Page last updated at 17:27 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Row over South Africa Xhosa king's secession bid

King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo
King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo claims to represent 10 million people

South Africa has been plunged into a constitutional row after a Xhosa tribal king threatened to secede - and take 60% of the country's land with him.

Officials dismissed King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo's plan as "downright silly".

The king, who faces 15 years in jail for multiple offences, had intended to inform parliament of his secession.

But his lawyer said the king, of the Xhosa clan's Thembu sub-group, postponed his plans after receiving a letter from President Jacob Zuma.

"The decision made by the Thembu people to withdraw from South Africa still stands, what has been put on hold is the physical withdrawal which was meant to happen today," Votani Majola told the BBC.

"The king recently received a letter from President Jacob Zuma on the matter and instructed me to not file the official withdrawal notice as planned."

War declaration?

He said the Thembu people would now decide on their next move.

The Thembu clan claim to historically own KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape provinces and "portions" of the Free State province and the country's richest province, Gauteng.

King Dalindyebo's legal team claim that 10 million people belong to the Thembu sub-group, and that the king had made an "executive decision" to take over the land on behalf of his people.

But earlier Mr Zuma's spokesman Vincent Magwenya dismissed the plan as silly.

"Claiming chunks of land within the Republic of South Africa to form an independent state, I doubt that they can even do that," he said.

"How do you declare an independent state without technically declaring war with South Africa?

"I don't believe our constitution even makes a provision for such an act."

While the role of kings and chiefs is recognised in South Africa they do not have sovereignty over the rule of the constitution, which recognises the president as the leader of the entire state.

King Dalindyebo launched his plan to secede shortly after Mr Zuma refused to intervene in a criminal case against him.

He is currently appealing against a 15-year sentence for crimes including culpable homicide, kidnapping, assault and arson.

The charges stemmed from violence against his subjects in a small village near Mthatha between 1995 and 1996.

Some children and a woman were kidnapped, homes were burned and young people were severely assaulted - one of whom died.

His supporters have demanded that all charges against the king be scrapped and that the government pay 80bn rand (£6.8bn; $10.9bn) in compensation for his "humiliation" in court.

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