King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo’s supporters in the Thembu clan want to go after his opponents within the royal family.
The Thembu royal family is divided between those who support the king, and those who want to see him dethroned and sent to jail. Dalindyebo could spend 12 years in jail after the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered that the controversial monarch serve time for charges that include kidnapping and assault of his subjects, as well as arson. These crimes mostly took place at his farm in Tyalara, near Mthatha, between 1995 and 1996.
The original sentence of 15 years in jail, imposed by Mthatha High Court Judge Sytze Alkema in 2009, was reduced to 12 when the Supreme Court of Appeal acquitted him of a related charge of culpable homicide connected to the death of Saziso Wofa.
Those who are opposed to him within the royal family include Nelson Mandela’s grandson and Mvezo Chief Mandla Mandela; Daludumo and Thanduxolo Mtirara; the king’s brother Mankunku Mthandeni Dalindyebo; and the king’s estranged wife, Queen Noluntu Dalindyebo.
The group wrote to President Jacob Zuma in 2012, asking for the king’s certificate of recognition to be withdrawn.
But Phathekile Holomisa, a Thembu chief and prominent supporter of the king, who is also deputy labour minister, said they would go after the group of dissenters once they had dealt with the king’s legal woes.
“There was talk about that [the dissenters]. We agreed that we should not lose focus on the main objective of providing support to the king at the moment. That is going to come afterwards. It would have to be dealt with in the ways that our customs dictate,” he said.
There was talk last year that those within the royal family who were opposed to Dalindyebo could have their royal status revoked.
However, Daludumo Mtirara, spokesperson for the group, told City Press that they were the rightful royal family, and they had the mandate to deliberate on the traditions and customs of the Thembu kingdom.
Holomisa said they would also be applying to the Constitutional Court to set aside the conviction and the sentence because Dalindyebo had not acted on his own when he committed the acts he has been convicted of, but acted as a “judicial officer” in a traditional court, and therefore has the power to impose sanctions on wrongdoers within the Thembu nation.
“We are feeling aggrieved that the king of abaThembu could be subjected to this kind of treatment. The feeling was that the king was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced for doing his work as a judicial officer,” Holomisa said.
He said traditional leaders acted as judges or magistrates in their communities and were entitled to impose sentences, just as judges and magistrates in normal courts do, but in a traditional context.
He said that just as magistrates and judges were never found to be personally liable for imposing convictions and sentences – even if these were overturned on appeal – so should those acting as judicial officers in traditional courts not be found personally liable for meting out punishment on errant subjects.
They are approaching the Constitutional Court to ask it to clarify the powers of traditional authorities and courts.
“It would be anomalous, therefore, if it was found – even by the Constitutional Court – that the king acted in his individual capacity. We are hopeful that the Constitutional Court, as the interpreter of policies that are encapsulated in the Constitution, will find in favour of the king,” he said.
The question of traditional authority has led to intense debate in the country, with those opposing legislation such as the Communal Land Rights Act and the Traditional Courts Bill arguing that these give too much power to kings and chiefs over their subjects in rural areas.
Holomisa described organisations and individuals fighting these laws as being opposed to the African way of life.
“Opponents of African ways of life have successfully thus far opposed, for instance, the law that sought to give recognition to courts of traditional leadership, the Traditional Courts Bill.
“They succeeded in getting the Communal Land Rights Act nullified by the Constitutional Court on technical grounds. This is a law that is meant to regulate the manner in which traditional leaders administered communal land.”
Constitutional law expert Shadrack Gutto said the assertion that the king was somehow above the law would not be entertained by the Constitutional Court. He added, however, that there was confusion as to who – traditional or normal courts – was the ultimate interpreter of customary law in line with the Constitution.
“This is where we have a lot of misunderstanding. I think that this matter should be clarified at the highest level,” Gutto said