Chief­taincy dis­pute ties up R30m de­vel­op­ment funds

CityPress - - News - PADDY HARPER paddy.harper@city­press.co.za

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 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 drawnout 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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