Royal battle looms as Bapedi go to court again

The never-ending battle over the throne of the Bapedi Marota, which has been the subject of court litigation for almost three decades, may be nearing its end. The high court in Pretoria refused long-time protagonist Kgagudi Kenneth (KK) Sekhukhune leave to appeal an earlier judgment, in which he was deposed as acting kgoshikgolo (king) of the Bapedi Marota.

The kingdom, which boasted victories over the Voortrekkers and the British, was one of the strongest and largest in Southern Africa in the mid to late 1800s under Sekhukhune I, whose kingdom stretched from the Vaal River in the south to the Limpopo River in the north.

But it has been dogged by bitter battles for the throne since the king was murdered by his half-brother and heir to the throne, Mampuru  I, in 1882.

The battle has continued into the present, with KK Sekhukhune, his half-brother Rhyne Thulare Sekhukhune and his son Thulare Victor Thulare the protagonists in recent years. At stake is control over large tracts of platinum- and chrome-rich land encompassing parts of Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

KK Sekhukhune was deposed as acting kgoshikgolo following findings in 2010 by the commission on traditional leadership disputes and claims. He has now also lost the battle to appeal the court ruling that endorsed the commission’s findings.

The judge president of Gauteng, Dunstan Mlambo, dismissed the application, saying the applicants, KK Sekhukhune and the Mohlaletse traditional authority, had no chance of convincing another court to come to a different decision. But they may petition the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.

KK Sekhukhune’s challenge was based on a 1989 ruling by the Transvaal provincial division of the Supreme Court, which upheld his position as acting kgoshikgolo and dismissed Rhyne Sekhukhune’s claim to the throne on the basis that he had abdicated.

The legal dispute arose after Rhyne Thulare and his supporters in 1986 launched a violent attempt to unseat KK Sekhukhune.

Mlambo ruled that the commission’s mandate was in line with current legislation and the Constitution and could therefore overrule the 1989 ruling.

“The commission’s foundational mandate is to investigate disputes regarding traditional leadership through the application of customary law. It is inconceivable that the commission would be constrained by a judicial pronouncement that was not based on customary law, and which based on the undisputed facts on record perpetuates illegitimacy regarding the kingship of the Bapedi,” said Mlambo.

KK Sekhukhune became acting king in 1976 after Rhyne Thulare refused to ascend the throne without the blessing of his mother Mankopodi, who was acting regent after the death of her husband in 1965.

Rhyne’s son, Victor Thulare, lodged a claim to the kingship through the commission in 2008 after the death of his father. The commission recommended that Victor Thulare become the Bapedi king and handed its findings to then-president Jacob Zuma in January 2010. In July of that year, Zuma made the announcement public.

But, in September 2012, KK Sekhukhune lodged an application with the high court to have the commission’s decision declared invalid.

He brought the application so that the court could review and set aside the commission’s findings that his appointment as acting kgoshikgolo was not in line with the customs and customary laws of the Bapedi Marota.

He also wanted the court to review the commission’s decision to declare Victor Thulare the rightful heir and that the president and the minister of provincial affairs and local government refrain from appointing him king.

But Mlambo cited findings by the commission that Victor Thulare was indeed the rightful heir as the first son of his late father’s candle wife, who in Bapedi tradition has the responsibility of bearing the king’s successor.

He also dismissed KK Sekhukhune’s submission that Victor Thulare’s father, Rhyne Thulare, had abdicated his claim to the kingship by refusing to ascend the throne when approached by the bakgoma and bakgomana [royal council], who, in Bapedi customary law, carry the responsibility of choosing and confirming a successor.

In 1989 KK Sekhukhune was deposed by the Lebowa homeland government but fought his way back to the throne with a decision by the Transvaal provincial division of the Supreme Court. In 1991 the Lebowa government lost an appeal against the decision to reinstate KK Sekhukhune. In 1992, in an unsuccessful bid to resolve the dispute, Lebowa established a parallel kingdom called Bapedi ba Thulare with Rhyne Thulare as kgoshikgolo.

KK Sekhukhune went back to court in 1994 and won this round as well, and in 2000, the high court ordered the premier of the Northern Province (renamed Limpopo) to recognise him as acting kgoshikgolo.

In 2006, Rhyne Thulare lodged a claim with the commission but died the following year. The commission recognised Rhyne Thulare as the rightful kgoshikgolo in 2010.

The chair of the House of Traditional Leaders in Limpopo, Malesela Dikgale, said he had advised the provincial government to bring the warring families together to try to resolve the matter. Dikgale is also treasurer of the Limpopo branch of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa.

But Paena Galane, the spokesperson for the provincial MEC for the department of co-operative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs, said the department’s mandate did not extend to kings, which is a competence of national government.

Neither KK Sekhukhune nor Victor Thulare’s offices responded to requests for comments.

But a representative of KK Sekhukhune’s office told the SABC’s Thobela FM that they are prepared to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.

Kgalake Shebeshebe, a South African National Civic Organisation leader in the Sekhukhune area, said the matter has had a negative effect on the Bapedi Marota. He said mining companies have exploited the broedertwis by cashing in on the area’s mineral wealth.

Victor Thulare has apparently called a kgothakgothe of the Bapedi in Sekhukhune on Sunday, where the matter will be discussed. — Mukurukuru Media

History of a battle

The battle over the Bapedi Marota kingship has been raging for more than a century since King Sekhukhune I was murdered in 1883 by his brother Mampuru, the son of the king’s candle wife (one married for the sole purpose of producing an heir). Sekhukhune I had taken over the reins by force after the death of their father, Sekwati, forcing Mampuru to flee. Mampuru returned to kill Sekhukhune I but was hanged by the Transvaal Republic in 1883.

From then until 2014, a marathon dispute has raged over whether the kingship lineage lay with the Sekhukhune or Mampuru. The matter was settled in 2014 when the Constitutional Court ruled the lineage lay with the Sekhukhune. — Lucas Ledwaba, Mukurukuru Media

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Lucas Ledwaba
Lucas Ledwaba
Journalist and author of Broke & Broken - The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa.

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