Royal widow Sithembile Mkhize’s battle to have her nine-year-old son recognised as inkosi of the Mbuyazi clan at KwaMbonambi in KwaZulu-Natal received a boost last week when the Constitutional Court confirmed her right to challenge her late husband Sibusiso’s removal as chief in the high court.
Mkhize has been fighting a long-running battle with the KwaZulu-Natal government and her husband’s half-brother to protect her son’s interests. The lengthy court battle has resulted in the Mbuyazi community, which is host to a mine operated by Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, being deprived of their share of more than R60-million allocated to them in terms of a successful land claim.
Last week, the Constitutional Court upheld an appeal by Mkhize against a judgment of the high court in Pietermaritzburg, which had found that her husband’s right to challenge his removal in 2010 had died with him. Instead, the highest court ordered that her action on behalf of their son, Phatokuhle, be set down for trial in Pietermaritzburg “expeditiously”.
Mkhize’s appeal had been opposed by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu and co-operative governance MEC Nomusa Dube-Nube and her husband’s half-brother Mkhanyiseni, who replaced Sibusiso when then-premier Zweli Mkhize removed him.
Three other clans who host the Rio Tinto mine received R17.5-million from RBM in 2009 and another R3-million annually in terms of the agreement. The Mbuyazi clan’s money is being held in trust by RBM, although several million rand has been released to the administrator appointed by Mchunu, Martin Mbuyazi, since late last year.
The dispute has sparked a series of violent protests that have affected the mine’s operations. Two members of a local youth organisation were assassinated in 2016, and an RBM manager, Ronny Nzimande, was gunned down in a hit at his home in Richards Bay.
Mkhize told the Mail & Guardian this week that she was “very relieved” by the judgment. But she said that, although she was preparing to go back to court, she was also “hopeful” that a recent intervention by King Goodwill Zwelithini, in which the monarch publicly stated his recognition of her husband and slammed the provincial co-operative and governance department for removing him, would resolve the issue.
“I am hopeful that this matter will be resolved now in terms of customary law. This should never have had to go to court,” she said. “If it had been dealt with in terms of customary law my late husband would never have been removed.
“This whole matter is about my son’s birthright and the rights that I got when I married my late husband. People are trying to deny us these rights, which is something I cannot sit back and accept,” she said. “I have had to take my son out of several schools because people have been hunting him.”
Mkhize said her legal team had sent the Constitutional Court judgment to the king, the premier, the provincial co-operative and governance department and the House of Traditional Leaders, and they were awaiting a response before taking the next step.
Her lawyer, Johan Bekker, said they would approach the judge president of KwaZulu-Natal for a trial date in the new year so that the matter could be heard and oral evidence led. The court would then rule on the legitimacy of the inkosi’s removal and on the relief sought by Mkhize.
Mchunu’s spokesperson, Thami Ngidi, said the premier was taking legal advice on the judgment before making a decision about whether he would continue to oppose Mkhize’s application. Mchunu would also consult the king and the House of Traditional Leaders, as well as the Mbuyazi family.
Until a decision is taken, the administrator would remain in place.
Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for Ncube-Dube, said they would also study the judgment and consult before taking any decision on the matter.
“Until then, the status quo remains,” Mabaso said.