Lives in limbo over leadership row

The Mbuyazi community at KwaMbonambi near Richards Bay is likely to go into the new year without a sitting inkosi — and without more than R30-million in a land claim payout — despite an attempt by the KwaZulu-Natal government to install a new chief while a succession dispute is resolved through the courts.

The court dispute, which has been dragging on since 2010, is about who is entitled to succeed as inkosi of Mbuyazi, and former inkosi Sibusiso Mbuyazi’s widow, Sithembile, is fighting for their eight-year-old son Phatokuhle to succeed.

The court’s decision means the community has to wait for the dispute to be finalised before the Rio Tinto subsidiary, Richards Bay Minerals, releases well in excess of R30-million it has been holding in trust since 2009 after a successful land claim.

On Tuesday the high court in Pietermaritzburg rejected a bid by Premier Willies Mchunu and the provincial co-operative governance and traditional affairs ministry to have the dispute treated as urgent by the court.

Mchunu had wanted the court to set down for urgent hearing an application for leave to appeal the 2016 decision by Judge Themba Sishi to confirm the removal of Inkosi Sibusiso Mbuyazi.

Mchunu had also wanted the court, in the meantime, to allow him to install Mbuyazi’s half-brother, Mkhanyiseni Mbonambi, as inkosi while the case is being resolved.

Mbuyazi’s widow, Sithembile has brought another application to the Constitutional Court to affirm her right to act on his behalf and that of Phatokuhle in the litigation.

But the court dismissed the urgent application and ruled that the matter be heard by Sishi, who was “seized” with the matter.

The applicants were given until December 11 to file their affidavits in the matter, which is likely to be heard only next year.

Three other communities in the area each received a payout of R17.5-million from Richards Bay Minerals in 2009 and an additional R3-million annually from the mining company ever since, which employs 2 000 full-time and 2 000 contract workers.


The company has been mining and smelting titanium slag, pig iron and zircon at KwaMbonambi since the 1960s and agreed to make the payments to the communities in terms of a historic land claim agreement with the four communities.

After the death of inkosi Mtholeni Mbuyazi in 2005, Sibusiso Mbuyazi — the eldest son of the inkosi’s first wife, maJele — was appointed. But shortly afterwards Mkhanyiseni and other family members began agitating for his removal.

The matter first went to court in 2010 and was then further complicated by Sibusiso’s death during the course of the litigation.

Apart from the usual government salary, vehicle and benefits, the Mbuyazi chieftaincy also includes a R150 000 stipend from the land claim and a significant share in a black economic empowerment deal based on the clan’s mineral rights, as well as control over how the land claim funds are administered once released.

The Dube, Sokhulu and Mkhwanazi clans have focused most of their share in the claim — which amounted to a 26% stake in the mine — on community development initiatives and on stimulating local small business.

Mkhize appointed an arbitrator to resolve the Mbuyazi dispute. A ruling was given in favour of Mkhanyiseni and Sibusiso was removed in 2010. But Sibusiso went to court to challenge his removal. Sishi ruled against him and Sibusiso appealed.

He died in 2015, however, before the matter could be resolved and his widow has been fighting for the right to represent him and their minor son ever since.

The Mbuyazi area is currently under the control of Martin Mbuyazi, an administrator appointed by Mchunu, but the premier wants the court to let him go ahead and install Mkhanyiseni while the courts wind the matter up.

The community has also set up a new trust in anticipation of Richards Bay Minerals releasing the money. But the move has also caused several community blockades of the mine and smelter, increasing tensions among locals who want more jobs at Richards Bay Minerals and opportunities to do business with the multinational.

Lulama Cele-Boughey, a member of the new Mbonambi Community Development Trust, said the community was happy with the appointment of the administrator.

“Our thinking is that the community needs to move forward under the administrator. Now we have one we are fine. We can move ahead while the queen and Mkhanyiseni have their fight in court,” she said.

“At least we now have someone in charge. The community’s main concern was that their lives are being stalled because of the leadership fight.

“The administrator is inclusive, open and treats everybody fairly and equally and with no bias. The traditional council is now functioning at last,” she said. 

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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