The Leopard has Fallen; Tribute to Zulu King Zwelithini.

By Gordon Anastious Ssekandi & Pumza Finland

Updated at 10:59 GMT on Saturday 13, March 2021

Pretoria, South Africa

The fall of the Leopard (“Ingwe”).

King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation in South Africa has died in hospital where he was being treated for diabetes-related issues

The king, 72, was the leader of South Africa’s largest ethnic group and an influential traditional ruler.

He had been admitted to hospital in KwaZulu-Natal last week to monitor his ongoing diabetes condition.

The king’s prime minister thanked South Africa for its “continued prayers and support in this most difficult time”.


President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that he will be accorded a state funeral – normally reserved for presidents and former leaders.

The date has not been announced but in the meantime, national flags will fly at half-mast. 

He will lie in state in the royal palace in Nongoma, about 300km (185 miles) from Durban where he was in hospital, for a “few days”, according to his uncle, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

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The straight-talking king

King Zwelithini was a direct descendent of King Cetshwayo, who led the Zulu nation during the war with the British in 1879. 

Throughout his 50 year-reign he was a strong advocate for preserving cultural identity. 

As custodian of Zulu traditions and customs, he revived many cultural practices including Umhlanga – also known as the Reed Dance ceremony. Seen by some as patriarchal, the ceremony is said to be aimed at celebrating virginity among girls and young women and raising awareness about HIV/Aids in a province with some of the highest rates of infection.

South Africa’s president has described him as a “much-loved visionary”. 

He will be remembered as a straight-talker, at times to the ire of some. 

He was on occasion critical of the governing African National Congress (ANC), accusing it of mishandling the country. 

In 2015, he controversially said foreign nationals must pack up and return to their countries – at the time his comments were blamed for fuelling attacks against foreigners in his province. 

The king later said the comments had been taken out of context and described the attacks as “vile”. 

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Five things about King Goodwill Zwelithini:

  • Named successor to the throne at just 20 years old in 1968
  • Not crowned until 1971 because he went into hiding after receiving death threats
  • Role was ceremonial but still hugely influential
  • Reigned as king of the Zulu nation for five decades
  • Leaves behind six wives and 28 children
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How influential was King Goodwill Zwelithini?

King Zwelithini was one of the most well-known monarchs on the continent and perhaps globally.

He ruled the Zulu nation under the Traditional Leadership clause of South Africa’s republican constitution but his role was largely ceremonial.

He led the 11 million-strong Zulu nation – about 18% of South Africa’s population – but he also has family links to the Swazi and Xhosa nations through marriage and is respected by other cultural groups too. 

He also took his cultural influence internationally as over the years he travelled to the West to promote trade and tourism for his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. 

What role did King Goodwill Zwelithini play as apartheid was ending?

During apartheid, a legalised form of racism in which white people were privileged above all others, King Zwelithini’s role was not well known.

But Chief Buthelezi often used him and Zulu nationalism to shore up his political position as head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, a bitter rival of the ANC, which under Nelson Mandela led the fight against apartheid.

King Zwelithini helped to bring the Zulu nation into the new political system by persuading Chief Buthelezi and his party to take part in South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

After the end of apartheid, there were times when the Zulu king praised the apartheid government – he had said the National Party had built a strong economy and that the ANC government had destroyed the gains of the past.

He became King on the death of his father, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu, in 1968. Prince Israel Mcwayizeni acted as the regent from 1968 to 1971 while the King took refuge in St Helena three years to avoid assassination. After his 21st birthday and his first marriage, Zwelithini was installed as the eighth monarch of the Zulus at a traditional ceremony at Nongoma on 3 December 1971, attended by 20,000 people.


Political role

In the power vacuum created in the 1990s as Apartheid and the domination of the country by White South Africans was abolished, the King was sometimes unable to avoid being drawn into partisan politics. The Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) initially opposed parts of the new constitution advocated by the African National Congress(ANC) regarding the internal governance of KwaZulu. In particular, the IFP campaigned aggressively for an autonomous and sovereign Zulu king, as constitutional head of state. As a result, the IFP abstained from registering its party for the 1994 election (a necessity in order to receive votes) in opposition. However, once it became obvious that its efforts were not going to stop the election (the IFP’s desired goal), the party was registered.

It demonstrated its political strength by taking the majority of the provincial votes for KwaZulu-Natal in said election. Although the constitution makes the role of the King largely ceremonial, and it is incumbent upon him to act on the official advice of the provincial premier, on occasion South African President Nelson Mandela made efforts to bypass the IFP in negotiating with the Zulus, instead making direct overtures to the King (Mandela’s daughter, Zeni, is married to Prince Thumbumuzi Dlamini, a brother of Zwelithini’s Great Wife, Queen Mantfombi).

Nonetheless, the IFP remained in power in the province until 2003. During most of the King’s reign his cousin (uncle in Zulu African reckoning), Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Prince of KwaPhindangene and founder/head of IFP, was the Zulu prime minister. But in September 1994 tension between the previously allied kinsmen peaked publicly as the annual Shaka Zulu celebration approached. Rumors that the King was maneuvering to replace Buthelezi as Zulu prime minister with former regent Prince Mcwayizeni, who had joined the ANC in 1990, seemed likely after the King announced that Buthelezi would no longer be his chief advisor, and simultaneously cancelled the holiday ceremony.

For his safety, federal troops escorted Zwelithini by helicopter to Johannesburg. Although Buthelezi was then serving as Home Affairs minister in South Africa’s Cabinet, President Mandela’s efforts to broker a reconciliation failed. Buthelezi moved the event from Nongoma to Stanger, and addressed a throng of 10,000 of his Zulu supporters. Subsequently, the King’s spokesman, Prince Sifiso Zulu, was being interviewed on television at the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s studio when Buthelezi and his bodyguards forcibly interrupted the programme, physically intimidating Chief Sifiso. The televised incident drew national attention and a public rebuke from Mandela, prompting Buthelezi to apologize to the Zulu Royal Family, Cabinet and nation for his behavior.

Relations between Zwelithini and Buthelezi later improved.

King Zwelithini cooperated as the law requires with the ANC since it took over the reins of government in KwaZulu-Natal. The King’s finances are controlled by KwaZulu-Natal provincial authorities. In 1989 he criticized the ANC leadership for not inviting him and Buthelezi to a rally welcoming back the Rivonia Trial defendants, who had been released after almost three decades of imprisonment. As the constitutional monarch of the kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal, he was head of the Ubukhosi, the state-recognized institution of Traditional Leadership that consists of local chiefs. His leadership role also entailed chairmanship of the Usuthu Tribal Authority and Nongoma Regional Authority, both established under the provisions of the KwaZulu Amakhosi and Iziphakanyiswa Act. In his address upon the opening of the Provincial Parliament on 28 September 2003, the King advised the government and legislators to give more heed to the Ubukhosi: Traditional Leaders are neither consulted nor involved in the process of formulating policies that have a direct bearing on their day to day activities.

The institution of Ubukhosi has been in existence from time immemorial and has survived many hardships under past colonial regimes. From the point of view of the ordinary citizen, an Inkosi’s most important role may lie in his symbolizing of community solidarity. So any notion that the institution of Ubukhosi, now that we have a democratic government in place, can just be wished away, remains a pipe-dream. Some countries just across our borders had decided to do away with the institution of traditional leadership immediately after attaining independence from colonial rulers. However, they have since realised that they had committed gross mistakes and were now re-inventing these institutions at great costs.

“As King of the Zulu Nation I am proud of the role played by the Prime Minister of the Zulu Nation, Prince of KwaPhindangene, Dr MG Buthelezi who had singlehandedly championed the cause of the Institution of Traditional Leadership in this country.”


Cultural role

The King was chairman of the Ingonyama Trust, a corporate entity established to administer the land traditionally owned by the king for the benefit, material welfare and social well-being of the Zulu nation. This land consists of 32% of the area of KwaZulu/Natal. As the custodian of Zulu traditions and customs, King Zwelithini revived cultural functions such as the Umhlanga, the colourful and symbolic reed dance ceremony which, amongst other things, promotes moral awareness and AIDS education among Zulu women, and the Ukweshwama, the first fruits ceremony, which is a traditional function involving certain traditional rituals including the killing of a bull.

The latter ceremony was subject to a lawsuit brought in November 2009 by Animal Rights Africa, alleging that the method of killing the animal was cruel and barbaric. He has also traveled abroad extensively to promote tourism and trade in the West for KwaZulu-Natal, and to fundraise for Zulu-supported charities, often accompanied by one of his queens consort. On such occasions he was frequently officially hosted by local Zulu organizations, and granted audiences to Zulus living abroad. In June 1994, the University of Zululandconferred an honorary doctorate in agriculture upon the King.

He was Chancellor of the South African branch of the American-based Newport University. In March 1999 Coker College of South Carolina awarded him an honorary doctorate in law. During the first half of 2001 he was inaugurated as Chancellor of the M L Sultan Technikon in KwaZulu-Natal.The King’s authorized biography, King of Goodwill, was published in 2003. The musical dramatization of this work premiered at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg on 16 March 2005.

The King spoke at The Synagogue Church Of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2004 regarding the importance of trade and peace.ControversiesIn January 2012, while speaking at an event commemorating the 133rd anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana, the King caused controversy with his statement that same-sex relations were “rotten”. His statements were condemned by the South African Human Rights Commission as well as LGBT rights groups. President Jacob Zuma rebuked the king for his comments. The Zulu Royal Household later said that the King’s comments had been mistranslated and that he had not condemned same-sex relations, only expressed concern about a state of moral decay in South Africa that has led to widespread sexual abuse, including male-on-male sexual abuse.

In September 2012, King Goodwill Zwelithini asked the KwaZulu-Natal government for R18m to build new property, including a new R6m palace for his youngest wife Queen Mafu and upgrades to Queen MaMchiza’s palace. The King’s royal household department CFO, Mduduzi Mthembu, told a parliamentary committee that the money was needed. The department also requested USD1.4m for improvements to Queen MaMchiza’s palace. The government had already budgeted around USD6.9m for the royal family during 2012, not for the first time prompting accusations of lavish spending; in 2008, opposition parties criticised King Zwelithini’s wives for spending around USD24,000 on linen, designer clothes and expensive holidays.

Speaking at a Pongolo community meeting in March 2015, Zwelithini acknowledged that while other nations had participated in efforts which led to South Africa’s liberation, that should not be considered an excuse for foreigners to cause inconvenience in the country now by competing with locals for scarce economic opportunities. Contending that he was free to say what politicians were not, he asked that foreigners please return to their native lands since, he maintained, South African nationals in diaspora had not gone on to open businesses in host countries. These observations were made during a time of growing unease between South Africans and non-nationals, violence having erupted in Soweto in January and spread to KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in three deaths. The Democratic Alliance’s spokesman, calling for a public retraction and apology, criticised the remarks as “highly irresponsible”, while a SAHRC official labelled them xenophobic in light of recent attacks on foreigners. Alleged to have sparked violence against non-nationals, although Zwelithini’s remarks about anti-social behaviour and the desirability of foreigners believed responsible leaving South Africa did not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, his spokesman subsequently said that he was referring only to those present in the country illegally. Wives and childrenAt the time of his death, King Goodwill Zwelithini had six wives and 28 children. These include:maDlamini (born Sibongile Winifred Dlamini), married 27 December 1969 at St Margaret’s Church, Nongoma. Prince Lethukuthula Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Sibongile MaDlamini), born 1970 – died 2020.Princess Nombuso Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Sibongile MaDlamini) owner of Durban-based Ilembe Catering Services, born 1973.Ntombizosuthu Ka Zwelithini Duma (by Ndlunkulu Sibongile MaDlamini) a businesswoman who co-owns Strategic Persuasions and Zamalwandle Transport Logistics with her husband. Born 1979, married to Mbongiseni Duma, a Johannesburg-based businessman.

Princess Ntandoyenkosi Ka Zwelithini Ngcaweni (by Ndlunkulu Sibongile MaDlamini), an Asset Manager at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), born 1982. Married to Busani Ngcaweni, who headed the office of the former Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe. Princess Sinethemba Bati Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Sibongile Dlamini), born 1989, currently pursuing a degree in International Relations, at the University of Witwatersrand. Buhle KaMathe, born 1951. In May 1996, she and her daughter were seriously wounded in an assault during which they were clubbed, stabbed and shot.Princess Sibusile Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Buhle KaMathe), born 1972.Princess Nandi Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Buhle KaMathe), born 1977, married (civil) 6 December 2002 in St John’s Cathedral, Mthatha, by Bishop Sitembele Mzamane and (traditional) 7 December at the Thembu Great Place near Qunu, to Chief Mfundo Bovulengwa Mtirara, born 25 March 1973, Acting Deputy Paramount Chief of the Thembufrom 2000, Chief of the Matye’ngqina Traditional Authority Area.Prince Phumuzuzulu (by Ndlunkulu Buhle KaMathe – Phumuza, named after his great grandfather King Phumuzululu kaDinuzulu, son of King kaCetshwayoPrince Shlobosenkosi Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Buhle KaMathe), born 1988, studied at Kearsney Collegein Botha’s Hill, Durban.Prince Nhlanganiso Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Buhle KaMathe), married WandiPrince Buzabazilate Prince Butho ZuluMantfombi Dlamini, the Great Wife, born 1956, daughter of Sobhuza II of Swaziland and sister of King Mswati III, married 1973. Her Highness is also a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Churc

hPrince Misuzulu Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi), born 23 September 1974 in Kwahlabisa, KwaZulu-Natal, is currently pursuing a degree in International Studies in Jacksonville, Florida, and is a strong candidate for Zwelethini’s successor. He is unmarried and has one son. Princess Ntandoyesizwe Zulu(by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi), born 1976, married 13 April 2002 at Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, to late Kgosi Oupa Moilwa, Chief of the Bahurutse Bagamoilwa . Civil ceremony 11 July 2004, in Pongola.Princess Nomkhosi (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi), born 1982, fiancee Melusi MoyoPrincess Bukhosibemvelo, (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi), born 1985, married Sipho Nyawo, who paid 120 cows as part of the ilobolo for her. Prince Lungelo (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi), a student at Michaelhouse boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal.


Prince Mandlesizwe (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi)Prince Bizwekhaya (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi)Prince Masikomahle (by Ndlunkulu Mantfombi)Thandekile “Thandi” Jane Ndlovu, married 1988Prince Sihlangu Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Thandi), artist by name zulusoulPrincess Mukelile Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Thandi)Nompumelelo Mchiza, married 25 July 1992.Princess Nqobangothando Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Nompumelelo)Prince Nhlangano Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Nompumelelo)Princess Cebo Zulu (by Ndlunkulu Nompumelelo)Zola Zelusiwe Mafu, born 1986, betrothed 2006, married 2014.Prince Nhlendlayenkosi Zulu (by Ndlunkulu LaMafu)

Who will be Zulu king now?

It is not clear who among the king’s 28 children will succeed him – this is something the Zulu royal family will be expected to advise on.

Hamba kahle King Goodwill Zwelithini

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