Balobedu crown: another year without a solution

Princess Masalanabo Modjadji during her birthday celebration early this year.

Princess Masalanabo Modjadji during her birthday celebration early this year.

Published Dec 29, 2023


Another year has come and gone without a solution in the widely reported Modjadji royal throne battle that is currently in court.

The battle has pitted two siblings against each other in a spat that has now lasted nearly three years after a faction of the royal council decided to nominate the heir apparent brother to rule over the Balobedu nation at Khetlhakone Village, near Modjadjiskloof, in Limpopo in early May 2021.

The decision to nominate Prince Lekukela brought outrage and divisions across the Balobedu nation with some vowing to be on Princess Masanalabo Modjadji’s corner, who was widely expected to be Balobedu nation’s next rain queen after she turned 18 this year.

The announcement by the royal council received mixed reactions, with some Balobedu saying the appointment of Prince Lekukela brought to an end South Africa’s only female monarch, while others welcomed it and blamed ANC heavyweight Mathole Motshekga for the changes.

The council had initially said they had decided to announce her older brother, Prince Lekukela, as heir to the throne following a lengthy squabble between the royal family and Motshekga over the princess’s future.

The “traditional installation” of Prince Lekukela Modjadji as the king of the Balobedu took place in October 2022.

Motshekga is the legal guardian of Princess Masalanabo and had been living with her in Johannesburg, prompting some of the Balobedu nation members to ask questions as to whether the princess would be a legitimate leader after not growing up among the nation to learn the ropes of how to become queen.

Others supported her elder brother, Prince Lekukela Modjadji, who they said was the rightful heir to the throne, but this decision would break almost 200 years of the nation being ruled by a woman widely known as the “rain queen”.

Princess Masalanabo was tipped to take over as Queen Modjadji VII once she reached the constitutionally required age limit of 18 this year

She is the only daughter of Queen Makobo Modjadji VI, who died in June 2005, aged 27.

The girl was just six months old when her mother died after having ruled for two years – the shortest reign in the history of Balobedu

In 2019, the Modjadji royal family accused Motshekga – the queendom’s former legal adviser who raised Princess Masalanabo after her mother died – of turning her against them in a bid to hijack the queenship.

The Balobedu nation has been in existence for more than 400 years and is renowned for its rain-making powers.

The nation was forced to install a regent, Prince Mpapatla Modjadji, to look after the throne while the matter was ventilated in South Africa’s courts.

However, Prince Mpapatla was accused of supporting Prince Lekukela’s ascension as the next king, bringing further disarray in the matter.

There were also assertions that the problems within the monarchy started after the death of Queen Makobo Modjadji, who was Masalanabo’s mother, when paternity disputes arose.

There were rumours that in 2005, after Queen Makobo Modjadji died, problems arose when David Mohale, who the nation thought was just a friend to Queen Makobo, instead claimed the paternity of Princess Masalanabo, daughter to Queen Makobo.

It was claimed that, as a result, Princess Masalanabo left the Balobedu nation when she was five months old, disqualifying her from ascending the throne because she missed sacred processes to prepare her as heir.

However, still in May 2021, Motshekga, in court papers, disputed the legitimacy of Modjadji queenship regent, Prince Mpapatla Modjadji, saying the position had not been reviewed every 12 months as required by the law.

In the court papers, Motshekga claimed Prince Mpapatla was essentially a “self-proclaimed” regent because Limpopo premier Stan Mathabatha had failed to review the position every year as required by Act no 6 of the Limpopo Traditional Leadership and Institutions Act of 2003.

The notice of motion were prepared by ANC veteran Mathews Phosa, who was representing Motshekga but later quit as his legal representative, and became a legal dispute between the former ANC chief whip and Prince Mpapatla over the future of Balobedu queenship heir apparent, Princess Masalanabo Modjadji, after the decision by the faction of the royal council.

Some of what Motshekga was seeking from court was to the reviewing and setting aside the decision taken by the the royal council on May 7, 2021, to appoint Lekukela Modjadji as the next leader of the Balobedu Royal Nation and declaring the impugned decision to be null and void from the beginning among others.

The court papers were also supported by a petition claimed to have been signed by more than 2 000 people supporting Princess Masalanabo to ascend the throne after the decision by the Modjadji Royal Council to nominate Prince Lekukela Modjadji, to rule over the nation.

The petition had been started by Pastor Samuel Manyama, who is from Bolobedu but now resides in Gauteng.

In June the same Prince Mpapatla filed a notice to oppose the application by Motshekga regarding Princess Masalanabo’s future.

The notice to oppose, dated June 2, stated that the Modjadji Royal Nation and Prince Mpapatla would be opposing the application.

The notice read in part: “Take notice that the first respondent (Modjadji Royal Nation) and second respondent (Prince Mpapatla) hereby enter notice to oppose this application.”

Since then the matter has been going in and out of court with legal representatives of the two parties changing over the years and lengthy postponements of the case.

In October 2022, Prince Lekukela’s faction held a traditional coronation for him to be installed as king at Khetlhakoni village.

Prince Lekukela is arguing that they have been forced to move on after trying in vain to bring Princess Masalanabo back to the royal kraal for traditional rituals assessment.

However, Princess Masalanabo’s faction was preparing for her inauguration in April 2023 after she came of age but it never took place.

It was not clear why it never took place.

In January this year, Princess Masanalabo turned 18, paving the way for her to fight her own court battles and qualify to be the Balobedu queen.

In May the Balobedu Royal Council endorsed Princess Masalanabo Modjadji to be installed as the next rain queen in August.

In October, Motshekga insisted that Princess Masalanabo was now in charge of the Balobedu queendom after she turned 18 in January.

However, he has had to cease being the princess’s foster parent after she celebrated turning 18 at his home in Johannesburg earlier this year.

It remains to be seen on what the courts will decide next year.

Balobedu’s history of the rain starts with Queen Mokope, who gave birth to the next heir to the throne, Princess Maria Modjadji, who died on June 28, 2001.

Princess Maria died the next day without having sat on the royal chair.

Elders say it was out of worry. Although Princess Maria’s demise left a gap in the royal seat, there was a silver lining, with her daughter, Princess Makobo Modjadji, who later became queen and gave birth to the two siblings now pitted against each other to possess the rain-making powers.

In 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa recognised Princess Masalanabo Modjadji as the legitimate heir to the throne.

Pretoria News