Delicate behind-the-scenes talks may result in the decade-long court dispute over the Mbuyazi chieftainship being resolved out of court in the next few weeks. At stake is the KwaMbonambi community’s R70-million cut of a land claim payout from Richards Bay Minerals (RBM).
The three other communities that host the mine — owned by RBM, whose holding company is Rio Tinto — have received a R17.5-million lump sum and R3-million a year from RBM since 2009. But the KwaMbonambi community’s payout has been put on hold until the chieftancy succession dispute is resolved and has been held in trust since 2009.
Protests linked to the dispute have disrupted production at the mine, and two KwaMbonambi community members and a mine manager have been murdered.
The high court in Pietermaritzburg had been due to hear a challenge by Sithembile Mbuyazi, widow of deposed Inkosi Sibusiso Mbuyazi, to his removal from office in 2007. She had successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court for the right to do so on behalf of their son, Phatokuhle, now eight years old.
Premier Zweli Mkhize removed Sibusiso, who was installed after his father, Inkosi Mtholeni Mbuyazi, died in 2005.
A faction of the clan, unhappy with his appointment, asked the premier to oust him. Mkhize replaced Sibusiso with his half-brother, Mkhanyiseni Mbonambi, the son of Mtholeni’s fifth wife. Sibusiso was the son of Mtholeni’s first wife.
The widow had faced a backlash from the KwaMbonambi community over the court action, which delayed them receiving payments. But a thaw in relations appears to have taken place.
Last month clan members wrote to the KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, asking her to replace both Mbonambi and administrator Martin Mbuyazi, who was appointed by the provincial government to run the traditional council while the dispute was being heard at court.
In the letter, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, the clan members said they believed that the matter could be resolved with the assistance of King Goodwill Zwelithini and the Zulu royal house.
Earlier this year, the monarch invited Sithembile Mbuyazi to the opening of both the provincial legislature and the House of Traditional Leaders, another indication that a settlement may be in the making.
Last week Premier Willies Mchunu is understood to have tried to initiate a meeting between Sithembile Mbuyazi and the wives of Mtholeni Mbuyazi to discuss releasing the trust funds. It is not clear whether the meeting took place.
Sithembile Mbuyazi confirmed that the king’s office had informed her of his intention to resolve the dispute: “We have been given a court date for August but now that the king’s office is involved, my legal team has said they are willing to participate in a process with the royal house to resolve the matter before then.
“This is a traditional matter, a customary matter, that should have been dealt with all along by traditional structures,” she said. “The province intervened and removed my late husband in defiance of custom.
“That is what I went to court to oppose. I will be happy to accept the matter being dealt with if custom is followed and the monarch is involved.”
Mchunu’s spokesperson, Thami Ngidi, was unable to provide comment on the matter. The spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs department, Lennox Mabaso, said: “We cannot comment further as the matter is before the court, beyond confirming that an administrator, in the form of Martin Mbuyazi, has been appointed to ensure that there is no vacuum in the community.”