Neutral judge to adjudicate abaThembu acting kingship battle

The battle over who is acting king of abaThembu played itself out at the Eastern Cape High Court, Grahamstown, this week.

A judge was specially sourced from KwaZulu-Natal to adjudicate the case.

KwaZulu-Natal deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo flew to the Eastern Cape to hear the case of who should be acting in the place of incarcerated abaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo.

Dalindyebo is serving a 12-year prison sentence for seven counts of kidnapping, three of assault, three of arson and for defeating the ends of justice.

The battle for acting king is between Dalindyebo’s eldest son, Prince Azenathi, and the jailed king’s brother, Prince Mthandeni.

Mthandeni formally requested that an outside judge with no ties to the Eastern Cape be assigned to the matter. He argued that judges in the Eastern Cape would not be impartial as they worked with Asenathi’s mother, Judge Buyiswa NoCollege Majiki.

Mthandeni approached the high court in a bid to have his nephew’s recognition as acting abaThembu king set aside.

Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle recognised Azenathi as acting king for a year ending in August 2018. This despite a recommendation by the Tolo Commission that Mthandeni should act as king in his jailed brother’s place. A new process has started to determine whether Azenathi’s acting kingship should be renewed or he should be replaced.

The matter has deeply divided the entire abaThembu nation between those who support Mthandeni and those that want Azenathi to remain as acting king while his father serves his 12-year jail term. There is also a third faction, although not as vocal as the other two, which supports one of the king’s wives, Nokwanda, to be an acting regent.

A contentious issue in court was the exact period for which one was supposed to act as king. The premier had initially said the period was reviewable after one year, but later conceded that he had erred as it turned out the acting position had to be reviewed after six months.

But to the shock of Mthandeni and his supporters the premier again changed his mind, saying the acting position would be reviewable after three years.

In court Azenathi was flanked by various elders, including his uncle Prince Siganeko Dalindyebo. Mthandeni also attended and was accompanied by the chairman of the Royal House for the Kingdom of abaThembu, Nkosi Thanduxolo Mtirara.

Siganeko and the elders accompanying Azenathi refused to comment until after the high court made its judgment.

Mtirara, speaking on behalf on Mthandeni, lashed out at premier Masualle for his recognition of Azenathi. Mtirara said this decision was the root cause of all the confusion and fighting within abaThembu nation.

Mtirara told City Press that the royal family have yet to understand the premier’s rationale behind recognising Azenathi. He accused the premier of sowing divisions within the nation by choosing sides and recognising Azenathi, a fourth-year criminology student at the University of Free State in Bloemfontein, as acting king, since the prince would have to leave the Eastern Cape and return to school.

Advocate Matthew Mphahlwa, in his capacity as royal adviser to Mthandeni, said they were confident in the case advanced in court and were awaiting the decision by the judge. Advocate Apla Bodlani, who represented Azenathi, refused to comment.

The premier’s spokesperson, Sonwabo Mbananga, said Masualle would only be able to comment once the court had made a ruling.

“The courts take precedence and he must wait for that process,” Mbananga said.

He added that the premier was guided by law when making his decision about how long an acting king can stand.

Judge Madondo reserved judgment and the date for the verdict was not set.