The king of Nelson Mandela’s tribe is threatening to secede from South Africa after being convicted of manslaughter, kidnap and assault.
King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, who is Mandela’s nephew, says he will declare independence and lay claim to 60% of the country’s territory unless President Jacob Zuma withdraws the charges for which he faces a 15-year jail sentence.
The threat is deeply embarrassing to the ruling African National Congress because the king’s Thembu tribe are one of the largest constituents of the Xhosa group–from which many ANC leaders have come. Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, a Thembu chief, is one of the king’s strongest supporters.
The king is on bail pending an appeal against his sentence on charges stemming from violence against his subjects in the early 1990s, during which a woman and children were kidnapped, homes burnt and youths assaulted, one of whom died.
He says his relationship with the Zuma government has “irretrievably broken down” and is demanding an apology and damages of £6.75 billion for his tribe, to be paid by Wednesday.
His territorial claims include Cape Town, the Eastern Cape, Johannesburg and the whole of KwaZulu-Natal, including Durban. This last is a deliberate insult to Zuma and his Zulu tribe. The king has had a controversial career since he took the crown in 1992. Mandela, when president, told him that he was “not fit to rule” and, according to the king, tried to have him overthrown. However, Mandela, who was brought up as a ward of the Thembu royal court, is respectful of traditional institutions and was in proud attendance when Mandla was made a chief.
While Zuma will probably ignore the king’s threat–the president is due to marry a fifth wife this week–the king’s imprisonment could inflame Xhosa resentment against the dominance of Zulus under Zuma.
“Modern, urbanised Thembu are fed up with the king,” said Gavin Stuart, former editor of the East London Daily Dispatch, “but rural Thembu will see the prosecution of the king as a case of political persecution by a Zulu-led cabal.”