JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The traditional leader of the 12 million Zulu in South Africa, King Goodwill Zwelithini, was laid to rest in a private ceremony early Thursday.
Zwelithini, 72, died last Friday of health problems related to diabetes and was buried in a traditional ceremony called “ukutshalwa kweNkosi,” attended only by elderly men of the royal family, many of whom wear leopard skins and colorful Zulu regalia.
Zwelithini ruled for more than 50 years and was the longest-serving monarch in the Zulu nation, the largest ethnic group of the 60 million people in South Africa. Most of the country’s Zulus live in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Historically, the Zulu nation made early resistance to British colonialism from 1816 to 1828 under the leadership of King Shaka Zulu.
Zwelithini was an advocate of traditional Zulu customs and the most influential of the traditional South African leaders who hold no political office but have significant influence, especially among the rural people of South Africa. He is credited with speaking openly to encourage public education to tackle the HIV / AIDS epidemic that broke out in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.
After Zwelithini’s funeral, President Cyril Ramaphosa was one of the speakers at a memorial service praising the king.
“During his reign, the Zulu nation achieved harmony and peace. During his reign, his people, along with all the people of our country, realized the dream of freedom from the injustices of colonialism and apartheid, ”said Ramaphosa.
Others who attended the memorial included former President Jacob Zuma, Zulu, and Princess Charlene of Monaco, who is from South Africa.
Zwelithini has been recognized for his role in ending the political violence that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal Province prior to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. He is credited with encouraging Zulus to vote in elections and urging them not to participate in violent attacks across the country.
Zwelithini’s legacy has not gone unchallenged, however, and the royal house this week threatened legal action against City Press for publishing a damning opinion on the king’s rule.
In the article, the editor-in-chief of the city press, Mondli Makhanya, accused Zwelithini of being a puppet of the former apartheid regime of the white minority in South Africa before the transition to democracy.
Makhanya claimed Zwelithini was responsible for many deaths because he worked with the apartheid regime and Inkatha Freedom Party leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi to create an independent Zulu state and oppose democratic reforms.
The Zulu royal family issued a statement denouncing Makhanya’s claims as “vulgar lies” and saying they would “take the necessary steps once the mourning ends”.
The royal family will meet to determine who will succeed Zwelithini.