House won't be home for king

The formation of a House of Traditional Leaders in kwaZulu/Natal has created conflict between the ANC and IFP, writes Farouk Chothia

BEHIND the ANC’s opposition to a House of Traditional Leaders in kwaZulu/Natal lies realpolitik: it wants to prevent its newly-acquired asset, Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, from being exposed as a monarch without a crown, out of tune with his chiefs.

Informed sources said this week the Inkatha Freedom Party had already chosen the chiefs who would serve in the House—and they are likely to sanction IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi as “traditional prime minister” of the Zulu nation, in defiance of the monarch, at the first session of the House in Ulundi on December 9.

The ANC is now moving swiftly to scuttle the IFP’s plans.

ANC provincial MP John Jeffrey said that with the Constitutional Court not yet hearing cases, the party will launch an urgent supreme court application to halt the formation of the House. This could happen next week.

The acting secretary in kwa-Zulu/Natal’s Department of Traditional Affairs, Jasper Fouche, said they are confident the ANC will lose the case, and the House will be constituted on December 9.

Jeffrey said among the arguments the ANC would put forward was the lack of consultation in the process leading to the enactment of the House of Traditional Leaders’ Bill in the provincial legislature last month.

“The interim constitution was not followed properly. It provides for a consultative process before a Bill is introduced; in this instance, the king was not properly consulted,” said Jeffrey.

The IFP piloted the Bill through the provincial legislature with the backing of the National Party, African Christian Democratic Party and the Pan Africanist Congress.
The Democratic Party abstained, while the ANC staged a walk-out.

Chief Zibuse Mlaba, the head of the ANC team in the provincial legislature’s Traditional Affairs Portfolio Committee, said the committee was neither consulted nor given space to make amendments to the Bill.

“The Bill was rammed through the provincial legislature,” added Mlaba.

Fouche vehemently denied a lack of consulation. He said that apart from the Minister of Traditional Affairs, Chief Nyanga Ngubane, having met Zwelithini to discuss the issue, about 240 chiefs (there are reportedly more than 300 chiefs in kwaZulu/Natal) had endorsed the Bill at an indaba in Ulundi in mid-October.

He confirmed chiefs for the 80-odd House had been nominated last Friday. The 26 regional authorities formed under the Bantu Authorities Act have elected three chiefs each to be members of the House.

Mlaba said as he and some other members of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) do not participate in the regional authorities, they have been excluded from the selection process. Fouche denied there was any “mechanism to exclude anybody”, arguing that those chiefs who have stayed out of the regional authorities have done so of their own accord.

The ANC’s opposition is steeped in historical irony: it wants Zwelithini to wield influence in the House and is deeply worried that the IFP-sponsored Bill has diminished his status.

The Bill provides for Zwe-lithini to send a “representative” to the House—and for the chairman and deputy chairman to be elected by House members. This means that Zwelithini could face the humiliation of being overlooked for the top post by an IFP-dominated House.

Against this backdrop, the ANC is pushing for Zwelithini to be made the automatic head of the House, giving him room to prise support from the IFP—crucial to ANC efforts to win next year’s local government elections.

The Bill also makes no reference to the newly-formed Royal Council, meaning its members will be excluded from the House and Zwelithini will be robbed of his main advisers. Mlaba said “their absence will create many problems. They will demand recognition outside the House.”

Observers point out that in terms of the Bill, the House can amend, with a two-thirds majority of members present, the powers, duties, authorities and functions of chiefs and the king—a clause that could once more turn the monarch into a captive of the IFP.

One lawyer argued that this clause will strengthen the ANC’s legal hand as the interim constitution provides for the House only to advise the provincial legislature on traditional and customary law.

Another ANC concern is the Bill’s provision for a “traditional prime minister” to take his seat in the House.

Some observers argue that this clause opens the way for Buthelezi to regain a foothold in kwaZulu/Natal, overcoming his blunder in opting for a national cabinet post ahead of the premiership of the province, as IFP-aligned chiefs still regard him as their “traditional prime minister”.

Zwelithini’s official stance is that Buthelezi was never his “traditional prime minister”—and cannot occupy such a post in the House. One source said the monarch is considering legal action to prevent Buthelezi from continuing to lay claim to the title.

Buthelezi appears to have the upper hand in the battle for control of traditional politics: he has challenged Zwelithini to call an imbizo (a mass gathering of the Zulu nation, routinely held during the days of the Zwelithini/Buthelezi axis) and a major meeting of all chiefs. Zwelithini has failed to do so, almost three months since his highly- publicised decision to “sever ties” with the IFP leader.

Some observers say this suggests Zwelithini is still not confident of his support-base and lacks the organisational clout to pull off huge rallies.

His aides say he will mount a roadshow through kwaZulu/Natal in the next few days, explaining his new “non-partisan” role and mustering support against IFP moves to marginalise him in the House.

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