No end to royal discord over AmaZulu, VhaVenda thrones

Johannesburg-The Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal is expected to be an arbiter of who is the rightful king of the AmaZulu nation between half-brothers Prince Simakade and disputed King MisuZulu kaZwelithini.

A family feud between rival factions opposing the ascendency of MisuZulu to the throne of one of the powerful kingships in Africa drove a wedge between the pair and turned the siblings into sworn enemies.

The winner of the court case, which might go on for years, will succeed the late King Zwelithini kaBhekuZulu, who departed in March.

The matter is scheduled to be heard between January 11 and 12 next year.

Prince Thulani Zulu, MisiZulu’s spokesperson, did not want to comment extensively about the court case, saying: “We cannot pronounce on the matter because it is now the subject of the court. But the AmaZulu nation has no confusion on who is their rightful king.”

The succession matter is combined with another application by Prince Mbonisi Zulu, the half-brother of Zwelithini, who made an urgent court application asking the court to stop the alleged “secret” coronation planned by a faction aligned to MisuZulu.

The coronation claim emanates from a ceremony in which disputed Shembe church leader Mduduzi “Unyazilwezulu” Shembe led hundreds of worshippers to festivities held at the royal palace of KwaKhangelamankengane. During the festivities, Shembe conducted a ritual in which he blessed the newly crafted cattle kraal, the scene at which MisuZulu’s
secret coronation was expected to take place without the approval of the government.

Prince Mbonisi Zulu, representing the royal faction supporting Simakade, said they had taken a decision not to comment on the court matter.

Prince Simakade Zulu.

At the heart of the application is a claim by Queen Sibongile Dlamini, Zwelithini’s first wife who wants to acquire 50% of the late king’s riches, which run into millions of rand.

Underpinning the claim of Queen Sibongile of the KwaKhethomthandayo royal palace is that she was married in community of property with the late king, making her eligible to half of whatever Zwelithini left behind.

Also in her application is for the court to set aside the execution of Zwelithini’s will, which saw the late Queen Mantfombi Dlamini appointed as regent, giving her exclusive rights to appoint the next heir to the throne.

Queen Sibongile is supported by her two daughters – Princess Ntombizosuthu and Princess Ntandoyenkosi – who allege that the signature on their father’s will was forged.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also pronounced on the matter, saying he won’t grant any kingship status to the AmaZulu throne until the matter is resolved in court.

The AmaZulu kingship is not the only one marred in controversy. The almost decade-old dispute over the VhaVenda throne was last month handed back to the VhaVenda royal council. On November 12, the Constitutional Court ruled that the future of the VhaVenda kingship depended on the royal council. The ruling has been the climax of a legal battle that has been raging for close to nine years.

Many believe the legal dispute over the VhaVenda kingship has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the sitting King Khosikhulu Toni Ramabulana Mphephu and his niece, Princess Masindi Mphephu Ramabulana.

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – MAY 02: Masindi Mphephu poses for a portrait during an interview on May 02, 2016 in Pretoria, South Africa. The 24-year-old Mphephu is the only legitimate child of former Vha Venda king Khosikhulu Tshimangadzo Mphephu who died in 1997. She is claiming that she is the rightful heir to the Vha Venda throne. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Kevin Sutherland)

“What is clear is that long-standing customs of VhaVenda people are on trial. Princess Masindi is the fuel that is used to delegitimise the sitting King Khosikhulu Ramabulana-Mphephu,” said Ndivhuho Rambau, an attorney and avid Venda scholar.

“There’s an argument whether Masindi is a worthy candidate for VhaVenda kingship. Her camp has argued that she was prevented from ascending the throne because of her gender. Personally, I don’t think the issue has anything to do with gender.”

According to Princess Masindi Mphephu’s lawyer, Johann Hammann, the consequence of this order is that Toni Ramabulana Mphephu is “no longer acknowledged as the king of the VhaVenda people, as the new king or queen will only be appointed after the finalization of the review application”.

Princess Masindi is the daughter of the late VhaVenda King Tshimangadzo Dimbanyika Mphephu Ramabulana who died in a tragic car accident in 1997.

Toni Ramabulana Mphephu was ndumi (adviser) of the late Dimbanyika, who was appointed regent after the death of the king. The VhaVenda royal tradition does not allow the king’s advisers (ndumis) to ascend the throne even after the death of the king.

In 1998, the Mphephu royal council installed Toni Mphephu Ramabulana regent king and took a decision in 2010 to install Toni Ramabulana as the king.

Former president Jacob Zuma recognized Ramabulana as the VhaVenda king, a decision that prompted Masindi to approach the Limpopo High Court for answers.

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