Royal bat­tle looms as Ba­pedi go to court again

The win­ner of the lin­eage dis­pute gains con­trol of min­eral-rich land, but while the fight rages only min­ing com­pa­nies profit

Mail & Guardian - - News - Lu­cas Led­waba

The never-end­ing bat­tle over the throne of the Ba­pedi Marota, which has been the sub­ject of court lit­i­ga­tion for al­most three decades, may be near­ing its end. The high court in Pre­to­ria re­fused long-time pro­tag­o­nist Kgagudi Ken­neth (KK) Sekhukhune leave to ap­peal an ear­lier judg­ment, in which he was de­posed as act­ing kgoshik­golo (king) of the Ba­pedi Marota.

The king­dom, which boasted vic­to­ries over the Voortrekkers and the British, was one of the strong­est and largest in South­ern Africa in the mid to late 1800s un­der Sekhukhune I, whose king­dom stretched from the Vaal River in the south to the Lim­popo River in the north.

But it has been dogged by bit­ter bat­tles for the throne since the king was mur­dered by his half-brother and heir to the throne, Mam­puru I, in 1882.

The bat­tle has con­tin­ued into the present, with KK Sekhukhune, his half-brother Rhyne Thu­lare Sekhukhune and his son Thu­lare Vic­tor Thu­lare the pro­tag­o­nists in re­cent years. At stake is con­trol over large tracts of plat­inu­mand chrome-rich land en­com­pass­ing parts of Lim­popo and Mpumalanga.

KK Sekhukhune was de­posed as act­ing kgoshik­golo fol­low­ing find­ings in 2010 by the com­mis­sion on tra­di­tional lead­er­ship dis­putes and claims. He has now also lost the bat­tle to ap­peal the court rul­ing that en­dorsed the com­mis­sion’s find­ings.

The judge pres­i­dent of Gaut­eng, Dun­stan Mlambo, dis­missed the ap­pli­ca­tion, say­ing the ap­pli­cants, KK Sekhukhune and the Mohlaletse tra­di­tional au­thor­ity, had no chance of con­vinc­ing an­other court to come to a dif­fer­ent de­ci­sion. But they may pe­ti­tion the Supreme Court of Ap­peal and the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

KK Sekhukhune’s chal­lenge was based on a 1989 rul­ing by the Transvaal pro­vin­cial di­vi­sion of the Supreme Court, which up­held his po­si­tion as act­ing kgoshik­golo and dis­missed Rhyne Sekhukhune’s claim to the throne on the ba­sis that he had ab­di­cated.

The le­gal dis­pute arose af­ter Rhyne Thu­lare and his sup­port­ers in 1986 launched a vi­o­lent at­tempt to un­seat KK Sekhukhune.

Mlambo ruled that the com­mis­sion’s man­date was in line with cur­rent leg­is­la­tion and the Con­sti­tu­tion and could there­fore over­rule the 1989 rul­ing.

“The com­mis­sion’s foun­da­tional man­date is to in­ves­ti­gate dis­putes re­gard­ing tra­di­tional lead­er­ship through the ap­pli­ca­tion of cus­tom­ary law. It is in­con­ceiv­able that the com­mis­sion would be con­strained by a ju­di­cial pro­nounce­ment that was not based on cus­tom­ary law, and which based on the undis­puted facts on record per­pet­u­ates il­le­git­i­macy re­gard­ing the king­ship of the Ba­pedi,” said Mlambo.

KK Sekhukhune be­came act­ing king in 1976 af­ter Rhyne Thu­lare re­fused to as­cend the throne with­out the bless­ing of his mother Mankopodi, who was act­ing re­gent af­ter the death of her hus­band in 1965.

Rhyne’s son, Vic­tor Thu­lare, lodged a claim to the king­ship through the com­mis­sion in 2008 af­ter the death of his fa­ther. The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended that Vic­tor Thu­lare be­come the Ba­pedi king and handed its find­ings to then-pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in Jan­uary 2010. In July of that year, Zuma made the an­nounce­ment pub­lic.

But, in Septem­ber 2012, KK Sekhukhune lodged an ap­pli­ca­tion with the high court to have the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion de­clared in­valid.

He brought the ap­pli­ca­tion so that the court could re­view and set aside the com­mis­sion’s find­ings that his ap­point­ment as act­ing kgoshik­golo was not in line with the cus­toms and cus­tom­ary laws of the Ba­pedi Marota.

He also wanted the court to re­view the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion to de­clare Vic­tor Thu­lare the right­ful heir and that the pres­i­dent and the min­is­ter of pro­vin­cial af­fairs and lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­frain from ap­point­ing him king.

But Mlambo cited find­ings by the com­mis­sion that Vic­tor Thu­lare was in­deed the right­ful heir as the first son of his late fa­ther’s can­dle wife, who in Ba­pedi tra­di­tion has the re­spon­si­bil­ity of bear­ing the king’s suc­ces­sor.

He also dis­missed KK Sekhukhune’s sub­mis­sion that Vic­tor Thu­lare’s fa­ther, Rhyne Thu­lare, had ab­di­cated his claim to the king­ship by re­fus­ing to as­cend the throne when ap­proached by the bak­goma and bak­go­mana [royal coun­cil], who, in Ba­pedi cus­tom­ary law, carry the re­spon­si­bil­ity of choos­ing and con­firm­ing a suc­ces­sor.

In 1989 KK Sekhukhune was de­posed by the Le­bowa home­land gov­ern­ment but fought his way back to the throne with a de­ci­sion by the Transvaal pro­vin­cial di­vi­sion of the Supreme Court. In 1991 the Le­bowa gov­ern­ment lost an ap­peal against the de­ci­sion to re­in­state KK Sekhukhune. In 1992, in an un­suc­cess­ful bid to re­solve the dis­pute, Le­bowa es­tab­lished a par­al­lel king­dom called Ba­pedi ba Thu­lare with Rhyne Thu­lare as kgoshik­golo.

KK Sekhukhune went back to court in 1994 and won this round as well, and in 2000, the high court or­dered the premier of the North­ern Prov­ince (re­named Lim­popo) to recog­nise him as act­ing kgoshik­golo.

In 2006, Rhyne Thu­lare lodged a claim with the com­mis­sion but died the fol­low­ing year. The com­mis­sion recog­nised Rhyne Thu­lare as the right­ful kgoshik­golo in 2010.

The chair of the House of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers in Lim­popo, Male­sela Dik­gale, said he had ad­vised the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to bring the war­ring fam­i­lies to­gether to try to re­solve the mat­ter. Dik­gale is also trea­surer of the Lim­popo branch of the Congress of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers of South Africa.

But Paena Galane, the spokesper­son for the pro­vin­cial MEC for the de­part­ment of co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance, hu­man set­tle­ments and tra­di­tional af­fairs, said the de­part­ment’s man­date did not ex­tend to kings, which is a com­pe­tence of na­tional gov­ern­ment.

Nei­ther KK Sekhukhune nor Vic­tor Thu­lare’s of­fices re­sponded to re­quests for com­ments.

But a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of KK Sekhukhune’s of­fice told the SABC’s Tho­bela FM that they are pre­pared to take the mat­ter to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

Kgalake Shebeshebe, a South African Na­tional Civic Or­gan­i­sa­tion leader in the Sekhukhune area, said the mat­ter has had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the Ba­pedi Marota. He said min­ing com­pa­nies have ex­ploited the broed­er­twis by cash­ing in on the area’s min­eral wealth.

Vic­tor Thu­lare has ap­par­ently called a kgothak­gothe of the Ba­pedi in Sekhukhune on Sun­day, where the mat­ter will be dis­cussed. — Muku­rukuru Me­dia

Out: Kgagudi Ken­neth Sekhukhune has been de­posed as kgosik­golo of the Ba­pedi Marota. Photo: El­iz­a­beth Se­jake/Times/Gallo

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