Appeal court sets aside Zuma’s decision that made VBS-linked man Venda king

King Thovhele Toni Mphephu Ramabulana in September 2012 in Venda, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Elijar Mushiana

King Thovhele Toni Mphephu Ramabulana in September 2012 in Venda, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Elijar Mushiana

Those in favour of the ‘rightful heir’ Masindi have been celebrating her victory.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Friday set aside former president Jacob Zuma’s decision to install Toni Mphephu Ramabulana as the acting king of Vhavenda.

His appointment was ruled to be illegal and unconstitutional.

Ramabulana was among the 53 shareholders, businesspeople, politicians and traditional leaders who were cited in the Great Bank Heist report for having wrongly benefited from the now liquidated bank. Ramabulana’s troubles started after the Reserve Bank report stated he had received a “gratuitous payment” of more than R17 million from VBS.

The king said he would pay back the money as soon as he was told where to make the repayment and the terms of such a repayment.

Princess Masindi Mphephu had approached the High Court sitting in Thohoyandou for an interdict to stop the coronation of her uncle Toni, which she was later later granted pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

Masindi, the princess of the Mphephu royal family, dragged then South African president Zuma and Toni to court, claiming she was the rightful heir to the Vhavenda throne.

The high court accepted representations by Masindi’s legal team that the coronation be halted until a pending legal review on the Mphephu dynasty status.

The court heard that Masindi believed she was overlooked for the throne because of a cultural practice that endorsed only males for kingship.

Government, in consultation with the Vhavenda royal family, then announced the postponement of the planned coronation until all the legal issues had been addressed and concluded.

At the time Mphephu royal family adviser and spokesperson Jackson Mafunzwaini insisted that Toni was the rightful leader of Vhavenda.

The dispute arose after the kingdom was endorsed by Zuma following the Nhlapo Commission being tasked with investigating chieftaincy, queenship and kingship disputes. This concluded that the Mphephus were the correct family to ascend the throne.

Today the SCA said the decision to recognise Toni as the rightful king “promotes gender discrimination”.

The ruling reads: “It is declared that the decision of the eighth respondent of 14 August 2010 to identify the first respondent as a suitable person to be appointed as the King of the Vhavenda Traditional Community is unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid and is renewed and set aside.

“It declared that the decisions of the eighth respondent to identify and that of the second respondent to recognise the first respondent as King of Vhavenda are based on a criteria [sic] that promotes gender discrimination, and are reviewed and set aside in that the discrimination impedes compliance with the provisions of section 2A(4)(c) of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Act 23 of 2009, to progressively advance gender representation in the succession to the position of King or Queen of Vhavenda.”

Those in favour of Masindi were left in celebratory mode, saying the position would now be returned to its rightful owner.

(Compiled by Vhahangwele Nemakonde, additional reporting by ANA)

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