King Zwelithini’s land claim: what does the king want?*

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With the window reopened for land claims, one of the biggest claims could be lodged on behalf of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

While the size of the claim has yet to be finalised in financial terms, it could run into billions of rands while the land likely to claimed includes urban and rural areas — including the Durban Metro as well as sections of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

“Provincial boundaries do not limit land ownership,” Judge Jerome Ngwenya told The Witness. “There are existing farms that stretch across provincial boundaries.”
Ngwenywa is chairperson of the Ingonyama Trust Board’s (ITB) executive committee. He is also chairperson of the Royal Household Trust, which looks after the affairs of the Zulu royal family.

The ITB will assist with the formulation of the claim, which is expected to be finalised and ready for submission in March 2015.

The land claim process was reopened for another five years with the enactment of the new land restitution law, the Land Rights Amendment Bill, and two weeks ago the king and the province’s House of Traditional Leaders — representing the province’s amakhosi (chiefs) — held a workshop on the land claim process.

The aim of the proposed claim on behalf of the king is to claim land taken from the Zulu kingdom during the colonial period — from 1838 onwards — first by the Voortrekkers and then the British.

Ngwenya said a “research team” is currently combing the archives to establish the extent of the claim on historical grounds.

The current consensus among historians is that the Zulu kingdom of the 19th century — generally referred to as Zululand and which grew out of the conquests of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona — was bordered by the Thukela River in the south, the Pongola in the north, the ¬Mzinyathi to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east.

“The Zulu kingdom today is not much different today between now and King Shaka,” said Ngwenya, but his view of its size differs markedly from the historians. The Thukela was an imposed boundary, according to Ngwenya. “South of the Thukela, Theophilus Shepstone (secretary for native affairs) divided Zululand into eight reserves.”

Ngwenya said that in pre-colonial times the boundaries of the kingdom were much more extensive and that even southern Mozambique was part of the Zulu kingdom, though, he added, “we are not claiming that”.

A kingdom implies a king with subjects with whom he has allegiance. This throws up a number of questions in this province. For example, is a Zulu-speaker, by definition, a Zulu? Does a Zulu speaker necessarily have to show allegiance to the Zulu king? “A Zulu speaker is not necessarily a Zulu,” conceded Ngwenya, “that is a choice.”

But allegiance, and to whom, is a bit more complicated. Zulu-speaking peoples are divided into different tribes, 94 of them according one 19th century list, and these groupings are usually reflected in common Zulu surnames such as Khumalo, Sithole and Mchunu. Each of these tribes has an amakhosi to whom the people owe allegiance. In some cases, such as the amaHlubi, they would regard their amakhosi as their king. However, in 2010 the Nhlapo Commission ruled that the amaHlubi could not claim to have a king.

Some of these tribes fled Zululand at the time of King Shaka and remained at odds with the Zulu throne thereafter. Others lived on land north of the Umzimkulu — the traditional divide between the Zulu-speaking and the Xhosa-speaking peoples.

In 1879, the amaNgwane — living in the Mweni area of the Drakensberg — and the amaChunu, south of the Thukela in the Msinga area, fielded warriors who fought on the British side during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. During the war amakhosi in the Zulu heartland transferred their allegiances to the British, such as King Cetshwayo’s half-brother Hamu kaNzibe of the Ngenetsheni, who defected to the British.

According to Ngwenya, past enmity does not translate into present disloyalty and that while such tribes did not display allegiance to the Zulu throne in the past, “that doesn’t mean forever” and that provincial legislation recognises the Zulu king as “monarch of this province”.

Ngwenya said traditional methods of rule in KwaZulu-Natal varies, for example, from that in the Eastern Cape where “there are autonomous chiefs, except where there are kings”. In KwaZulu-Natal the “king is in control of the amakhosi … every inkosi is a subject of the king”.

Where exactly the king sits politically is somewhat ambiguous. In the past he has been seen as aligned to the IFP and its leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. However, come the advent of democracy he appears to been embraced by the ANC as the key to the traditional and rural vote. Cultural events, such as the annual commemoration of the Zulu victory of Isandlwana of 1879, have become ANC-hosted events.

“I wouldn’t know what’s in the king’s mind,” said Ngwenya, “but he is aware that as king he must not be party politically aligned.”

But Ngwenya acknowledged that the divide between what is a cultural event and what is a government event is “very blurred”.

“The line is much clearer in other countries, for example with the royal family in the UK.”

The proposed claim will serve to extend the land already owned by the ITB, originally the areas that formed the KwaZulu homeland and which the ITB was created to administer in 1994. “The ITB grew out of the multi-party negotiations,” said Ngwenya. “It was formed out of a very tense political climate.”

Ngwenya said it was felt that in KwaZulu there was a need to look after land “we have got control over … and guarantee what the future will look like”.

“[The ITB] was created out of legislation signed by F.W. de Klerk on 25 April 1994, two days before the elections. It was criticised at the time for being secret legislation designed to subvert the negotiating process.”

The ITB administers around 2,8 million hectares spread throughout the province and, according to the KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act (Act No 3 of 1994), it holds the land in title for “the benefit, material welfare and social well-being of the members of the tribes and communities” living on the land.

On this land tribal or customary law applies. This has been criticised as continuing the form of indirect rule employed by colonisers.

But Ngwenya disagreed that the land claim would in effect lead to the creation of a type of Bantustan ruled by the Zulu king with traditional leaders administering traditional law.

“South Africa has always had a multi-layered legal system,” he said. “People do not live only according to one system of law. For example, a Jewish person will access national law, but not when it comes to a wedding.

“Muslims and Hindus are all governed by a system of law. A Muslim will go to an imam, a Jew to a rabbi — and an African to a chief.”

*This article was first published in the The Witness on 14 July 2014 under the heading ‘What does the king want?’.

opinion-grey Stephen Coan is a Senior Feature Writer at The Witness
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