Ekeomah Atuonwu – Abuja, Nigeria
The coronation of a new king in South Africa’s richest and most powerful traditional monarchy brought thousands of people to the Zulu royal house on Saturday.
A contentious succession battle threatens to dominate the ceremony as Misuzulu Zulu, 47, is slated to succeed his father Goodwill Zwelithini, who passed away in March of last year after 50 years in power.
The kings have significant moral influence over the more than 11 million Zulus, who make up about a quarter of South Africa’s population, despite the fact that the title of king does not confer governmental power.
Nongoma, a small hamlet in the southeast province of KwaZulu-Natal, the homeland of the Zulus, men and women dressed in vibrant traditional garb gathered before the marble palace on the hills.
Tens of thousands more were expected to arrive throughout the day to honour the new sovereign. Yet, an acrimonious family dispute over the throne raged. On Saturday, a court in Pietermaritzburg was to hear an urgent application by a branch of the royal family to block all ceremonies.
Zulu warriors from Nongoma, known as amaButhos, marched into the palace grounds while brandishing spears and animal-skin shields. Women sang and danced, some baring their chests, others wearing pleated skirts and beaded belts, or wearing textiles with the effigy of the ruler.
Misuzulu participated in a covert ceremony on Friday night in the “cattle kraal” of the palace to introduce the new king to his forefathers. Only a few members of the royal family and amaButhos were permitted within the enclosure, which is guarded by a substantial fence made of tree trunks to keep off prying eyes.
The soon-to-be king also killed a lion earlier this week at a local reserve as one of the final preparations for the coronation.
FAMILY FEUD It has not been an easy road for him to the throne. When he passed away last year, King Zwelithini left behind six wives and at least 28 children.
Zwelithini’s third wife, whom he named as regent in his will, is the mother of Misuzulu, his first child. However, the queen passed away unexpectedly a month later, leaving a will that named Misuzulu as the new king, a decision that rankled other family lines.
The late king’s first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini, has supported her son Prince Simakade Zulu as the legitimate heir. A third prince has been proposed as a candidate for the throne by some of the deceased king’s brothers. Friday saw the resumption of Queen Sibongile’s legal attempt to contest the succession after she was given permission to appeal a previous unfavorable decision.
Two of her daughters submitted an urgent application on Saturday to halt the ceremonies while the appeal is being processed. Themba Fakazi, a former advisor to the emperor who supports Misuzulu, said:
“Those who are Zulu and know the traditions, know who is the king.” The following Zulu monarch will bequeath wealth and have access to a plentiful source of revenue.
Zwelithini held a number of palaces and other properties in addition to receiving roughly 71 million rand ($4.2 million) year from the government. A royal trust manages almost three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land — an area about the size of Belgium.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who in March recognised Misuzulu as the rightful king, is to formally certify the crowning at a ceremony in the coming months.