Dalindyebo the 'tyrant': The court case against the king

AbaThembu king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. (Gallo)

AbaThembu king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo. (Gallo)

Dalindyebo is appealing a 15-year sentence after the Eastern Cape High Court in Mthatha convicted him of 10 crimes, including arson, culpable homicide, the kidnapping of a woman and her six children, defeating the course of justice and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Dalindyebo became the darling of the chattering classes when he took on President Jacob Zuma last week, demanding that he "vacate the Union Buildings and go back to Nkandla".

In one fell swoop, he announced his decision to join the Democratic Alliance, denouncing Zuma as a "Zulu boy", and refused to recognise Mandla Mandela as the chief of Mvezo. 

But the cannabis-smoking king is more than just a man whose words amuse the twitterati. He is a convicted criminal who faces the prospect of 15 years in jail. 

In court, Judge J Alkema chillingly remarked during sentencing, King Dalindyebo "escaped a conviction of murder by a hair's breadth".

The crimes were committed from June 1995 to January 1996, at Dalindyebo's farm, Tyalara, in the Eastern Cape. They are tales of corporal punishment so severe that a man died for crimes determined punishable by the king in extrajudicial "courts". This is the case against him.

On June 20 1995, Dalindyebo kidnapped Stokwana Sonteya's wife Nocingile and their six children and burned down their four rondavels. Sonteya's wife and children were released at noon that day and told to leave the Tyalara area. They were not harmed during their detention.

This was done in an attempt to force Sonteya to pay his "fines", ostensibly owed to the king. Dalindyebo then tried to convince Sonteya to withdraw the arson charges he had opened against the king. Dalindyebo was convicted of defeating the ends of justice for this.

That same day, Dalindyebo set fire to two more homesteads: the three rondavels belonging to Wayiya Sonteya and two huts belonging to Mbuzeni Makhwenkwana.

Assaulted for two hours
Then, in January 1996, Malandela Sontonase, Lunga Pama and Welile Dumo were assaulted by the king. When the king grew tired of doing the assaulting himself, he instructed his minions to carry out the rest of the flogging. They were not to stop "until they [the three assaulted men] screamed".

Naked, with their hands bound behind their backs, the three were assaulted for two hours. They were beaten with sjamboks; made to "frog jump" while Dalindyebo whipped their feet, causing bleeding and permanent scarring. Witness testimony in court revealed the hut smelled of blood afterwards.

"The three victims would have died had they not received medical attention," Judge Alkema said. The three were unable to walk after the assaults.

Malandela urinated blood, while Pama became "mentally deranged" after the incident. They were beaten in front of their families and their community.

The following day, Saziso Wofa was taken into the king's custody. He was similarly assaulted. He died as a result of his injuries. Dalindyebo narrowly escaped a murder conviction, but was convicted of culpable homicide instead, as he had not necessarily killed the man, but should reasonably have known that his actions could lead to Wofa's death.

Dalindyebo told Wofa's father not to report the death and to tell the authorities that his son had died a natural death.

In mitigation of sentencing, Dalindyebo's lawyer tried to argue that the king's victims were offenders too, and that Dalindyebo had merely been disciplining them for crimes they had committed. He tried to argue that the king had a right to do this.

Alkema commented: "There is, in my view, no merit in this submission."

Dalindyebo also tried to argue that he kidnapped Nocingile Sonteya and her children "out of a feeling of compassion".

Alkema was not impressed. "I never sensed any compassion on the part of the accused during any stage of the trial."

But the most serious crime is perhaps the death of Sazimo, and the subsequent attempts to scare his father into covering up the murder.

"He reigned with terror and fear and with total disregard for the rule of law," Alkema said.

'Reigned with terror and medieval tyranny'
State prosecutors had harsher words for him as the trial progressed: Dalindyebo was called a "tyrant" and a "despot", who reigned with "terror and medieval tyranny".

Alkema, in sentencing, described a king who felt he was above the law.

"Courts are unable to escape the uncomfortable feeling that many criminals, particularly people occupying important roles of leadership in commerce and social and political life, believe they are out of reach of the law and may act with impunity," Alkema said.

"A traditional leader such as the king of the AbaThembu is expected to uphold and cherish the rule of law; not to defeat the ends of justice."

Dalindyebo has consistently held that almost 10 years of on-and-off criminal litigation against him were parts of a ploy to unseat him as the king. He has often cited the coinciding of the swearing in of Zuma as president of South Africa in early 2009 and Dalindyebo's sentencing in December of that year, as proof of this.

Alkema noted this, too: "He [Dalindyebo] believes he is being persecuted by certain members of the community and that this trial is the result of a political conspiracy against him [of which this court is a party]. I therefore believe his chances of rehabilitation are remote, if at all,"

In fact, if Zuma wanted to remove Dalindyebo as king, he had the opportunity to do so the following year, during a review of South Africa's kingdoms.

In that year, seven out of 13 kingdoms under review were left without a monarch in a move that Zuma said was "uncomfortable, but necessary". Several kings, for example from kingdoms in the Free State and Mpumalanga, would no longer be recognised and the lines of succession would come to an end once the current king died, Zuma said.

Dalindyebo survived the review.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans


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