King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: THE TIMES
King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: THE TIMES

Thousands of Zulu warriors, headmen and chiefs are making their way to Ulundi Stadium, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, for an imbizo (rally) to hear King Goodwill Zwelithini respond to an ANC proposal to allocate land held by the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) to residents.

In February, former president Kgalema Motlanthe recommended that the land under the ITB and other traditional leaders should be expropriated and given to municipalities who would, in turn, hand over title deeds to those who live and work on it.

The proposal has placed the ANC at odds with Zwelithini and his followers just months before the 2019 general elections.

Although President Cyril Ramaphosa led the ANC’s top six leadership to pay homage to the Zulu king and other traditional leaders around the country shortly after they were elected at the ANC Nasrec conference in December last year, the relationship between the government and traditional leaders has since soured, especially due to the land issue.

Wednesday’s imbizo coincides with the 139th anniversary of the defeat of the Zulu army by the British colonial army and the burning down of King Cetshwayo’s palace in Ulundi, and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment.

The king is expected to address the imbizo in the early afternoon on Wednesday; on Wednesday morning, buses started arriving in Ulundi stadium, carrying Zulu warriors in full regalia and singing war songs, some of which clearly stated that the government must stay away from Zulu monarch’s land.

Judge Jerome Ngwenya, ITB chairman, said the king is expected to detail how he is prepared to exhaust all possibilities, including pickets, and multi-pronged legal challenges in local and international courts, to defend land under the ITB. He said the king will also detail why he needs donations and that the trust has, so far, collected about R200m in leases and donations, but owes more than R800m different municipalities in the province for rates and other services.

"We will hear today what the king’s plans are to defend this land. We are engaging lawyers, who are drawing [up] papers for various and complex legal challenges that the king wants to mount in his effort to use legal means to defend the land [managed] under the ITB," Ngwenya said.

He denied rumours that the king was intending to use the gathering to announce plan of getting KwaZulu-Natal to secede from the rest of SA and closing off the provincial border. "I have never heard the king say he will close off KwaZulu-Natal and secede from SA because that would be unconstitutional of him. Neither have I heard that the king would unleash his warriors on anyone who threatens land under the ITB. But we will hear of the plans today."