/ 23 March 2024

ANC backs Duma, blames Buthelezi after royal microphone gaffe

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ANC KZN chair, Siboniso Duma, who is also MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, with Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube at the official opening of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature on February 27, 2024 in Pietermaritzburg. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The KwaZulu-Natal government has closed ranks around economic development and tourism MEC and ANC chair Siboniso Duma, who stopped Zulu traditional prime minister Thulasizwe Buthelezi from speaking in the presence of King MisuZulu ka Zwelithini.

The cabinet and the ANC in the province have expressed support for Duma’s apology to the monarch and his intervention to prevent Buthelezi, who is also an Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) member of the national council, from criticising the ANC at a government event to honour King DinuZulu ka Cetshwayo at the weekend.

Several people were injured after the event, at which amabutho (regiments) railed against Duma’s actions, and after which they went public with a “ban” on Duma attending royal events.

They have also called for Duma to pay a fine to MisuZulu over the breach of royal protocol.

Duma tops the ANC’s provincial list as a candidate for KwaZulu-Natal premier should the party retain its majority in the legislature after the 29  May elections.

The incident has sparked fears of renewed tensions in the province, where political violence claimed nearly 20  000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s and where the killing of councillors and other political leaders has been taking place with increasing frequency since 2016.

In the face of this, Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube and ANC provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo have been highly critical of Buthelezi’s actions, which they say left Duma with no choice but to intervene.

Both have said the actions of Buthelezi, the Zululand district mayor, were aimed at embarrassing MisuZulu and the provincial government and at “collapsing” the event, held at KwaCeza in Zululand.

Dube-Ncube and Mtolo have presented Duma’s actions as being in defence of the king’s dignity — and of the state — in the face of an attempt to politicise the event, while emphasising the respect and support that the party and the government have shown to the Zulu monarchy.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday Dube-Ncube condemned Buthelezi’s actions, saying he had “demonstrated poverty of appreciating the Zulu culture which he claims to represent”.

She said the cabinet believed Buthelezi’s intention was “to collapse the event and embarrass his majesty King MisuZulu, the royal household and the president [Cyril Ramaphosa].”

The cabinet noted “that already Buthelezi had indicated during the build-up on various platforms that he would disrupt the event” and that he “unashamedly brought up party political matters to an event that had nothing to do with politics”. 

She said the cabinet “supported the approach that Duma has taken to apologise to his majesty, not for stopping Mr Buthelezi from making party-political rhetoric on a wrong platform, but that it was done in public, in front of his majesty and the president”.

The cabinet “appreciated” Duma’s decision to apologise to the king.

The premier said the cabinet rejected those who “purport to speak for his majesty and even determine the so-called fine” as this was “tantamount to undermining the authority of his majesty to make his own decisions”.

She said the cabinet viewed Buthelezi’s behaviour in “rallying” amabutho as having led to the attack in which 16 people were injured, two of whom were still in hospital with head injuries.

Dube-Ncube said they had asked the provincial police commissioner, General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, to ensure that the weekend attack was investigated and that those involved were arrested and brought to court.

Dube-Ncube pushed back against claims that her administration had not supported the monarch, who is facing a court challenge to his recognition as Zulu king from his uncle, his half-brother and other members of the royal family. 

She said the government had increased the royal household budget from R67  million to R79  million in the past financial year, and continued to provide support to the king and to the institution of the monarchy.

The province had not reneged on its undertaking to pay the king’s legal fees, but payments had been delayed by the failure of his legal team to provide the invoices and breakdown of costs required for the bill to be settled, Dube-Ncube said.

Mtolo, at a briefing in Durban earlier in the day, had adopted a similar stance as Dube-Ncube, backing Duma for apologising — and for calling Buthelezi to order — while regretting that it took place in front of the king.

Mtolo said Duma’s actions had been “heroic” and that he had done the correct thing in “reprimanding” Buthelezi, who had repeatedly “abused” government platforms to “score cheap political points”. 

Buthelezi, who was appointed to replace the late IFP founder, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, at the end of January, has a combative relationship with the KwaZulu-Natal ANC leadership, which has repeatedly accused him of corruption in his job as Zululand mayor.

His proximity to the monarch in his new role of Zulu traditional prime minister has presented the ANC and the provincial government it controls with difficulties at a number of public events and is likely to continue to do so going into the elections.

The weekend flare-up caused Ramaphosa to express “concern” about its potential to inflame tensions in the province and to call for a meeting between the ANC and IFP leadership.

Mtolo said they had written to IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa asking for a meeting with the party leadership to prevent tensions between supporters of the two parties from spilling over into violence.

They had also written to Ramaphosa informing him of this, and of the decision of Duma to apologise for “disciplining an ill-disciplined individual” in front of him and the king.

While Buthelezi kept a low profile in the wake of the incident, IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa accused the ANC of planning the disruption.

But Hlengwa said the IFP did not believe there was a need for a meeting with the ANC over the incident.

Hlengwa denied that the IFP was involved in any violence after the event, saying that a “narrative of violence and instability has been churned out by various quarters of the ANC”. 

He said the IFP remained committed to peaceful, free and fair elections, and would “not be drawn into the ANC sanctioned violence”.

“We intend on reclaiming the province of KwaZulu-Natal through the barrel of the ballot, not through the barrel of the gun,” Hlengwa said.

“As far as we are concerned such a meeting is not necessary because the IFP is not involved in any acts of violence.”

Hlengwa said Duma needed to apologise to the king, amakhosi and the Zulu nation for his “utterly disgraceful and uncultured behaviour”. 

The monarch at the weekend issued a statement condemning the violence.