Blow to MisuZulu as court rules his recognition is unlawful


The Pretoria high court has declared the recognition of Zulu monarch MisuZulu kaZwelithini by President Cyril Ramaphosa as invalid.

The shock decision is contained in a judgment handed down by the court on Monday in a combined challenge to the king’s installation by a group of royals led by his uncle, Mbonisi, and his half brother, Simakade.

Both had challenged the validity of the appointment of MisuZulu by Ramaphosa in March last year, arguing that the president had not followed the terms of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act in making the appointment.

In his judgment, Judge Norman.Davis ordered that the recognition of MisuZulu as Isilo of the Zulu nation was “unlawful and invalid and is hereby set aside”.

“The matter of the recognition of Isilo is remitted to the first respondent (Ramaphosa) who is directed to act in terms of Sections 8(4) and 8(5) of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act,” the court ordered.

It further ordered Ramaphosa “to appoint an investigative committee as contemplated in that Act to conduct an investigation and provide a report in respect of allegations that the identification of the second respondent (MisuZulu) was not done in terms of customary law and customs”.

The court said it had not been asked to make a ruling on who should be king, but on whether or not process had been followed in making the appointment of MisuZulu in March 2022, which was later certificated that October.

It said that after a dispute had arisen over the Zulu throne, a mediation panel had been appointed, while three separate court applications were brought by various factions in the royal family.

The panel, led by former KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu, had made recommendations which were “instructive”, asking the president to delay the recognition of the king until the court processes were exhausted.

The panel had also recommended a medium term mediation process — and the appointment of an acting king acceptable to all parties — in order to avoid the court rulings causing long term division and damage similar to that incurred by the Shembe Church.

It had further recommended that the Act be followed and the process of naming MisuZulu be investigated before any permanent recognition of the monarch be carried out by the head of state.

The court said that the presidency had considered this panel’s report and made its decisions, instead of appointing an investigative committee in terms of the Act.

“The mediation panel was not such an investigative committee and the president did not claim that it was. The president therefore erred in law in not having followed the preemptive provisions of the Leadership Act,” the court said.

“This renders his recognition decision susceptible to review.”

The court said it could not substitute the president’s decision, but that due to the allegations between the parties, it was necessary that it be remitted to the presidency with “the necessary direction”.

Spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said the presidency was studying the judgment.

This article first appeared in Mail & Guardian on 11 December 2023.

Permanent link to this article:

Custom Contested