JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A tribal king in South Africa faces lengthy jail time after being convicted of arson, kidnapping and other crimes in a case that highlighted tension between sovereignty of the state and traditional authority structures.
Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, king of South Africa’s Thembu people, appeared to have few legal options after the justice minister on Tuesday rejected a petition to reopen the case.
Dalindyebo, currently out on bail, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2009, but the punishment was reduced to 12 years after a manslaughter conviction was rejected on appeal.
Dalindyebo is a flamboyant figure who once threatened to secede from South Africa, an announcement widely viewed as outlandish. He also drew attention for supporting South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and harshly criticizing President Jacob Zuma, reportedly saying he would stop consuming drugs “the day Zuma stops being corrupt.”
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The king was prosecuted for burning homes and other violence against some of his subjects in the 1990s.
In an October ruling, an appeals court said Dalindyebo abused his position and that the Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law. Summarizing the state’s case, it said:
“Imagine a tyrannical and despotic king who set fire to the houses, crops and livestock of subsistence farmers living within his jurisdiction, in full view of their families, because they resisted his attempts to have them evicted, or otherwise did not immediately comply with his orders.”
The king said he acted in the best interests of his subjects. Some supporters suggested that another person be selected to serve the king’s prison sentence on his behalf.
Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became president, was a member of the Thembu group, which speaks Xhosa. Dalindyebo was prosecuted in Mthatha, near Mandela’s burial site in Qunu village in Eastern Cape province.