Why does the ANC kowtow to the very tribal chiefs it had on the run under apartheid?

08 July 2018 - 00:00
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Image: Supplied

Why have the tribal chiefs who were apartheid's handmaidens not so long ago and on the run from comrades during the turbulent '80s suddenly become assertive and even bellicose in the era of democracy? They lived large under apartheid and they're still, as it were, lords of the manor in the new dispensation.

Chieftainship is the very antithesis of a democratic system; it's autocratic, domineering and takes no account of others' wishes. In a democracy, the voter is in charge; under a chief, the voter is a subject. Putting the two together is like mixing oil and water.

But the new South Africa is always an experiment. We're always eager to try new things. And democracy makes for strange bedfellows. It was in search of votes that the ANC rehabilitated these unelected tribal dictators and indulged them with every comfort and attention at the taxpayer's expense.

The result has been the formation of almost dictatorial enclaves within our much-vaunted democracy, a recreation of the bantustan system that the new constitutional dispensation had sought to abolish. South Africa may be a democracy but large chunks of its population live under a system inimical to it.

The political elite continues to put these troglodytes on a pedestal. The first thing Cyril Ramaphosa and the others in the ANC's top six did after their election at Nasrec in December last year was pay homage to King Goodwill Zwelithini at his Osuthu palace in Nongoma. Remember their little tribal shimmy with the king, in their Sunday best and with kierie in hand? The ANC was soon followed by Mmusi Maimane and his entourage. There was no shimmy this time. White men can't dance, I suppose.

Julius Malema, who as usual beat the two bigger parties to the punch, didn't arrive empty-handed. He brought four pregnant cows and a bull as a birthday gift for the king. We'll see whether that romance will survive the land reform debate.

Even Jacob Zuma, before resigning as president, made his way to Nongoma to seek Zwelithini's counsel. One would swear that Nongoma, not the Union Buildings, was the seat of government.

It was therefore not surprising to see Zwelithini, in his tribal finery and accoutrements, and bellicose as ever, almost threatening war against the state that keeps him and his ever-increasing harem well looked after.

Zwelithini's beef is obviously a recommendation by a panel headed by Kgalema Motlanthe that the Ingonyama Trust, which puts all communal land under tribal chiefs, be scrapped. It was a law surreptitiously passed by parliament during the death throes of the National Party government. It was designed to appease Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who, fearing imminent liberation and the demise of the bantustans, was threatening to secede. The Motlanthe panel has quite correctly recommended that the trust be abolished so that people living in communal lands may enjoy the same rights as everybody else.

Zwelithini is threatening to fight to keep it, although the only fight he's ever had was, ironically, against Buthelezi, and he came off second-best, bolting out of the legislature through the window.

But what was despicable about Wednesday's charade — apart from the warmongering and display of naked tribalism — was the demonisation of Motlanthe, as though he alone had made the recommendation. Buthelezi, his face almost buried under a clump of (ruffled?) feathers, did nothing to stop the denigration. He joined his king in stoking the fires of tribal nationalism.

We are Zulus, said Zwelithini — as if we didn't know.

According to the panel's report, the trust made R96-million in the 2015-16 financial year from people's rentals.

The terms are worth quoting at some length: "The ITB [Ingonyama Trust Board] lease agreement provides for a 40-year term, and a 10% annual increase on rental. It compels the 'lessee' to fence the property within six months. The lessee must obtain written permission to build and record all improvements, and submit these to ITB. The ITB is entitled to cancel the lease agreement for failure to pay rent. All buildings and structures that have been built on the land will belong to the Ingonyama Trust when the lessee vacates the premises."

And the report notes: "There's little evidence that the revenue generated by the leases is used for the benefit of the communities or their material wellbeing. The Trust has built up very substantial reserves."

Obviously the Ingonyama Trust is a lucrative money-making scheme for Zwelithini. At worst, it's become a state within a state: he controls the land and people pay taxes to him. No wonder he feels threatened by attempts at land reform.

It's also not surprising that Malema has a kind word for him. The Ingonyama Trust is a microcosm of what would ultimately happen to the entire country should the EFF version of land reform become a reality. They don't want people to own land, or have title deeds. They want all land to be owned by the government and for people to lease it. That's not freedom; that's slavery. It takes us back to the 99-year leasehold that used to be offered to black people under apartheid.

The ANC, according to Fikile Mbalula, has no view on the Ingonyama Trust. Ramaphosa has since said the current drive to grab land without payment won't affect communal land. Not for the first time, the party has sided with powerful interests against the needs of ordinary people.

Maybe one more reason why it shouldn't be returned to power.

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