KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala called off all government business on Friday as a mark of respect to King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, who died in the early hours of the morning. Municipalities in the province — including uMhlathuze (Richards Bay), which cancelled all weekend activities in response to the “dark cloud” brought by the king’s death — are following suit.
Addressing the media after an emergency cabinet meeting called after the monarch’s death, Zikalala said Zwelithini had played a key role in the life of the province for nearly five decades and had become a driving force for development.
“We have entered a phase of profound sadness,” Zikalala said.
Zwelithini had played a key role in consolidating South Africa into a post-aparthed democracy and would be remembered for his non-partisan stance during violent times.
“He was integral to the peace process that saw the ANC and IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party] put aside their differences,” Zikalala said. “He will be remembered as a champion of peace and stability.”
Zikalala said the province had declared a week of mourning, during which all government functions would be cancelled.
A day of prayer would be held on 18 March, and a team of MECs would co-ordinate a series of events ahead of the king’s funeral, the date of which was still to be announced.
Zikalala said he had asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to award the king a state funeral, which would be carried out under level one Covid-19 regulations.
The presidency announced late on Friday afternoon that the king would be accorded a special official funeral, category one. Its date is yet to be announced, but the South African flag will be flown-at half-mast from 13 March until the evening of the funeral.
The 72-year-old Zwelithini — the longest-serving monarch in Zulu history, having ascended to the throne in 1971 after the death of his father, Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon — died at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for a diabetic condition for a month.
The death of the monarch, whose remains will lie in state at his late father’s Khethomthandayo Palace in Nongoma, was announced on Friday morning by IFP president emeritus Mangosuthu Buthelezi, in his capacity as traditional prime minister.
It followed a month of speculation about the king’s health, after rumours about his death had begun to circulate in February, when he was admitted to hospital.
“It is with the utmost grief that I inform the nation of the passing of His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, king of the Zulu nation. 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,” Buthelezi said.
Buthelezi, speaking on behalf of the royal family, thanked the nation for their “continued prayers and support in this most difficult time”.
It is not clear at this stage who will ascend to the throne, because succession is not a matter that is traditionally discussed by the Zulu royal family while a reigning monarch is alive.
Buthelezi said in a television interview that the matter of succession would now be discussed by the royal family.
Zwelithini, the eldest son of King Cyprian and his second wife, Queen Thomozile Ndwandwe, became monarch at the age of 23. He was still at school when his father died, and a regent was appointed until he completed his schooling at Bhekuzulu College in Nongoma.
As a ceremonial monarch, Zwelithini was subject to the authority of Buthelezi in his capacity as chief minister of KwaZulu, who used the monarchy and its history as a part of the iconography and traditions of Inkatha, which ran KwaZulu.
The young monarch made several attempts by the king to break away from Buthelezi, including the failed initiative to launch the Inala party as an opposition to Inkatha in 1979.
The KwaZulu government responded by stopping Zwelithini’s salary and benefits and restricted his movements — he had to secure cabinet approval to leave Nongoma — and he was banned from giving media interviews without the permission of the KwaZulu minister of justice.
Zwelithini’s salary was eventually reinstated, but the tight control over him by KwaZulu and Inkatha remained.
During this period, thousands of lives were lost in KwaZulu-Natal and later in other parts of the country, with the monarch remaining firmly aligned with Inkatha and its opposition to the ANC, the UDF, and the international sanctions aimed at isolating the apartheid regime.
The killings continued even as the Codesa and Codesa 2 negotiations took place, with Inkatha, backed by the monarch, pulling out of talks in 1992 and threatening a boycott of the 1994 poll.
The Ingonyama Trust
Concessions by the ANC — including the creation of the Ingonyama Trust, covering 2.3-million hectares of rural KwaZulu-Natal, and recognition of the Zulu monarch — secured the participation of both in the country’s first democratic elections.
Post-1994, the monarch played a constitutive role in the process of normalising politics, and in ending the violence between the ANC and the IFP, which continued in KwaZulu-Natal after 1994.
Zwelithini’s addresses to the opening of the provincial legislature, which alternated its base between Pietermatizburg and Ulundi, the seat of power of the old KwaZulu government, were used to promote non-violence and political tolerance.
He also used his position to promote HIV/Aids awareness and reintroduced male circumcision, a cultural practice halted under the reign of King Shaka, and to promote farming among rural Zulu people.
After 2004, when IFP lost power in KwaZulu-Natal to the ANC, and the ascendancy of Jacob Zuma to the presidency, Zwelithini’s relationship with the ANC continued to improve.
That relationship has faced its challenges, both because of Zuma’s recall, and the appointment by the high-level panel by Ramaphosa, which recommended that the Ingonyama Trust be reformed or scrapped.
The report sparked a fierce backlash from Zwelithini and KwaZulu-Natal’s traditional leaders. Ramaphosa defused the situation by visiting the monarch to reassure him that the trust would not be dissolved, and that plans to use state land for land-reform purposes would not affect the 2.3-million hectares of KwaZulu-Natal under Ingonyama Trust Board control.
It is not clear what effect the death of the monarch will have on the board, which administers the land on behalf of the trust. The body, chaired by Jerome Ngwenya, is dysfunctional and enjoys a fractious relationship with both parliament’s oversight committee on land reform and the auditor general.
The funeral arrangements for the monarch will be announced after discussions between the royal family and the provincial government.