What was Carl Niehaus doing at the land imbizo called by Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelithini on Wednesday?
Officially, he was there as the spokesperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association, but it seems that Niehaus is these days doing much more than speaking on behalf of MK veterans. Last year, he was the spokesperson for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign to be president of the ANC, a campaign backed by former president Jacob Zuma. He also seems to be very chummy with the Zuma family, if Thobeka Madiba-Zuma’s Instagram account is anything to go by.
Also speaking at the imbizo was Nkosenhle Shezi, the secretary of the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa, which has been supporting the former president in his legal battles.
These are ominous signs of an alignment of agendas — those of Zwelithini and Zuma.
Given our history, Zwelithini’s address at the imbizo should not be taken lightly — with its talk of secession and thinly veiled threats of violence should anyone disturb the status quo at the Ingonyama Trust, which holds vast tracts of land in KwaZulu-Natal and of which he is the sole trustee.
Remember that the establishment of the trust was the compromise that finally brought the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) into the 1994 elections — ending years of brutal violence in the province.
The compromise was such a late-in-the-day scramble that ballot papers had already been printed without the IFP on them. The KwaZulu-Natal-based party, with Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi as its president, had to be added to the ballots means of a sticker.
Zuma has been widely credited as the person who — from the ANC’s side — brought peace to KwaZulu-Natal, through skilful negotiation with its power brokers and by crisscrossing the province trying to bring warring groups together. But the province is his strongest base and he is also in a corner — facing prosecution and with the taps of money that have paid for delaying his trial being squeezed shut.
About 14 000 people died in political violence in the run-up to the 1994 election, the human rights committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is reported to have said. More than 90% of these deaths were in the Natal and PWV (today known as Gauteng) regions at the time. In recent years, political assassinations have again been on the rise in KwaZulu-Natal — signifying that the peace Zuma brokered is a fragile one.
We shudder to think what could happen should two KwaZulu-Natal powerhouses, the king and the former president — both under threat — come together.