Zulu king will stop at nothing to protect his cookie jar
In his almost 50 years as king of the Zulu nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini has faced legitimacy questions and challenges to his status as the only monarch in KwaZulu-Natal.
The formation and dissolution of kingdoms have been subject to political machination in our country since colonialism; if indeed kingdoms are so fixed, former president Jacob Zuma would not have announced in 2010 that six of the 13 kingships in place then would be phased out once the incumbents died.
The Nhlapo commission established to deal with traditional leadership claims traces the creation of the kingship of the Zulus to Shaka after he ascended the throne in 1816. Before this, the commission holds, the Zulus "constituted a small polity, composed of several communities who may be said to have lived in a loose confederation".
This context is important in understanding the present-day politics around the Ingonyama Trust, which was hurriedly brought into effect a mere three days before the 1994 general election. The trust was a product of the political machinations of the time and has nothing to do with the traditions and customs of the Zulu nation.
The Ingonyama Trust is a land-administration tool subject to challenge and, of course, repeal since it was given effect through legislative instruments. There is no similar trust anywhere else in the country. As a result it has become a private kitty for the king. He is now hellbent on protecting it, much to the disapproval of many South Africans who fear that the king is beating the war drums.
The king is thriving on disinformation, fear-mongering and, to some degree, people's ignorance.
It is disinformation to pretend that former president Kgalema Motlanthe has started a war against the king. Motlanthe was appointed by the speaker of the National Assembly to chair a high-level panel that was to review hundreds of pieces of legislation on a cross-section of issues.The Ingonyama Trust Act is an imperfect piece of legislation. The panel found that its intention was that the land entrusted to the king would "later be surveyed into specific parcels and transferred to 'tribes and communities' in KwaZulu-Natal as delineated in terms of the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951".
This has never happened.
The king is benefiting from having smartly navigated the country's vulnerability before the 1994 elections. He wishes to continue benefiting from such an imperfect deal.
The trust holds about 30% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal. The king, as the Motlanthe panel found, exercises far greater influence than the national minister does in similar areas elsewhere in the country. This means people in KwaZulu-Natal suffer a more precarious state of land tenure than do rural folks elsewhere.
The king's other point of disinformation is to muddle the discussion on the trust with calls for land expropriation without compensation. This is so opportunistic it hurts the national fibre of land discourse.
These are two separate conversations. One is about creating a sound and secure land management system in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the other is about land acquisition for purposes of land reform.
If the Ingonyama Trust Act is repealed, all it means is that overarching powers of land management would be devolved to communities. This would arguably create greater democratisation and security for people - away from the king, who has acted as a rapacious landowner.
The king has wide powers to determine the course of the trust, and this is what is suddenly under threat. He is simply flexing his muscles and using warmongering tactics to protect his cookie jar. It has nothing to do with Zulu traditions.
South Africans must discuss how best to secure the land rights of people in rural areas without disrupting the social capital of these communities.
Yes, the king could be tempted to call for secession from South Africa, but it is only 30% of KwaZulu-Natal he would be calling for to leave, not the entire province.
• Mnguni is a researcher and public commentator at the University of KZN