The luxury of being a king in SA

The luxury of being a king in SA

2014-10-05 10:52

Nongoma - More than 20 million South Africans live in areas that have kings or traditional leaders, who are a link to their ancestors. But there is growing disenchantment over their taxpayer-funded lifestyles and alleged abuses of power.

Traffic stops in Nongoma as South African Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini passes through his bustling capital in a Mercedes-Benz.

The 66-year-old is the most influential among South Africa's 11 regional monarchs. Photographs of him, clad in leopard skins, adorn local tourism offices.

"He makes me feel proud of being Zulu," said George, 57, a taxi driver.

While kings and chiefs are revered by some, there is also growing discontent as they are seen as living well at taxpayers' expense, and plans to reinforce their powers have been criticised.

The country's 10 kings and one queen get an annual salary of R1.3m each from the state. In addition, Zwelithini gets more than R50m from the KwaZulu-Natal government for the upkeep of his seven palaces, six wives and 28 children.

Other monarchs, who come from less powerful dynasties, get benefits such as vehicles or mobile phone allowances.

Shaka's blood

Zwelithini descends from the brother of 19th-century king Shaka, the founder of the dynasty, who united the northern part of what is now the province of KwaZulu-Natal, according to historian John Wright.

The British defeated the Zulu kingdom in 1879. But the Inkatha Freedom Party, representing many Zulus, still made a bid for their autonomy in the second half of the 20th century.

Zwelithini, a figurehead leader for South Africa's largest ethnic group of 11 million people, presides over the annual opening of the provincial parliament.

He weighs in on provincial and local decision-making, travels to promote trade, and mediates in disputes. He stages traditional ceremonies and reintroduced male circumcision to fight Aids in 2010, leading to more than 70 000 Zulu men getting circumcised.

Nongoma is dotted with the palaces of royal family members. They often include a main building and traditional-style circular buildings with grass roofs, with cattle grazing outside.

"I like it that we have a king. But he is greedy. He spends money that could be used to help poor people," said Goodwell, 39, a construction worker.

Those in favour of the kings say their spending is modest compared to that of European royalty. Zwelithini's palaces are in need of renovation and the royal family has set up a trust to help cover its expenses, his cousin Prince Thulani said.

The state also pays the salaries of 829 senior traditional leaders -often called chiefs in English - wielding power over smaller groups, and, of 7 399 headmen or headwomen helping to run one or several villages.

Law and order

More than 20 million of South Africa's population of 53 million live in areas that have kings or other traditional leaders.

Their tasks range from launching development projects to heading traditional courts, which handle local cases on the basis of customary law, and issuing reliability certificates for instance to people opening bank accounts.

"Traditional leaders are important for people's identity and roots. They form a link to the ancestors," said Welile Khuzwayo, research director at the Traditional Affairs Ministry.

The controversy surrounding traditional leaders extends beyond what they cost the state. Critics say the existence of a body of unelected officials is incompatible with democracy.

A bill that would have placed traditional courts on an equal footing with regular courts was postponed in February in the face of widespread opposition from provincial authorities.

There was concern that it would have made it easier for traditional leaders to commit abuses such as ordering people to work on their fields as punishment, or taking away land from families inhabiting it for generations on the grounds that it is communally owned.

The government is planning additional legislation that Khuzwayo says would only introduce "cosmetic" administrative changes and recognise the rights of the indigenous Khoi-San people.

But Mbongiseni Buthelezi, a researcher with the Centre of Law and Society at Cape Town University, says it would enshrine the powers of traditional leaders more firmly in law.

Land issues

Land issues loom large in the complaints against traditional leaders. In KwaZulu-Natal, a trust presided over by Zwelithini is custodian of about 30% of the land in the province.

Buthelezi says there is anecdotal evidence that some of the people living on that land have been forced out to make room for coal mining companies.

Critics of traditional leaders also say some of them were given their posts for collaborating with the 1948-94 Apartheid regime, and that they stand for patriarchal values, allowing women to be represented by male relatives in court or when acquiring land.

President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu traditionalist with four wives, has strongly backed traditional leadership.

The ANC is losing support in urban areas, and empowering traditional leaders "can be seen as a way for the party to consolidate its rural power base," said Francis Antonie from the Helen Suzman Foundation, a liberal think tank.

"The king is God's representative on Earth, but I don't like it that he has so many wives," said Slindile, a Nongoma waitress in her 20s.

  • Themba Qwabe - 2014-10-05 11:11

    you can keep your local government structures in your cities made of non leadership material and strengthen traditional leadership because they are more aunthentic than your eurocentric leadership model fraught with corruption If you have nothing to say keep quiet where ther strong traditional presence less crime is tolerated they dont work with criminale period

      Wogan May - 2014-10-05 11:41

      As someone living in this 'eurocentric' model, I have to agree. No system of leadership is perfect, but a system where people can stay in power perpetually off the ignorance and apathy of others cannot be a good system.

      Iain Botha - 2014-10-05 12:41

      Can the Kings and Chiefs please than refrain from using our 'Eurocentric-based' tax money? You can't have your bread buttered on both sides my friend.

      Avi Niselow - 2014-10-05 13:32

      You do realise that the money to support these leeches comes from the "Eurocentric" cities? Without them he'd just be another uneducated cattle herd.

      Danny - 2014-10-05 18:17

      There is no justice in the lavish lifestyles of the the traditional kings when at the same time there is huge criticism from the same quarters of society who condemn the discrepancy in salaries between the highest paid worker and the lowest paid worker in our labour force

  • Menzi Mnandi Phewa - 2014-10-05 11:28

    Kings all over the world live in luxury...

      Peter Woods - 2014-10-05 12:45

      Zweltini is not South africa`s king,he is a zulu king,contributes nothing to the financial wealth of South Africa.Why should my money pay for his upkeep,let the zulu`s pay.

      Jomo Buffers - 2014-10-05 13:42

      Peter Wood a person without the knowledge of his past history origin and culture is like a tree without roots

  • Andre S Kruger - 2014-10-05 11:30

    Great news, now the followers of the kings & Queen can be responsible for their expenses and not the other 33 million people which are not followers...that should be very fair and implemented as soon as possible!!I anticipate that if this happens, their followers group will shrink dramatically!

      Wogan May - 2014-10-05 11:46

      Probably not the best idea. There are a lot of dividing lines there - just dismissing it as "Those 20 million who still want kings" is shortsighted for a start. If the lines are drawn as you suggest, then you start creating issues over land rights and fealty, and pretty soon the various kingdoms will be in conflict with eachother, literally fighting over land and followers. God forbid they all unite under one king, who'll then no doubt try and secede from SA completely (since the SA government is doing nothing for them, why should they obey our laws?) A R100m/year tax drain seems preferable to starting a tribal war within our own borders.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-05 13:29

      Wogan, the word King is wrong in the first place; we don’t know what name[s] they used in the old days but there was never only one leader [that’s a far better word than king] and never will be if we revert to original traditional law. They will sort it out as they always did before we arrived on these shores.

      Thapelo Rametsi - 2014-10-06 09:30

      Queen Elizabeth is a shining example. She is contributing nothing to the British economy but yet lives a luxurious life. You are saying nothing about this, you idiot! balance your criticism please!

  • Ike Jakson - 2014-10-05 12:50

    So-called Western Democracy does not work in Africa; it was a mistake from day one to force it on the indigenous people. The sooner we realize that the better. We all know that our legal system is a sham; it simply doesn’t work. I voted for Chieftain Buthelezi’s IFP for the recent national election because he stands for a Federal government System. We need a very small Central Government with extensive power at Provincial and Municipal levels, plus traditional law as the only law or legal system where the communities vote for the system they would like to live under. White people must forget about the idea that there was no law in Africa before we came out there. Traditional law was a far superior form of law than what we have now. I am for returning to the old African system; please note, not a modernised abortion as the current legal system. We may in my view actually find true Democracy that way.

      Jomo Buffers - 2014-10-05 13:23

      well said Ike Jackson

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-05 13:32

      Well now, Jomo, that’s very gracious of you; thank you. LOL…. I was ready in case an all white mob were to descend over my place to tar and feather me.

      Jonathan Woods - 2014-10-05 13:33

      Ike, for sure many of your points are very valid. And in reality there are very few supposedly advanced societies that even come close to democracy. A maybe compared to the absolute sham that we have currently a return to the traditions of the witch doctor pointing people out to be clubbed to death will work more efficiently than our current waste of time legal system.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-05 13:51

      Spot on, Jonathan.

      Sterling Ferguson - 2014-10-06 06:12

      @Ike, the tribal, feudal system doesn't work in countries with a large urban population and this is why in 1789 there was a violent revolution in France. The Africa you are talking about doesn't exist before the western came to Africa. This is like saying the Britian should go back what they were before the Romans came to their shores. How many of the black nobility classes will give up modern technology and go back running around in animal skins?

      Jonathan Woods - 2014-10-06 06:54

      Sterling , simple answer to that , theoretically of course, as long as no one fills their begging bowls, until the things break or run out. So not very long at all ! Just look at the decay in just 20 years, and that is still with skilled assistance available !

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-06 09:58

      Oh please sterling, I didn’t talk about animal skins anywhere; the law has nothing to do with animal skins. And if some want to wear animal skins, what’s wrong with it?

      Peter L' Estrange - 2014-10-06 10:03

      Like the traditional'Brutal' law practiced by Shaka, especially after the death of his mother.Like the women had very little rights etc,etc.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-06 10:04

      The other point, Sterling, is that traditional law existed long before the white man came here, and it worked. They had their own methods but were far advanced in law and order in their societies than their white counterparts in Europe.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-06 10:48

      Quite correct Peter. If they want it, what is wrong with it? Who says a community cannot run on that system today it that is what they want? And I am still saying that more than one system can run parallel to the other in contiguous regions, or even more.

  • Ian Flack - 2014-10-05 13:43

    "Those in favour of the kings say their spending is modest compared to that of European royalty. Zwelithini's palaces are in need of renovation and the royal family has set up a trust to help cover its expenses, his cousin Prince Thulani said" This is true and also not true. The ueen of England does receive an allowance, but this is compensation for Royal duties and the upkeep of Royal Palaces. However, the bulk of her money comes from investments that the family haves built up over hundreds of years, on which they are taxed like every other British citizen.....

      Sterling Ferguson - 2014-10-06 06:15

      A lot of the English investments are in N America.

  • Jomo Buffers - 2014-10-05 14:16

    it is very pitty that every thing that is done by african kings is always been criticised , queen elizabeth and other european kings looted africa's resouses and they lived in luxury no complain, but because King Zwelithini and other kings in this country need to be recognise financially the is too much complain.

      Sterling Ferguson - 2014-10-06 06:17

      That's not the true wealth of Europe came from the Americas.

      Johan Schoeman - 2014-10-06 07:32

      @Steling Ferguson. You are wrong there. To give you one example King Leipoldt of Belgium raped the Congo. In fairness Europe's wealth was built on the back of colonialism all over the world. Great Britain fought a war in South Africa to get their hands on the Gold and Diamonds here and killed thousands of innocent women and children in the process.

      Mike Immelman - 2014-10-06 10:00

      As far as I am aware the colonial powers lost a lot of money on their colonies, looting is a misconception. This is why they were so quick to get rid of them. Likewise the republic of SA lost a lot of money supporting the TBVC countries.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-06 10:55

      Sound solid true observations, Mike. So few bother to look at the complete picture [with all the pro’s and con’s] of colonialism. And so many ignore or don’t want to see the benefits that every person living in South Africa today derived from our colonial past.

  • King Swayi - 2014-10-05 15:41

    Throughout history humans have been improving their systems of govmnt, so a system based on genes was bound for failure.

  • Todays Realist - 2014-10-06 06:40

    If the Black Majority want Kings and traditional leaders then they must pay for them and not the taxpayer. I am already paying for the incompetent ANC government why should I pay for others I do not need?

  • Johan Schoeman - 2014-10-06 07:26

    To each his own! The Zulus are entitled to their King if that is what makes them happy and feel secure within their culture. I respect this and I will never make any derogatory comment on this matter. It is only in relation to one point that I stand at odds with this arrangement and that is I cannot condone giving this man R50m a year for the upkeep of a lavish lifestyle while his subjects are poor AND uneducated. Like every body else he must make do with less and if he does not want to the Zulu people must foot the bill. My tax money should go to the education and upliftment of the poor and undereducated Zulu child.

  • Justin Pretorius - 2014-10-06 08:51

    "The king is God's representative on Earth.." That is exactly the problem

  • Peter L' Estrange - 2014-10-06 09:55

    Where in traditional culture did the word 'King' come from? Surely this is a European term. I understood that the tribes only had traditional leaders or 'chiefs.' Many of our present 'chiefs' were created by the Nationalist govt. and they have not been repealed by the ANC govt. as it is in their interest to be able to control these 'chiefs' with handout "salaries.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-10-06 11:06

      Peter, thanks for your support on the matter of calling them Kings. I discussed it up here somewhere. But when I say that I support the return to traditional rule of time gone by, I mean that the traditional leaders must take over entirely and get rid of the central government. Think about it; white people can easily fit into such a system.

  • Zahir - 2014-10-06 20:29

    King is a leech the Zulus people should pay for this waste of tax money

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