he acting chief of the Vhavenda kingdom in Limpopo and the former chairperson of the now defunct Venda Building Society (VBS), Tony Mphephu Ramabulana, will be deposed as the acting chief of the kingdom. This after the Supreme Court of Appeal last Friday ruled that his appointment by former state president Jacob Zuma was unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid.
The matter follows the challenge by Ramabulana`s niece, Princess Tshimangadzo Masindi Dimbanyika Mphephu, shortly after Ramabulana was appointed by Jacob Zuma in 2010. The princess appealed to challenge the High Court decision which recognised Tony Mphephu Ramabulana as the rightful Vhavenda king. Following the move, the Limpopo government postponed the coronation.
The latest revelation is likely to boost the claim by a certain family in Bolobedu that the reigning Queen Modjadji VI’s position might also be disputed because she was appointed by Zuma.
VBS is the bank which loaned Jacob Zuma R7.8 Million to pay for his renovations at his Nkandla homestead following the recommendations by the former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, that he repay all the money spent during the construction.
Ramabulana was not a well-known figure in Tzaneen circles until last year during a visit to Bolobedu by President Cyril Ramaphosa where he claimed that the Balobedu were his relatives. During this visit, the Ramabulana alongside the Balobedu asked the president to give them all the land from Westfalia going north all the way to Thohoyandou because according to him, it belonged to them.
The President responded by declaring that land that would be returned to the community would be used to develop agriculture. Ramabulana raised his eyebrows and argued that because land was taken from his ancestors, it should be returned back to traditional leaders.
Shortly after these dramatic events at Mokwakwaila Stadium, news broke that VBS, of which the King was the chairperson at the time, was facing collapse after executives looted funds to maintain their wealthy lifestyles. Ramabulana was mentioned in the report released by advocate Terry Motau titled the “Great BankHeist” in which he allegedly benefitted from the loot.
Media reports detailed that the King was living off the loot. Various national media agencies reported that he owned a house in Dainfern in Sandton, that was seen shopping at exclusive boutiques in Johannesburg and that at his house, guests would be lavishly entertained by his butler who also served as his spokesperson.
“It is declared that the decision of the eighth respondent (Jacob Zuma) of 14 August 2010 to identify the first respondent (Ramabulana) as a suitable person to be appointed as the king of Vhavenda traditional authority is unlawful, unconstitutional, and is renewed as set aside. It is declared that the eighth respondent and the second respondent (Premier Stan Mathabatha) to recognise the first respondent as king of the Vhavenda tribe are based on the criteria that promotes gender discrimination are reviewed and set aside in that the discrimination impedes compliance with the provisions of section 2A of the Traditional Leadership and Government Framework Amendment Act of 2009 to progressively promote gender representation in the succession to the position of the King or Queen of Vhavenda,” stated the ruling.
Following the court order, Vhavenda, like the Balobedu, who are related will be ruled by a Queen. Tshimangadzo Masindi Mphephu is the daughter of Vhavenda paramount chief Dimbanyika Mphephu. He reigned between 1994 until he died in a car accident in 1997. From then his brother Tony was installed as the acting chief of the tribe until he was recognised by the Jacob Zuma presidency in 2010.
The King has since promised to return money donated to him by the bank executives as gifts. Because he has not honoured this promise, his assets are subject to be auctioned off to defray the losses the bank experienced.