SA owes much to a Zulu royal house that has reigned for centuries
In response to Mr Chris Barron’s false and disrespectful obituary on the passing of His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, I requested space to correct his lies seriatim. Having been granted that space, let me set the record straight. The king of the Zulu nation is not a “ceremonial figurehead” who owes his “existence to the South African taxpayer”.
The Zulu nation precedes democracy, apartheid, the ANC, and even the Union of South Africa. Our kings have reigned for more than 200 years. The British Empire had to employ a greater force to conquer the Zulu nation than it used to conquer the whole of India. For some 12-million South Africans today, the Zulu monarch is their king.
Our country owes much to the Zulu nation. Indeed, SA would not exist in its present democratic form were it not for the Zulu nation and the fight waged by our kings against colonialism and apartheid.
It was the colonialists who portrayed our kings as ceremonial figureheads, believing that they themselves governed “the natives”. They reduced kings to “paramount chiefs”, who they “appointed” and could just as easily “fire”. That kind of thinking is archaic and reprehensible. To see it revived at this point in history is astonishing.
So too are the bold-faced lies.
The king did not persuade me to participate in the 1994 elections. When the king was excluded from Codesa, I could not participate, for I was the king’s prime minister. I risked my political career and the future of my party to take a stand for the recognition of the monarchy within our democracy.
My decision to participate in the elections was based on a signed commitment by Mr Nelson Mandela and president FW de Klerk that the monarchy and other matters would be dealt with through international mediation after the elections.
That commitment was never honoured, but it is the reason that I and the IFP participated in the elections, securing more than 2-million votes. Nowhere in that written commitment is there mention of the transfer of land to the king. There is no mention of land at all, or of a trust, for this was never part of the negotiations. No “agreement” was struck in this regard.
The land question
The Ingonyama Trust Act was passed by the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly, under my leadership. We were perfectly within our rights to pass it, without seeking permission or approval. Nothing was done in secret. The act placed the pieces of land remaining to the Zulu kingdom, after decades of colonialism and dispossession, into a trust headed by the king, so that the land could continue to be administered as communal land under indigenous and customary law.
Communal land has always been administered by amakhosi (traditional leaders), who serve under the king. The Ingonyama Trust Act did not create that system of governance; it simply ensured that communal land would not suddenly become stateowned land in 1994, removing any security of tenure for millions of rural subsistence farmers.
The system of communal land ensures that every family can access enough land to live on, raise a family and produce food. It offers a level of security that the government has thus far failed to provide to any of its people. Indeed, the land of the former TBVC states [Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, and Ciskei], which became state-owned land in 1994, is yet to be given to the people.
Is it any wonder that the king fought to maintain the security of communal land for his people?
The king’s so-called attack on the constitution in 2018 was in response to threats that the government intended abolishing the Ingonyama Trust Act. He questioned how the constitution could recognise him as a monarch, but allow the government to remove his powers unilaterally — a fair question.
The tension between traditional leadership structures and local government structures has existed since 1994. Despite the cabinet committing to amend the constitution on the eve of the first local government elections in 2000, nothing was done; thus the tension remains.
Those who blamed the king for xenophobic attacks in 2015 were opportunistically misinterpreting his comments. He had no qualms with foreign nationals in SA, but insisted that SA’s laws be respected and upheld. Thus, when President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his eulogy, he said: “Many leaders and peoples … across the African continent … have expressed their sorrow since hearing of His Majesty’s passing … [He] worked to quell tensions between locals and foreign nationals … [and] spoke out against violence directed at foreigners.”
In an attempt to summarise many complicated matters, Mr Barron presented a grossly misleading narrative. Most shocking perhaps is his claim that the IFP attacked members of the royal family in 2016. Just a few years later, he says, the king’s eldest son was murdered. The link here is implied.
But the attack on the royal residence to which he refers happened 10 years earlier, in 1996, following death threats against the royal family from the rightwing group, Komra. Komra sought to trigger a bloody civil war. They knew that the ANC’s kneejerk response to any attack would be to blame the IFP. The ANC did not disappoint.
A full correction of the lies of the past would consume a forest of paper. For those of us trying to champion the truth, it is devastating to see old lies fortified in articles and obituaries — intentionally or not.