigations category for KwaZulu-Natal. 

At weddings the congregation is offered the chance to object to the nuptials, but no such ritual exists at the reading of a will. This did not stop Prince Thokozani Zulu from disrupting proceedings when a relative, Prince Misuzulu, was named the new king of the Zulu.

The will of the late Queen Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu was read at KwaKhangelamankengane royal palace on Friday night, naming her eldest son, Prince Misuzulu, as the Zulu king.

Thokozani outraged some but was applauded by others when he questioned this. Thokozani is the son of Prince Penuel, brother of King Cyprian, who was the father of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

He said that the will of the late King Zwelithini, who died in March, did not specify who would take over from Queen Mantfombi, third wife and official consort to the king, who became queen regent after Zwelithini's death.

Thokozani said: "The royal house should decide because the will did not say who should take over from the queen." He also questioned the validity of the queen's regency and whether it had been gazetted.

Chaos erupted and Prince Misuzulu was hustled away by his bodyguards. It was the culmination of a feud that has simmered for some time. A section of the extended royal family is convinced that the throne was not Queen Mantfombi's to give and that the king's disputed will, elevating her to the throne, does not name her successor.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, traditional prime minister of the Zulus and former IFP leader, attempted to silence Thokozani. He said it was not the correct platform to raise such issues. The elders and Queen Mantfombi's children kept silent. Another faction loudly backed the prince's complaint.

Prince Thokozani has disputed the naming of his second cousin, Prince Misuzulu, as king, and a legal battle may ensue.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu Prince Thokozani has disputed the naming of his second cousin, Prince Misuzulu, as king, and a legal battle may ensue.

When Queen Mantfombi was buried on Friday morning, mourners pleaded for unity and peace, but founding affidavits and supporting documents lodged against the king's will by his first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini, and two princesses, demonstrate that the succession dispute will be lengthy.

Misuzulu, first-born son of the late queen regent, and touted by many as the rightful heir to the throne, was the first to call for unity in the royal Zulu household. The prince's tribute to his mother at her funeral showed his awareness of the battle that lies ahead, but it also served as a public declaration of his desire for peace.

"We have no doubt we will unite as a family. Let us emulate the king by being peaceful and continue to love all the queens," said the prince.

Whether that was sincere will become apparent in how he navigates the turbulent times ahead.

Sihle Zikalala, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal, also pleaded for unity and for the security of the throne for the sake of the Zulu people.

"No nation developed or advanced itself without leadership, unity, discipline, and hard work," he said.

Zikalala pleaded for the royal family to speak with one voice and to lead "as Her Majesty Queen Mantfombi and His Majesty King Goodwill ka Bhekuzulu would have wished. We have no doubt that the entire Zulu royal family will provide the required leadership it has been known for over centuries."

Inkosi Phathisizwe Chiliza, chair of the House of Traditional Leaders in KwaZulu-Natal, also asked that the royal family display the unity, dignity and peace that the king worked to maintain throughout his life.

Time will tell whether these pleas succeed as the succession battle heads to the Pietermaritzburg court in the form of documents disputing, among other things, King Zwelithini's final will.

King Zwelithini's 50-year reign expanded in influence and financial muscle from KwaNongoma to the Union Buildings. The transition has not been easy. From its founding 204 years ago, the Zulu kingdom has faced challenges. The monarchy had to fight encroachment by colonialists while consolidating its power. One element has been consistent: a never-ending battle about the next in line to the throne.

King Zwelithini's era began when the Zulu nation had been relegated to KwaZulu, one of 10 "homelands" created under apartheid. When SA became free in 1994, many expected that the Zulu nation would also be freed from oppression by a powerful federalist strongman and ally of ethnic politics.

The king proved to be a powerful strategist, tactfully navigating threats to his finances and allaying any fears of a bid for political independence.

But the king, who guarded his throne from the political pressures of the homeland, shepherding his people through many storms, has now left his family in uncertainty.

The succession battle began as soon as the king was interred. It has become clear that conventional wisdom has no place in this argument, and that any established line of succession is fragile.

The throne is rocking on its plinth, the lines of succession disorderly. There are conflicting interests and proxy wars in the fight for control and proximity to an estate estimated to be worth billions of rands.

The king's mostly hidden imperfections are beginning to reach the public via highly publicised spats between members of his family. It seems that anyone with even a drop of royal blood can issue a media statement.

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Image: Sandile Ndlovu Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi

The most shocking of these have contained allegations that the king's will may have been forged.

The will has been referred to as a "so-called will" by those who believe it to be a forgery. It names a successor and seeks to achieve what the king did not do while he was still alive: nullify the terms of his marriage to Queen Sibongile. The will also states that any beneficiary who questions its contents will be cut off from the family fortune.

There are other complications.

Central to the conflict is control of the Zulu Royal Family Trust, established by the provincial government to look after the needs of the queens and the upkeep of the palaces.

It is unclear if the trust will continue to cater for the expensive tastes of King Zwelithini's widows after the coronation of a new king, who might come with new queens.

The trust is responsible for hiring luxury cars for the queens as well as all maintenance, renovations and repairs at the palaces, including the manicured gardens and provision of fittings and appliances.

Between April 2018 and July 2019, the government spent more than R7m on repairs and renovations at Kwakhangela palace alone. These included marble floors installed at a cost of R1.4m and replacement of damaged carpets that cost R1m.

The trust is not part of the king's annual budget, which costs the province more each year, the latest figure being R71m.

Next comes the controversial Ingonyama Trust, established to administer land traditionally occupied by the Zulu people. This trust collected R118.4m in rents just over a year ago and is reported to own assets worth R24.4bn.

These trusts and their many offshoots, according to the disputed will, are to be administered by the king's successor and his chosen allies.

The queen regent has been buried but there are still five queens and 34 princes and princesses from the six palaces. Powerful presences include Princess Thembi Ndlovu, Prince Mxolisi Zulu, Prince Mathuba Zulu, Prince Mbonisi Zulu and the Queen Mother, Mavis Zulu.

The first salvo in this battle was fired from KwaKhethomthandayo royal palace, where the king's first wife and two of her daughters live. They are foremost in questioning the authenticity of the will.

KwaKhangela, the royal palace that was home to the queen regent for 44 years, might also feature as a battleground. Since the queen's death, her regency and position as consort have been challenged by legal interdict.

In the other palaces, the king's descendants have been quiet, at least in public, but who knows what webs are being spun behind closed doors?

The residents of KwaDlamahlahla royal palace (residence of Queen Buhle kaMathe), Linduzulu royal palace (home to Queen Thandekile Ndlovu), Usuthu/Enyokeni royal palace (Queen Nompumelelo Mchiza) and Ondini royal palace (Queen Zola KaMafuhave) have not yet entered the fray.

Where they stand will likely become clear when they file responding affidavits to the two impending cases in which they are respondents.

The king's first wife has asked the court to affirm her marriage to King Zwelithini as a civil union in community of property. In her founding affidavit she said: "I am now set up to be subjected to consequences of a marriage regime I did not choose to enter."

The influence of Mangosuthu Buthelezi depends on the next king's loyalty to him. He backs Misuzulu kaZwelethini.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu TO THE MANOR BORN The influence of Mangosuthu Buthelezi depends on the next king's loyalty to him. He backs Misuzulu kaZwelethini.

This falling out could leave the Zulu people without a leader for the foreseeable future.

A clause in the king's disputed will reveals that he foresaw conflict in the family.

"I direct any beneficiary of my last will and testament, who is invariably also listed as a beneficiary in the list of the Royal Household Trust, who shall purport despite my wishes set out herein to asset [sic] or claim any additional property rights than others to my property set forth herein shall automatically lose his/her rights as beneficiary in the Royal Household Trust as per the list and her/his name shall be removed therefrom forthwith and all benefits derived therefrom be terminated with immediate effect. This shall apply irrespective of the outcomes of the attempts to assert greater or additional rights," reads the clause.

The will also tackles the subject of his first marriage, now a legal matter. It declares: "The notion of marital in community of property is foreign to the Zulu people regardless of their social and financial standing. No Zulu king has ever got married to one wife or in community of property. This is because of the very nature of our laws and culture."

The will also argues that "I have been legally advised that in recognition of the fact that the notion of 'in community of property' is foreign to the African people; even governments prior to democratic dispensation legislated in the Black Administration Act of 1927 that unless there was no prior arrangement to the contrary between the intending couples at least 30 days prior to the wedding day a civil marriage among black people was automatically out of community of property."

A forensic report, commissioned by an attorney hired by the daughters of Queen Sibongile, examined eight signatures on the will of Zwelithini. They were allegedly signed in 2016 (set 1) and compared with two known signatures, one from a dedication book signed in 2009 and a signature on a wine bottle dated 2010 (set 2).

In conclusion the report said: "Based on and in accordance with accepted and proven document-examination standards, and in view of certain individual characteristics as has been described and elaborated on in the above letter, with a special attention to those points reflecting uncharacteristic noted next to them, I can conclude that set 1 and set 2 have not been written/signed by the same hand, being that of late His Majesty the King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuZulu."

This will be presented as evidence in the legal battle to come. Another question mark hangs over an ID number of the named successor; it was modified with a pen. The witnesses did not sign the change.

"Given this context, the will contains a clause appointing SM Zulu to be the successor to the throne. The identity number of the said SM Zulu has been altered and the alteration is not countersigned by the witnesses," according to the princesses' affidavit.

The assets - of which Sibongile believes she is entitled to half - are divided in the will as follows:

"In each respective palace to the respective queen of that palace plus the sum of equal proportional amounts in my investments ... payment is conditional upon each beneficiary unconditionally accepting to abide by the terms of this my last will and testament.

"The throne, common properties and all residue of my estate shall vest on Queen Thomo trust for the benefit of the Zulu royal throne and family."

The king's first wife is demanding that his estate not be disposed until the matter of her marriage is settled. The king married six times but Queen Sibongile's argument is that only his first marriage was binding.

Her affidavit states: "Isilo [King Zwelithini] was not legally capable nor permitted in law to enter into any other marriages while our civil union existed, we have never been divorced and remained married to each other in community of property until the death of the late Isilo."

Judging by the affidavit, she seems to fear that if a successor is installed, that person will have the power to disinherit her.

"With the second respondent appointed as [Ibambabukhosi] regent she will be entitled to dispose of and alienate the property of the late Isilo and it is necessary to obtain an order that 50% belongs to me."

Only once her half has been set aside will she accept that the will and its provisions may be applied.

The princesses go a step further, asking for "an interdict that prevents the execution of the last will and testament until such time that a court of law determines whether the signatures appearing in the last will and testament are those of the late Isilo".

What is already a complex battle between royals fighting for a throne becomes even more convoluted with others having a stake. One of these is Jerome Ngwenya, chair of the Ingonyama board.

Ngwenya's role is huge. According to the king's disputed will, he is to act as manager and co-ordinator of "all relevant activities, including but not limited to, liaising and assisting the executor, ensuring that the executor expeditiously progresses his/her mandate without undue delay, co-ordinates all affairs of the entire royal family and ensures that it is kept informed on all developments, be a link among the royal family members, the executor, government and the royal council, attends to every detail required by the royal family to discharge its duties."

Nothing moves without Ngwenya's say-so, nor does he wish to surrender the borrowed power of the throne. Ngwenya has made it clear that he will fight any court action that seeks to invalidate the king's will and marriage status. He claims to be looking out for the king, not for his own benefit as a lieutenant of wealthy trusts and with his proximity to power.

Ngwenya's political power and control of the throne have been evident since even before democracy. Buthelezi is also hanging tightly to the ties that make him relevant.

For Buthelezi to remain prime minister it is essential that he retains the loyalty of the king's successor. One of the notable benefits of being close to the throne was Buthelezi's ability to convert Inkatha YaKwaZulu into a political organisation in the 1970s. It became the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

For a time Buthelezi had influence with the king, but his gate-keeping ended and he could no longer prevent political leaders from meeting King Zwelithini without him being in attendance.

Zwelithini became a trustee of vast lands through the Ingonyama Trust, which was enacted in the dying days of apartheid and remains a contentious area in land reform.

The king, deciding that he was no political player, charted a new path of political neutrality and even asked Nelson Mandela, then president, to make a constitutional ruling that traditional leaders should stay out of politics.

Not all was strife. There were celebrations at KwaKhangelamankengane royal palace in KwaNongoma after Prince Misuzulu was named  the future king.
Image: Supplied Not all was strife. There were celebrations at KwaKhangelamankengane royal palace in KwaNongoma after Prince Misuzulu was named the future king.

This did not have much effect on Buthelezi, who still plays a key role in family meetings. His position remains intact but he has recently alienated some members of the king's family.

Recently, the king's siblings asked Buthelezi to remove himself from the affairs of the Zulu royal family. Zwelithini's sister, Princess Tembi, said: "His time ended long ago. The reason why he is still in that position is because we respect him. We are told that he is the prime minister of King Bhusha [King Cyprian Bhekuzulu, the father of Zwelithini]. The king [Zwelithini] never had a prime minister and the next king will appoint his own prime minister."

Buthelezi hit back, saying that princes Mbonisi and Thokozani were born out of wedlock. Thokozani, said Buthelezi, had always been known as a Msweli, while Mbonisi should be grateful he was given royal roles despite his birth.

Buthelezi has been described as one of the strongest allies of the late queen regent. His reverence for Queen Mantfombi was evident when he took to the podium on Friday, saying that she was a "woman of tremendous dignity and grace".

"Simply from the way she carried herself one could see that she was born to royalty," he said. "Yet her defining feature was humility. She had a deep concern for her people, particularly for the women of the Zulu nation. She stretched out her hands and helped them to rise. As always, she put the Zulu nation first."

Now the Zulu royal family has swapped grief for conflict, the Zulu people has abandoned mourning for gossiping, and the wolves are circling for what is expected to be a long battle for the most powerful and lucrative throne in SA.

While the palace at the centre of Friday's conflict was calm yesterday, the battle is just beginning.