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Nation mourns King Goodwill Zwelithini, a man who revived age-old Zulu customs

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini assumed the throne at the young age of 23. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini assumed the throne at the young age of 23. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 12, 2021


DURBAN – Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini who died today at the age of 73, saw it all during his lifetime.

A son of King Cyprian Bhekuzulu and Queen Thomozile Ndwandwe, the king assumed the throne at the young age of 23 (in 1971) before thousands of well wishers.

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His crowning came at a time when there was infighting in the royal house and he had to be summoned to abandon schooling in order to fill the vacancy within the throne.

Through those years he ruled in the background – some said at the mercy of the IFP which was in charge of the then KwaZulu. His prominent role came in the early 1990s when there were negotiations between the apartheid government and various political parties like the ANC and the IFP.

The IFP wanted a greater role for him while the other parties wanted him to be a mere ceremonial figure. On his behalf, in the early 1990s, a group of Zulu men wielding knobkerries marched past Shell House, the ANC offices in Durban. ANC security personnel opened fire on the group, resulting in a few fatalities.

But there were also fallouts between him and the IFP. One such fallout saw the KwaZulu-Natal government under the IFP taking away the luxury fleet of vehicles allocated for the king in 2002.

In another incident in September 1990, rumours started swirling that the king wanted to replace Buthelezi in his role as the traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch. That led to the cancellation of the annual Shaka's Day celebrations in KwaDukuza, as the king was escorted out of the province when tensions boiled over.

Another high profile fallout became clear in the late 1990s when the king was seen as getting close to ANC politicians who had promised to treat him better than the IFP government and the leadership of the party.

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Post 1994, the king became a leading figure in KZN and the country. His influential role saw him given the honour of opening the KZN legislature before the premier delivers his state of the province address.

As a descendant of the legendary King Shaka, during his time, he carried the Zulu torch on prominent cultures like Umkhosi Womhlanga, Umkhosi Wokweshwama and Umkhosi Woselwa.

He also revived the centuries old tradition of circumcision. The culture was banned within the Zulu kingdom by King Shaka because he wanted to create a standing army where all young men would be available to go to war.

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In the past few years the king was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the national government which wanted to disband the Ingonyama Trust, of which he is the sole trustee. The trust is in charge of a large tract of rural and semi-urban land in KZN and its makes millions in profits.

Late last month, for the first time since 1994, due to the illness that eventually took his life, he did not give the usual speech from the throne which marks the start of the business for the provincial legislature.

His closeness to the King of Eswatini, King Mswati III caused controversy as the latter is seen as despotic. He even attended cultural ceremonies of the Swati kingdom and gave speeches.

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The king leaves his six wives and his children, who are believed to number about 30.

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Political Bureau