Concourt backs royal widow’s bid to pro­tect her son’s birthright

Mail & Guardian - - News - Paddy Harper

Royal widow Sithem­bile Mkhize’s bat­tle to have her nine-year-old son recog­nised as inkosi of the Mbuyazi clan at Kwambonambi in Kwazu­lunatal re­ceived a boost last week when the Con­sti­tu­tional Court con­firmed her right to chal­lenge her late hus­band Sibu­siso’s re­moval as chief in the high court.

Mkhize has been fight­ing a lon­grun­ning bat­tle with the Kwazu­lunatal gov­ern­ment and her hus­band’s half-brother to pro­tect her son’s in­ter­ests. The court bat­tle has re­sulted in the Mbuyazi com­mu­nity, which is host to a mine op­er­ated by Richards Bay Min­er­als (RBM), a sub­sidiary of min­ing gi­ant Rio Tinto, be­ing de­prived of their share of more than R60-mil­lion al­lo­cated to them in terms of a suc­cess­ful land claim.

Last week, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court up­held an ap­peal by Mkhize against a judg­ment of the high court in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, which had found that her hus­band’s right to chal­lenge his re­moval in 2010 had died with him. In­stead, the high­est court or­dered that her ac­tion on be­half of their son, Pha­tokuhle, be set down for trial in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg “ex­pe­di­tiously”.

Mkhize’s ap­peal was op­posed by Kwazulu-na­tal Premier Wil­lies Mchunu, co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance MEC No­musa Dube-nube and her hus­band’s half-brother Mkhanyiseni, who re­placed Sibu­siso when then­premier Zweli Mkhize re­moved him.

Three other clans who host the Rio Tinto mine re­ceived R17.5-mil­lion from RBM in 2009 and an­other R3-mil­lion an­nu­ally in terms of the agree­ment. The Mbuyazi clan’s money is be­ing held in trust by RBM, although sev­eral mil­lion rand has been re­leased to the ad­min­is­tra­tor ap­pointed by Mchunu, Martin Mbuyazi, since late last year.

The dis­pute has sparked a se­ries of vi­o­lent protests that have af­fected the mine’s op­er­a­tions. Two mem­bers of a youth or­gan­i­sa­tion were as­sas­si­nated in 2016, and an RBM man­ager, Ronny Nz­i­mande, was gunned down in a hit at his home in Richards Bay.

Mkhize told the Mail & Guardian this week that she was “very re­lieved” by the judg­ment. She added that she was also “hope­ful” that a re­cent in­ter­ven­tion by King Good­will Zwelithini, in which the monarch stated his recog­ni­tion of her hus­band and slammed the pro­vin­cial co-op­er­a­tive and gov­er­nance de­part­ment for re­mov­ing him, would re­solve the issue.

“This should never have had to go to court,” she said. “If it had been dealt with in terms of cus­tom­ary law my late hus­band would never have been re­moved.

“This whole mat­ter is about my son’s birthright and the rights that I got when I mar­ried my late hus­band. Peo­ple are try­ing to deny us these rights, which is some­thing I can­not sit back and ac­cept,” she said.

Mkhize said her le­gal team had sent the Con­sti­tu­tional Court judg­ment to the king, the premier, the pro­vin­cial co-op­er­a­tive and gov­er­nance de­part­ment and the House of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers, and they were await­ing a re­sponse be­fore tak­ing the next step.

Her lawyer, Johan Bekker, said they would ap­proach the judge pres­i­dent of Kwazulu-na­tal for a trial date in the new year so that the mat­ter could be heard and oral ev­i­dence led. The court would then rule on the le­git­i­macy of the inkosi’s re­moval and on the re­lief sought by Mkhize.

Mchunu’s spokesper­son, Thami Ngidi, said the premier was tak­ing le­gal ad­vice on the judg­ment be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion about whether he would con­tinue to op­pose Mkhize’s ap­pli­ca­tion. Mchunu would also con­sult the king and the House of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers, as well as the Mbuyazi fam­ily. Un­til a de­ci­sion is taken, the ad­min­is­tra­tor would re­main in place.

Len­nox Mabaso, spokesper­son for Ncube-dube, said they would also study the judg­ment and con­sult be­fore tak­ing any de­ci­sion on the mat­ter. “Un­til then, the sta­tus quo re­mains,” Mabaso said.

Re­lief sought: Sithem­bile Mkhize, widow of de­posed inkosi Sibu­siso Mkhize. Photo: Del­wyn Verasamy

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