South Africa’s largest ethnic group, the Zulus, were yesterday to crown a new king following a year of feuding over who should ascend to the throne of the country’s most influential traditional monarchy.
Misuzulu Zulu, 47, was set to succeed his father, Goodwill Zwelithini, who died in March last year after 50 years in charge.
Although the title of king does not bestow executive power, Zulu monarchs wield great moral influence over more than 11 million Zulus, who make up nearly one-fifth of South Africa’s population.
Yesterday, Misuzulu was to enter the cattle kraal at the KwaKhethomthandayo Royal Palace in Nongoma, a small town in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. There, he would take part in a secret rite designed to present the new monarch to his legendary ancestors.
Afterward, he would be introduced to his people, who would pledge to “accept the king as their king,” said Gugulethu Mazibuko, a senior lecturer in African languages at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Only select members of the royal family and Zulu warriors, known as amaButhos, would be allowed to witness the kraal rite up close, but large crowds were expected to gather at the royal palace to celebrate the event.
Within the palace grounds on Friday, the eve of the coronation, preparations were well under way. Men erected tents, while others sacrificed cows to be served to guests.
The soon-to-be king was also confirmed to have killed a lion at a nearby reserve — the last step before the coronation.
Siphiwe Joshua Mbatha, 82, was chatting with fellow villagers outside the palace.
“To have a new king is history for us, it’s a blessing,” said the white-bearded man, who said he was once a driver of the new king’s grandfather. “It doesn’t happen every now and then. Last time was over 50 years ago.”
Mbatha said he was unfazed by the family wrangling ahead of the coronation.
“It’s part of the process, ordination of a new king is always a fight,” he said.
Zulu kings are descendants of King Shaka, the 19th-century leader still revered for having united a large swathe of the country as the Zulu nation, which fought bloody battles against the British.
The new monarch’s first name means “strengthening the Zulus,” but his path to the crown has been the subject of an acrimonious family dispute.
King Zwelithini left behind six wives and at least 28 children when he died last year at the age of 72.
Misuzulu is the first son of Zwelithini’s third wife, Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini, whom the late monarch named in his will as regent after his death.
However, the queen died suddenly a month later at the age of 68, sparking rumors that she had been poisoned.
She left a will that designated Misuzulu to ascend to the throne — a development that did not go down well with other branches of the family.
After a failed legal bid to challenge the succession, Prince Simakade Zulu, the son of the late king’s first wife, surrounded by a small group of people, underwent the cattle kraal rite last weekend, in a last-ditch move to thwart Misuzulu’s coronation, while at a sombre news briefing held in Johannesburg on Thursday, some of the late king’s brothers disowned both heirs apparent and put forward a third prince as their candidate for the throne.
This “unprecedented” royal feud has made the Zulu kingdom “a laughing stock,” Zulu monarchy spokesman Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has been championing Misuzulu’s coronation, told a palace news conference on Friday.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in March recognized Misuzulu as the rightful king.
The next Zulu monarch will inherit a fortune and tap into a rich seam of income.
Zwelithini enjoyed the trappings of his royal status, receiving about 71 million rands (US$4.2 million) a year from the government to run royal affairs and fund a lavish lifestyle.
He owned several palaces and other properties, with a royal trust managing almost 3 million hectares.
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