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Inkosi Mhlabunzima Joseph Maphumulo (Posthumous)

The Order of Luthuli in

Inkosi Mhlabunzima Joseph Maphumulo (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional selfless contribution to conflict resolution, and his resistance against injustice and oppression. He paid the ultimate price for our freedom and hard-won democracy.
Profile of Inkosi Mhlabunzima Joseph Maphumulo

Inkosi Mhlabunzima Joseph Maphumulo was born in 1949 in Mbambangalo, KwaZulu-Natal and was the eldest son of Nosibhedlela Mdlalose and Inkosi Funizwe Maphumulo. He went to school at Edendale, Bhekuzulu College and KwaDlangezwa. Installed to ubukhosi (Chieftainship) in 1973, this traditional leader of the Maphumulo near Pietermaritzburg led his people in an era of unprecedented repression and internecine violence in a country on the brink of political transformation.

Maphumulo made outstanding contributions to the struggle for democracy in South Africa and peace in KwaZulu-Natal as the traditional leader of the Maphumulo at Table Mountain and as the first President of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa). He earned a reputation as a ‘maverick,’ ‘rebel chief’ and ‘peace chief’ for his resistance to Inkatha domination in KwaZulu-Natal and for his struggle to quell state-sponsored violence in the province during the last years of apartheid.

As the first President of the Contralesa, he worked to recruit amakhosi into the anti-apartheid movement and to ensure there was a place for traditional authority in a democratic South Africa. Maphumulo literally gave his life in this quest to build a new nation.

He offered his life in service to the people of South Africa during the Struggle to establish a democratic South Africa. He did so in the face of constant danger faced by people involved in such activities. He understood the chieftaincy as an institution through which he should serve as a shield for his people, accountable for their security and well-being. Armed with this belief, he promoted peace and political tolerance during the state-sponsored civil war that preceded democracy and organised traditional leaders against apartheid.

Maphumulo first earned the reputation of a maverick chief for his allegiance to the Zulu King and opposition to the dominance of Inkatha in KwaZulu. With the Inala Party in 1975, he sought to ensure the King was not sidelined in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly. For this resistance to Inkatha, the Inkatha Youth Brigade assaulted him in 1983.

As civil war began to plague KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s, Maphumulo began to earn the reputation of a peace Chief. Conservative estimates hold that nearly 13 000 people died between 1985 and 1996 in KwaZulu-Natal. As the war spread, Maphumulo’s Table Mountain remained quiet.

As word travelled of his ‘haven of peace,’ some of the people fleeing from the violence moved to Table Mountain. He welcomed unaffiliated United Democratic Front (UDF) and Inkatha supporting refugees. He organised a series of well-publicised peace initiatives to which he invited stakeholders from across the political divide.

The Chief described his intentions: “I have to accommodate every member of my tribe irrespective of their political allegiance, be it UDF, Congress of South African Trade Unions, Inkatha or Azanian People’s Organisation.” He also spearheaded peace efforts in the war-torn Mpumalanga, organising meetings where residents could air their grievances about kitskonstabels (rouge constables) with senior police officials.

Throughout 1989, he worked with Lawyers for Human Rights to campaign for a judicial inquiry into the causes of the violence, but was rebuffed by President PW Botha and Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok. On 25 February 1991, an apartheid hit squad assassinated Maphumulo. The African National Congress organised a mass political funeral for the Chief, mourning him as a Struggle hero.