/ 26 August 2022

Presidents, kings and El Fenômeno

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Making nice: The new king entered the kraal and now Durban’s deputy mayor wants him to enter King’s House. Photo: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS


It’s an absolutely splendid spring morning in the kingdom.

There’s only the slightest of breezes; delicate but warm sunlight; perfect conditions to head down to one of the 13 beaches closed this week by the eThekwini metropolitan council and get an invigorating lungful of the human waste that’s been pouring into the ocean since the floods in April.

I decide against it — I nearly vomited crossing the Umgeni River in an Uber on Tuesday afternoon — and hit the TV remote instead.

Up pops the head of the honourable Philani Mavundla, the deputy mayor of our fine city and the leader of the Abantu Batho Congress.

Mavundla, as chairperson of the city’s infrastructure committee, is the leader tasked with overseeing the repairs to Durban’s water and sewage works and other infrastructure destroyed in the floods in April, and has been hard at it since.

Mavundla isn’t giving an update on attempts to stop the flow of faeces into the sea — and the water supply in areas such as Birchwood at Mariannhill, where at least one person, Raishne Baijnath, has died from diarrhoea after drinking tainted water from a tap.

Instead, Mavundla is calling on the national government to give King’s House, the presidential residence in Durban, to the new monarch, Misuzulu kaZwelithini.

Mavundla wants the provincial government to put up statues of King Shaka Zulu and other kings at the Durban airport and wants the city to tear down the remaining symbols of colonial oppression at City Hall, where his offices are, and replace them with monuments to anti-colonial heroes, particularly those beyond the ranks of the ANC.

Fair enough.

Since the monarch performed the entering the kraal ceremony at the weekend — the event went rather swimmingly and pulled a far bigger crowd than the march by labour federations Cosatu and Saftu in Durban on Wednesday — folks have been queueing up to be nice to him.

The ANC leadership in the province has taken on the party’s integrity commission for trying to take away the Ingonyama Trust’s land and give it to the people who live on it. The education MEC has declared Tuesday a day of traditional celebration at schools and wants the youngsters to pitch up in traditional gear in the king’s honour. And now Mavundla wants to give the monarch King’s House, rather than the government building him another one in Durban.

It’s understandable. The man is the king after all — court challenges from his sibling rivals permitting — and the ANC in the province has decided that it needs to out-Zulu the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) if it is to retain its majority in KwaZulu-Natal in the 2024 elections.

To be honest, it makes sense to give King’s House to the king, even if it was renamed Dr John L Dube House by former president Jacob Zuma in 2012.

These days, nobody makes use of it, despite two upgrades totalling R50-million during Zuma’s tenure, so it would be a sensible thing to do, rather than build a brand new palace for the monarch, who is from Pongola.

It’s a lovely building, dating back to 1904, when its first occupant, Sir Henry Bale, the chief justice of then Natal, moved in. 

It housed a series of governors and visiting British royals thereafter and, from the 1990s, became the official residence of the president and deputy president in Durban.

I watched the 2002 World Cup final between Brazil and Germany with Zuma at King’s House, back when he was deputy president.

Before that, I’d been chased by the cops for smoking ganja near the perimeter fence in my teenage years — they took our stash and let us go — but I’d never made it inside the premises.

uBaba was a top host, welcoming, funny and genuinely into the football.

I was sitting next to Zuma — we knew each other from before — when Ronaldo Nazario smashed in his second in the 79th minute to seal the game.

We both lost it.

The old man was off his chair, jiving and cheering and punching the air, celebrating as if he had money on the game — perhaps he had — or it was him and not El Fenômeno who just put the ball past Oliver Kahn.

Nxamalala called me back to King’s House 10 years later to announce that the ANC national disciplinary committee had rejected suspended youth league president Julius Malema’s appeal and that he had been fired from the party.

Zuma wasn’t celebrating as he did when Ronaldo scored — there was no beer or lamb on the spit either — but uBaba didn’t look that unhappy about giving Malema the heave.

I haven’t been back to King’s House since.