‘Peace chief’ Ma­phu­mulo hon­oured

Or­der of the Luthuli in Gold is to be awarded to the late Inkosi Mh­labun­z­ima Joseph Ma­phu­mulo for his ser­vice to all South Africans

The Witness - - FRONT PAGE - JILL E. KELLY

PRES­I­DENT Cyril Ramaphosa will award the Or­der of the Luthuli in Gold to the late Inkosi Mh­labun­z­ima Joseph Ma­phu­mulo of Ta­ble Moun­tain in KwaZulu-Natal.

The award recog­nises that the chief made “an ex­cep­tional con­tri­bu­tion to con­flict res­o­lu­tion and to re­sis­tance against in­jus­tice and op­pres­sion. He lost his life fight­ing for his peo­ple.” Ma­phu­mulo was the chief of the Ma­phu­mulo at Ta­ble Moun­tain, but the peo­ple for whom he fought ex­tended be­yond his ru­ral chief­dom, earn­ing him the moniker of “peace chief”.

Ma­phu­mulo was born in 1949, the first son of Nosib­hedlela Md­lalose and Inkosi Fu­nizwe Ma­phu­mulo. The young Ma­phu­mulo spent much of his youth in Eden­dale, where he schooled and loved to play foot­ball, while re­gents gov­erned on his be­half. He later at­tended school at Bhekuzulu Col­lege for the Sons of Chiefs and Head­men and KwaDlangezwa in Ngoye. He was in­stalled as chief of the Ma­phu­mulo at Ta­ble Moun­tain in 1973.

He quickly earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a “rebel chief” and “mav­er­ick” for his anti-Inkatha and pro-roy­al­ist stances in the KwaZulu Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly (KZLA). Ma­phu­mulo main­tained a rocky re­la­tion­ship with Inkatha and its lead­ers through­out the sev­en­ties and early eight­ies. In 1983, he ran as an in­de­pen­dent in the KZLA elec­tions, af­ter which mem­bers of the Inkatha Youth Bri­gade beat him un­con­scious for his re­fusal to join Inkatha.

But Ma­phu­mulo earned a new rep­u­ta­tion, that of “peace chief”, in the late eight­ies as civil war wrought havoc in the Natal Mid­lands. Con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates sug­gest that 13 000 peo­ple died be­tween 1985 and 1996 in KwaZulu-Natal. Thou­sands more were made home­less.

Ma­phu­mulo wel­comed those dis­placed by the vi­o­lence to Ta­ble Moun­tain, which ini­tially re­mained a haven of peace in a re­gion at war. Peo­ple fled from the war-torn town­ships, camp­ing at his court or pay­ing khonza for ac­cess to land. He wel­comed peo­ple re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions and refugees in­cluded Inkatha sup­port­ers, United Demo­cratic Front (UDF)-aligned fam­i­lies and the un­af­fil­i­ated.

He be­lieved it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of chiefs to help end the civil war rav­aging the re­gion. As the rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Mpumalanga district in the KZLA, Ma­phu­mulo spear­headed ef­forts in Mpumalanga, where some of the dead­li­est vi­o­lence of the late eight­ies oc­curred, and or­gan­ised sev­eral other peace ini­tia­tives where he brought to­gether sup­port­ers of Inkatha and the UDF. In 1989, he be­gan work­ing with Lawyers for Hu­man Rights to cam­paign for a ju­di­cial in­quiry into causes of the vi­o­lence. When then pres­i­dent P.W. Botha and min­is­ter of Law and Or­der Adri­aan Vlok re­sponded that there was no break­down in law and or­der to in­ves­ti­gate, Ma­phu­mulo re­fused to be de­terred.

Ma­phu­mulo’s quest for peace at­tracted the at­ten­tion of African Na­tional Congress and UDF ac­tivists who re­cruited the chief into a new or­gan­i­sa­tion of tra­di­tional lead­ers against apartheid — the Congress of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers of South Africa (Con­tralesa). Ma­phu­mulo ex­plained his choice to join Con­tralesa in the ANC Sech­aba jour­nal: ‘One has to move with the peo­ple. If one is lead­ing a peo­ple who are pro­gres­sive, I think it is right and proper to be also pro­gres­sive as a leader. Be­cause my peo­ple are in the Mass Demo­cratic Move­ment, I have to be with them.” At the first meet­ing of Con­tralesa na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tives in June 1989, mem­bers elected Ma­phu­mulo as in­terim pres­i­dent.

Ma­phu­mulo used his new po­si­tion with Con­tralesa to fur­ther peace ef­forts and shape South Africa’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy. Un­der Ma­phu­mulo’s guid­ance, Con­tralesa re­solved to re­main neu­tral to re­cruit tra­di­tional lead­ers but also to meet with the ANC in ex­ile. Ma­phu­mulo led a Con­tralesa del­e­ga­tion to Lusaka in Au­gust 1989. The meet­ing re­sulted in a joint me­moran­dum that recog­nised the role of tra­di­tional lead­er­ship in re­sist­ing apartheid and promised a place for amakhosi in the new South Africa. Af­ter the first meet­ing in Lusaka with the ANC, an MK body­guard was as­signed to pro­tect Ma­phu­mulo and his good friend, then ibamba of the Ximba, Zibuse Mlaba. Ma­phu­mulo and Mlaba iden­ti­fied lo­cal young men to be sent to the Transkei for mil­i­tary train­ing.

Work­ing through Con­tralesa and the South African Coun­cil of Churches, Ma­phu­mulo ini­ti­ated a com­mis­sion of in­quiry into the vi­o­lence that he had ear­lier failed to do through the state. The com­mis­sion opened at Ubunye House in De­cem­ber 1989. Vic­tim tes­ti­monies at the com­mis­sion re­vealed Inkatha’s forced re­cruit­ment cam­paigns. Ma­phu­mulo took the com­mis­sion’s find­ings to Switzer­land to present a re­port to the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion of Jurists (ICJ). The re­port, based on the tes­ti­monies of nearly 100 wit­nesses, con­vinced the ICJ to send a mis­sion to Natal to in­ves­ti­gate gov­ern­ment col­lu­sion. On the same trip to Europe, Ma­phu­mulo met with Con­tralesa fun­ders in Swe­den and O.R. Tambo in Lon­don, where he pro­claimed his be­lief that the vi­o­lence would not end un­til apartheid ended.

As De Klerk an­nounced the un­ban­ning of the ANC, Pan African­ist Congress, and other lib­er­a­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions, Ma­phu­mulo’s haven of peace was on fire. The spread of the war to Ta­ble Moun­tain was shaped by lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion over a dis­puted piece of land and re­gional and na­tional pol­i­tics. Thou­sands of Ma­phu­mulo’s fol­low­ers fled to safety in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg; the city re­luc­tantly es­tab­lished a camp for the Ta­ble Moun­tain refugees at Ma­son’s Mill.

Ma­phu­mulo’s quest for peace and work with Con­tralesa wrought the ire not only of Inkatha and its lead­ers but also the apartheid state. The chief nar­rowly es­caped sev­eral ear­lier as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts. In June 1990, un­known as­sailants opened fire on his car, killing brothers Al­son and Nelson Kunene and in­jur­ing Deda Hlophe. The per­pe­tra­tors did not know that the chief had taken the bus when the trio was late to pick him up. The next month, Durban po­lice chased and de­tained Ma­phu­mulo and his MK body­guard. The chief ’s Maqongqo home­stead was de­stroyed in sev­eral at­tacks, forc­ing him to move to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg. It was in the drive­way of his 95 Have­lock Road home that a hit squad fi­nally suc­ceeded in elim­i­nat­ing the peace chief.

On Fe­bru­ary 25, 1991, sev­eral men opened fire on Ma­phu­mulo’s car as he re­turned home from a par­ent-teacher meet­ing. He was alone, an ir­reg­u­lar­ity that led many to sus­pect one of his body­guards was a po­lice in­for­mant. Neigh­bours rushed the chief to North­dale Hos­pi­tal, but it was too late. The chief would not live to see the end of the vi­o­lence or the dawn­ing of democ­racy in South Africa. He was 42.

The ANC or­gan­ised a mass po­lit­i­cal fu­neral for the chief, mourn­ing him as a strug­gle hero. Thou­sands at­tended a ser­vice at the Eden­dale Lay Ec­u­meni­cal Cen­tre with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the ANC, Con­tralesa, and Cosatu, and sev­eral days later, the fu­neral at Wadley Sta­dium. From the sta­dium, a pro­ces­sion of buses trav­elled to Maqongqo to bury the late chief. One fu­neral at­tendee re­called that Ja­cob Zuma, Chris Hani, and Tokyo Sexwale were there, and that dur­ing the salute of the late chief, Hani leapt upon the grave.

Days af­ter the chief’s death, Sipho Madlala con­fessed to The Natal Wit­ness that he was a mem­ber of the hit squad that mur­dered Ma­phu­mulo. Madlala’s claims forced a pro­vin­cial in­quiry into the mur­der. The po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his death was a farce — those in­volved had earned rep­u­ta­tions for their coverup work — and in­con­sis­ten­cies plagued the in­quest that ul­ti­mately found that “per­sons un­known” killed the chief. Madlala dis­ap­peared.

We may never know who pulled the trig­ger on Fe­bru­ary 25, 1991, but ev­i­dence from the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion con­nected Ma­phu­mulo’s as­sas­si­na­tion to state-spon­sored hit squads un­der Capri­v­ian Dalux­olo Luthuli. Luthuli was the MK mem­ber turned com­mis­sar of Inkatha’s para­mil­i­tary wing who over­saw the 200 Inkatha sup­port­ers trained by the South African De­fence Force in the Caprivi Strip. He tes­ti­fied to the TRC that Capri­v­ian Phum­lani Xolani Mshengu and a Cap­tain Khany­ile of the KwaZulu Po­lice’s Bu­reau of State In­tel­li­gence were re­spon­si­ble for Ma­phu­mulo’s mur­der. The TRC granted Luthuli amnesty. No one was held ac­count­able for the chief ’s death.

Inkosi Mh­labun­z­ima Ma­phu­mulo gave his life in ser­vice and in death to ob­tain peace and democ­racy in South Africa. In 2005, the city of Pi­eter­mar­itzburg recog­nised this by re­nam­ing the Baynes Drift Road to Ta­ble Moun­tain in hon­our of the chief.

The award of the Or­der of the Luthuli in Gold high­lights that Ma­phu­mulo served not only his peo­ple at Ta­ble Moun­tain and in the Mid­lands, but all South Africans. Ma­phu­mulo joins an es­teemed list of strug­gle he­roes hon­oured with the Or­der of the Luthuli in Gold, in­clud­ing Al­fred Nzo, Z.K. Matthews, Hilda Bern­stein, An­ton Lem­bede, Robert Re­sha, A.B. Xuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

His fam­ily in KwaZulu-Natal, who will ac­cept the post­hu­mous award at a cer­e­mony in Pre­to­ria, in­clude uM­gun­gundlovu District Municipality Mayor Thobek­ile Ma­phu­mulo, Inkosi Nh­laka­nipho Ma­phu­mulo, Buy­iswa Mthiyane and Than­dokuhle Ma­phu­mulo.

• Jill E. Kelly is as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of his­tory at South­ern Methodist Univer­sity in Dal­las, Texas, U.S.. She com­pleted her Ph.D. in African his­tory at Michi­gan State Univer­sity in 2012. Her book To Swim with Crocodiles: Land, Vi­o­lence and Be­long­ing in

South Africa, 1800-1996, is a so­cial and in­tel­lec­tual his­tory of ukukhonza — a prac­tice of af­fil­i­a­tion that binds to­gether sub­jects and chiefs to en­able se­cu­rity — ex­am­ined through the pol­i­tics of the Ta­ble Moun­tain re­gion.


Mh­labun­z­ima Ma­phu­mulo was the chief of the Ma­phu­mulo at Ta­ble Moun­tain. He wel­comed those dis­placed by the vi­o­lence to Ta­ble Moun­tain, which ini­tially re­mained a haven of peace in a re­gion at war.


Inkosi Mh­labun­z­ima Ma­phu­mulo gave his life in ser­vice and in death to ob­tain peace and democ­racy in South Africa.

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