Cape Town – A right royal row has erupted over what the Hlubi nation perceive to have been a slight delivered by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in a ceremony at Cape Town Castle on Friday intended to honour, among others, their own 19th century king, Langalibalele.
The Hlubi delegation, including sitting monarch Langalibalele II, left the ceremony prematurely, feeling “insulted” when Mapisa-Nqakula referred to their king – in the speech she delivered on President Jacob Zuma’s behalf – as “inkosi” (chief) rather than “Ngonyama” (the formally correct appellation for the king, meaning “The Lion”).
Zuma was to have officiated at the event but, according to officials, had to withdraw at the last minute because of a change in the programme of visiting Zambian President Edgar Lungu.
Mapisa-Nqakula told those assembled at the ceremony that the speech was Zuma’s – but it’s not wholly clear if the reference to Langalibalele II as “inkosi Langalibalele” was in her own preamble, or to be found in the president’s original text.
Prior to the speech, statues of King Langalibalele, Zulu King Cetshwayo, BaPedi King Sekhukhune and 17th century resistance leader Doman were unveiled in the main courtyard of the Castle in an event regarded as a high point of the year-long programme commemorating the laying of the Castle’s foundation stone 350 years ago, in 1666.
Each of the three kings had languished in the cells of the Castle in the latter half of the 19th century as punishment for their resistance to colonial rule.
For the Hlubi visitors, however, the celebration of their role in resisting colonialism was soured by the use of an appellation they felt was “very disrespectful and insulting for the amaHlubi nation and their ancestors”, in the words of lawyer Bhekikazi Phoswa, who represents the King Langalibalele II Development Trust.
It is understood an attempt was made to placate the Hlubi delegation with an immediate apology before they left the Castle precincts.
Later, Phoswa said, Deputy Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Kebby Maphatsoe said they “would be willing to offer a public apology for that statement, (but) the king still awaits that statement”.
The Department of Defence did not respond to inquiries yesterday.
For more than a decade, the amaHlubi of north-western KwaZulu-Natal have been trying to restore their kingdom and have it formally acknowledged.
This bid was denied by the Nhlapo Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims, set up by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2004, and whose findings were accepted by President Zuma in 2010.
For the amaHlubi, the outcome meant accepting chieftaincy status under the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.
This year, the Hlubi brought a review application in the North Gauteng High Court to contest the Nhlapo Commission’s findings.
It is expected to be heard next year.
In a briefing at a luxury city-centre hotel hours after the Hlubi royal party had left the Castle, Phoswa – flanked by the king, other members of the royal family, and 12 chiefs from various parts of the country – expressed the entourage’s anger and dismay at the slight, and at the government’s prevarication in acknowledging the Hlubi kingship.
Speaking for the king, who remained mute and unsmiling for the duration, lawyer Bhekikazi Phoswa said: “It’s imperative to put on record that the king is very disturbed by the attitude of certain government officials.”
The entourage was buoyed earlier on Friday when they heard Deputy Minister Maphatsoe, live on SABC, name Langalibalele II as king, saying he would be present at the Castle ceremony.
And the king was greeted in this way when the Hlubi royal family arrived at the Castle.
“So it took the king and the chiefs by surprise when, in the speech (the king was) bluntly referred to as ‘inkosi’.
“One has to wonder, then, what is the official stance of the government?”
He added: “It is recorded internationally that the government acknowledges King Langalibalele I, but it’s strange that he gave birth to what they term ‘inkosi’.”
King Langalibalele II – who is officially addressed as Ngonyama (The Lion), Nkosi yamakhosi (King of Chiefs) or Isilo (Ruler of the Lion Kingdom) – is the great-grandson of King Langalibalele, who is now immortalised at the Castle.
The Hlubi trace their royal line back to King Chibi, who ruled from 1300 to 1325, when the Hlubi lived in the Congo Basin.