Zulu King Zwelithini dies at 72, hailed as ‘visionary monarch’

Published March 13, 2021
GOODWILL Zwelithini (right) photographed with South African President Nelson Mandela in this June 12, 1999, file photo.—AFP
GOODWILL Zwelithini (right) photographed with South African President Nelson Mandela in this June 12, 1999, file photo.—AFP

JOHANNESBURG: Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who saw himself as the custodian of his people’s culture and was praised by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as a “visionary monarch”, died on Friday.

Zwelithini, who was 72, died in hospital, the royal family said. He had been admitted to hospital in KwaZulu-Natal province last month to be treated for diabetes.

Though his role was largely ceremonial, Zwelithini was revered by his people and had vast influence over millions of Zulus.

Ramaphosa hailed his contribution to national unity and economic development in KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa as a whole, and the opposition Democratic Alliance party called Zwelithini “a hugely important and influential figure on our political and cultural landscape for the past five decades”.

“Tragically, while still in hospital, His Majesty’s health took a turn for the worse and he subsequently passed away in the early hours of this morning,” a statement issued by Prince Mangosutho Buthelezi, founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party and traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch, said.

“On behalf of the Royal Family, we thank the nation for your continued prayers and support in this most difficult time.” Zwelithini was officially crowned the eighth monarch of South Africa’s largest ethnic group in 1971, after going into hiding fearing assassination when his father died in 1968.

In 1984, he revived the reed dance, a 19th century practice which sees thousands of bare-breasted maidens dance in front of the king to celebrate their beauty and virginity in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2021

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