Supporting Zulu King with R66m of our taxes is wrong

This week unemployment in South Africa officially edged up to 29%, the worst it’s been since 2008. Then Eskom posted an eye watering, breath taking R20.7-billion annual loss.

In other news, King Goodwill Zwelithini will struggle to come out on R66-million in this financial year to run his household of eight palaces, six wives and their children. The sad part is that he even gets that amount in the first place. Most other kings and traditional leaders in this country make do with far more humble state stipends. 

Somehow the Ingonyama Trust, of which His Majesty is both sole trustee and sole appointer of the board and which effectively holds 30% of KZN’s land, never seems to come into the conversation about taxpayer funded handouts. The trust raked in R96-million in the 2015/16 financial year in rents, but its books are a source of enduring despair to the auditor-general – while the royalties it has been collecting from mining companies for a quarter of a century remain resolutely undeclared. 

It’s a bizarre set up spawned in the dying days of the apartheid regime, which is defended tooth and nail every time it comes under threat – for obvious reasons. At the end of 2017, former President Kgalema Motlanthe’s independent high-level panel called for it to be fundamentally changed or abolished altogether because it is nothing more than a rent seeking front – prompting the king to threaten secession. 

Dissolving the Trust should be a no-brainer in a country such as ours, it would provide security of land tenure, especially for women, and help create. Last Sunday, the Presidential Advisory Land Reform panel handed in its report to Cyril Ramaphosa. To its credit, it too recommended that the trust be reviewed – among many other, very fair, suggestions. 

None of us should hold our breath. We need only remember the alacrity with which Ramaphosa went to Ulundi immediately after the Motlanthe report. The apparent irony of the ‘revolutionary’ EFF’s genuflection that followed was topped only by the king’s toenadering with Afriforum in his war against EWC.

The continued existence of the Ingonyama Trust and the hyper inflated status and cost of the Zulu monarchy; a caricature of feudalism exacerbated by its ominous influence, are at odds with our progressive constitution and expediently emboldened by the public prostration of political leaders who should know better.

In the 19th century, Setswana speaking South Africans clubbed together to help Kgosi August Mokgatle buy back land that had been stolen by Boer farmers. In 1924, they were rewarded by the discovery of the Merensky Reef, the world’s largest platinum deposit. How the Royal Bafokeng family stewarded the bonanza ever since for the benefit and upliftment of their community should command every South African’s respect. 

We should be shouting this from the rooftops, having dealt with the issue(s) in KZN resolutely. The fact that we haven’t done either tells you all you need to know about how tortuous the journey is for this country to  fix broken SOEs, create jobs and ultimately create a better life for all, not just the elite.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 3 August 2019.