They say old folk tend to behave like children. In recent weeks, South Africa as a nation had a front seat in this theatrical and toxic tantrum of South Africa’s oldest serving parliamentarian and nonagenarian.
This soap opera of politics, draped in bitter entitlement, better understood in a tantrum, spares no one. It invokes the dead monarch against the living; it pits a monarchy against a democracy, ‘decades of experience’ at the expense of the new. It deliberately conflates the personal with the communal, the captured with the authentic, and advanced constituencies of pseudo with the claimed custodian. It plays off in the name of a group identifying as Zulus.
Let me first debunk the notion of the Zulu ‘nation’ as often used by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Traditional Prime Minister of Amazulu, and others. There can never be a Zulu nation if we appreciate the theoretical incoherence of the construct and its usage. This notion of South Africa consisting of multi nations defining its populace derives from apartheid racist anthropology. Apartheid created the idea of many nations and insisted on separate development policies.
It is merely regurgitated by those who agree with the analysis of a South Africa made up of those who seek benefit from its usage. Its usage in this era is directly from this apartheid myth that seldom is critically engaged. You will find the notion of many nations as also part of the ANC language.
South Africa, as a constitutional democracy, is yet to afford its citizens agency and opportunity to engage this notion of nation, nationhood, and what it means. To pretend we all know what is meant when we use the construct is to engage in deception.
Equally, the same could be argued for the Zulu people, often conflated to refer to a singular nation separate from others while it does not afford others such nationhood claims. In this regard, we warrant challenging all those who, in either ignorance or arrogance, advance the existence of a Zulu nation separate from and yet entitled to land that others cannot share in.
Let us hear Buthelezi in his own words on establishing the Ingonyama Trust. “When I created the Ingonyama Trust, I made the King the sole trustee. No more than that. He is not the owner of the land, but he holds the land on behalf of us, his subjects, for our welfare. Without questioning the authority of our monarch, it is necessary to say that our voice as the King’s subjects holds weight.”
This is a proverbial mouthful and telling on so many fronts. From this averment of Buthelezi, we understand that the Ingonyama Trust, a government institution governed by the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) regulations, speaks to over two million hectares of land and is the brainchild and product of Buthelezi. We learn he made the King the sole trustee.
We also know from this that the King does not own the land and that the land is owned on behalf of the Zulus. Yet we must remember that Buthelezi, carrying many hats, is not just a cultural leader but central to the Zulu monarchy and an old-hand politician.
In case you wonder what is at stake and why this issue is in the news. The problem known in public space is that a new Ingonyama Trust Board is due for an appointment. The provision of governance for the Board entitles the Zulu King Misuzulu KaZwelithini to appoint only the chairperson since the State sets the rest of the board members.
We also know that in this regard, the State, as represented by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza, is on Board, and there is no tension between the State and the Zulu Kingdom, as represented by the current King in his choice as to whom it appoints.
We know that King Misuzulu has exercised his right to appoint a chairperson, Mr Thanduyise Mzimela. This choice on the part of the monarch is precisely the problem since Buthelezi disagrees with King Msizulu’s choice. Buthelezi is of the mind that the King appoints Mr. Jerome Ngwenya, who is the outgoing chairperson. Buthelezi went as far as to assert that if King Misuzulu insists on appointing Mzimela, Ngwenya should stay on to teach Mzimela the job as he has extensive experience.
Buthelezi then goes as low as playing King Msizulu off against his late father, King Zwelithini, for the latter’s choice to have Ngwenya. He asserts, “Over decades, his majesty [King Zwelithini] and Ngwenya developed intimate insight into matters relating to the Ingonyama Trust Land, how to protect it, and how to ensure that the original vision was maintained for the benefit of all our people.”
With this defense for a Ngwenya appointment, Buthelezi negates the fact that as King Zwelithini and Ngwenya, through time, painstakingly developed this intimate insight on the matters of Ingonyama Trust Land, Misuzulu and Mzimela can equally do so. Buthelezi’s logic does not extend to this basic appreciation that institutions outlive founders since they are subject to transition because individuals move on. However, if it is ever about the people, they remain the centre.
Resorting to innuendo, Buthelezi said: “There are rumours of bribes being offered and strategies developed to ensure that the rich inheritance of the Zulu nation can be taken from us to enrich a corrupt few individuals. If they succeed, our King [Misuzulu KaZwelithini] will have sold our land. He will be selling the very ground on which we have our homes to someone in another province who accuses us of being tribalistic when we want to protect our heritage.”
This statement unveils Buthelezi nakedly relying on an untested rumour to state the truth of his mind, although he is not willing to own the implications of what he asserts. From this, according to Buthelezi, King Zwelethini was more obedient and welcoming of his advice and, therefore, uncritically listened to him, something King Misuzulu seems not to be.
The first question Buthelezi must answer is, did he also advise the late King Zwelithini to appoint Ngwenya at the time? The answer is self-explanatory. We have to surmise that it was Buthelezi who ensured Ngwenya was appointed. The issue here is the flagrant conflation of Zulu tradition, evolving practices, political office, statecraft, economic-and- self-interest, and narcissism. Buthelezi centralises everything around himself, as the axis for the existence of a Zulu Kingdom, at least in ownership of land definition.
As a true politician, Buthelezi resorts to more questionable tactics, from cheap rumour-mongering, which he gives legs, to scare-mongering of ‘outsiders’, unsubstantiated claims of corruption and a king captured. These are modern-day commonly popularised nomenclature and themes in the South African lexicon.
Extremely useful tools for polarising and demonising others with factionalism as once ultra-weapon. This is while those who rely on the same tools hope to exonerate themselves necessarily as the heroes of the people. It hits all the notes correctly, akin to our SA discourse. Buthelezi employs all these to render himself innocent and the sole last defender of the Zulu people. He hopes to portray himself as the arch-protector of Zululand and his heritage. If this does not mean Buthelezi sees himself as the actual Zulu king, nothing does.
Precisely what is at play here, if not naked disrespect, in which the AmaZulu prime minister attempts to invoke the notion of subjects’ voice in claims of democracy as carrying weight to direct the monarchy. If he insults the King, can he claim to be a subject? When he speculates that some could bribe the King to sell the Zulu land and heritage, is he not insulting the King?
It is a given that Buthelezi has been serving for nearly 70 years as Amazulu prime minister, meaning he served as the grandfather and father of the current Zulu king. Is Buthelezi not abusing this history to invoke a higher authority over the incumbent? He views himself as superior in knowledge and experience as an elder, and despite claims of great respect for the office of King, he, in a veiled sense of threat, claims himself as the kingmaker. Is Buthelezi also not abusing AmaZulu for his own myopic or wider circling hitherto unknown interests?
Reading this statement places Buthelezi at least on his reasoning and history as more significant than those he served or, shall I say, those he claimed he made kings. Buthelezi tries hard not to challenge the authority and power of King Misuzulu, yet we all can see he is at odds with and directing the monarch. Why would Buthelezi be this arrogant, and by what force can he extend himself as he does?
Perhaps the niggling question, what did King Msizulu uncover about the actual ownership of land as designed, crafted, orchestrated, and governed by Buthelezi? Is there a reason beyond mere pragmatic service that plausibly details why Buthelezi cannot retire? As part of his tantrum, he threatened to resign. Should the King not call Buthelezi’s bluff and accept his resignation?
As a non-monarchist and participant in a South African discourse, I have a number of niggling questions that I wish to advance as perhaps the pertinent questions King Misizulu ought to make part of his research in the protection of the monarchy. These, without any ad-hominem negative or malicious intentions, include whether Buthelezi made any deals during the 1994 epoch, including land and economic benefits that accrued to him.
What does Buthelezi mean when he says the voice of the King’s subjects holds weight other than implying the issue can revolt against the King? Who is the “our” that Buthelezi refers to? Was the land ownership at any time conflated with Buthelezi before the Ingonyama Trust, which he categorically asserts he established?
Finally, Buthelezi dares to claim he only seeks to protect the people’s interest and land in assets since, as he claims, outside people have captured the King. Why is it Buthelezi’s conviction that the King is captured when he does not see himself as having captured those he calls a Zulu nation? Why is Buthelezi convinced that he represents the Zulu interest better than the King? Or should we ask, is Buthelezi’s behaviour depicting the actual power he has always claimed over predecessor kings?
Regardless of how Buthelezi may protest, he is engaging in cheap bullying tactics, abusing his seniority, authority, and Prime Minister status over the Zulu King. If he is as culturally astute as he claims, he would know he has disrespected the King with his statements and blackmail tactics. He seems to direct instead of being a subject.
The question Buthelezi involuntarily forces on our thinking is why he insists on Ngwenya. Does he realise his insistence on Ngwenya places unnecessary pressure to want to know if Ngwenya is complicit in protecting certain information that he, the politician, and businessman, perhaps do not wish South Africa to know in a history of deals?
As a parting shot, I, as a non-monarchist, want to know, if one as a member of the Zulu people can, on hearsay, accuse his King of being captured while claiming that you are a subject of the King, what does this mean? I want to know by what powers a subject can do this and still be in good standing with his monarch.
Anyone guilty of the words advanced by Buthelezi, as cited in the media, against his own King Misuzulu would long have been on the red carpet, sanctioned, and duly fired. Maybe Buthelezi, after all, is the real Zulu king.
Dr Clyde Ramalaine is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Centre for African Leadership Development. He holds a PhD in Politics and International Affairs from the University of Johannesburg.