AbaThembu King Dalindyebo acted like medieval despot - State

OCTOBER 1, 2015

The king set fire to the homes of his subjects, beat three young men so badly bystanders could not watch, told the father of a young man his supporters had killed not to report it to police, and then fined the father 10 head of cattle.

“If the State is to be believed, this is not a description of what occurred during medieval times, but it is how the appellant, King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, treated his subjects at a time after South Africa became a Constitutional state subject to the rule of law.”

These were the words of the Supreme Court of Appeal, in a ruling handed down on Thursday, in which the Abathembu king’s 15-year jail sentence was replaced with a 12-year term.

He was lucky not to have had a longer prison sentenced imposed, the SCA said.

In 2009, the Eastern Cape High Court found him guilty on seven counts of kidnapping, three of arson, three of assault, two of defeating the ends of justice, and one of culpable homicide. Some of the sentences were to run concurrently, meaning he received in effect 15 years.

He succeeded only in having his conviction on a charge of culpable homicide and the accompanying 10-year jail sentence set aside. The SCA dismissed the rest of his appeal.

In 1995, he set fire to the homes of three of his subjects in a bid to evict them after they broke tribal rules. He argued he was entitled to do so because the homes were his property.

18-year-old’s death

On January 27, 1996, his supporters beat to death Saziso Wofa, 18. Dalindyebo told Wofa’s father to tell mortuary staff that his son had died of natural causes, and instructed him not to tell police. He then ordered the father to present himself at his “Great Place”, where he fined him 10 head of cattle for his son's having brought disgrace on his land. This was apparently because of Wofa’s association with three men Dalindyebo’s supporters had assaulted.

In 1997, one of the arson charges was withdrawn following the intervention of senior police officers. They were only reinstated after the victim laid a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission, and one of Dalindyebo’s chiefs complained to the national police commissioner.

His victims were “justifiably terrified” of him, the SCA said. Even when they were desperate enough to lay charges, they were met with the “negative force of Dalindyebo’s influence”.

The SCA found that the years of delay in bringing the matter to trial, which itself lasted about five years, were due to Dalindyebo’s actions.

He was “dilatory and obstructive” and not averse to being “economical with the truth”. He changed lawyers 11 times. One of them quit. There were at least 34 postponements.

“His behaviour was all the more deplorable because the victims of his reign of terror were the vulnerable rural poor, who were dependent upon him,” the SCA said.