Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA) – In the build-up to South Africa’s historic transition to democracy, King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu (left), and the country’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela (right), were central to ending the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal and other parts of the country. New Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini (centre) must remain above politics. If the royal family is divided, the entire nation is weakened and its influence is severely reduced, says the writer.
Traditionally, the royal family is sacrosanct. It is deemed an important institution that binds the nation together. If the royal family is divided, the entire nation is weakened and its influence is severely reduced.
The Zulu royal family cannot be insulated from this reality. A royal family is the ruling family. In the South African context, it is defined by legislation. The Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (No. 41 of 2003), Chapter 1, defines a royal family as “the core customary institution or structure consisting of immediate relatives of the ruling family within a traditional community, who have been identified in terms of custom, and includes, where applicable, other family members who are close relatives of the ruling family”.
A similar understanding is captured by the Traditional Khoi-San Leadership Act (No. 3 of 2019), with specific reference to the Khoi-San communities. The same interpretation is provided by the KwaZulu-Natal Traditional Leadership and Governance Act (No. 5 of 2005).
The demise of King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, on March 12 last year, set the Zulu nation on a new pedestal. The succession debate within the Zulu royal family pitted members of the family against one another. This resulted in several court battles which painted the Zulu royals in a bad light.
The feud was marked by differences of opinion on who the heir to the throne should be. One faction nominated Prince Misuzulu and another nominated Prince Simakade. Later, the brothers to the late king nominated Prince Buzabazi as their preferred heir to the Zulu throne.
The developments have ripped the Zulu Royal Family apart. The Zulu nation has also been left bifurcated in the process. Even other South Africans, who do not necessarily belong to the Zulu nation, have been drawn into the debate. As the saying goes, after each storm comes a calm. Others argue that every cloud has a silver lining.
If the speech delivered by King Misuzulu kaZwelithini on August 20 is anything to go by, there is light at the end of the tunnel. He preached peace and reconciliation. This was applauded by the multitudes of people who had gathered to witness the ascendance of King Misuzulu to the Zulu throne. But why is it important for the Zulu royal family to reconcile and unite?
First, the Zulu nation is respected worldwide. This is a result of history. The victory of the Zulu army under King Cetshwayo at Isandlwana in 1879, against the British, earned Zulu people a place in the global arena. Therefore, it is important for the Zulu royal family to unite so that this image is not diminished.
Second, the Zulu nation has footprints across Africa. Leaders such as Lobengula, Mzilikazi ka Mashobane, Zwangendaba and many others left Zululand and resided elsewhere across the SADC region.
That is why countries like Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia were represented when King Misuzulu entered the kraal (cattle enclosure) on August 20. Delivering their word of support, they pledged allegiance to the Zulu nation and considered King Misuzulu their king too. A divided Zulu royal family would unwittingly distance the countries from the Zulu nation.
Third, within South Africa, the Zulu nation has an enviable history. When AmaXhosa succumbed to the British army, they derived inspiration from the fact that AmaZulu had not yet been defeated. This pride was to remain until the eventual collapse of the Zulu Empire, with the burning of Ulundi on July 4, 1879.
Fourth, during the Struggle for liberation against apartheid, the Zulu nation played a critical role, together with their AmaXhosa counterparts. Dr John Langalibalele Dube was elected in absentia to become the first president of the South African National Native National Congress, which later became known as the ANC. Other leaders, such as Pixley ka Seme and Inkosi Albert Luthuli, played their various roles in the liberation Struggle. The Zulu nation took pride in their activities.
Fifth, as South Africa embarked on a negotiated settlement process from the early 1990s, the Zulu nation remained a force to be reckoned with. During the Codesa talks, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi stood his ground on the need to preserve the Zulu nation. He called for a place for the Zulu king in the new political dispensation. He also placed on the table the establishment of Ingonyama Trust as a prerequisite for his continued involvement in the negotiations. He did this in his capacity as the traditional prime minister of the Zulu nation.
Sixth, as the ANC-IFP feud ravaged KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, it was the Zulu King Goodwill who reasoned with his people and called for peace. What made him succeed was that he had the support of the Zulu royal family, which was united. A divided royal family would weaken the king and render his voice insignificant.
Seventh, the Zulu king is the custodian of Zulu culture, custom and tradition. Zulu customary practices ,such as the Umkhosi Womhlanga (reed ceremony), makes a huge contribution in addressing the scourge of child pregnancy. This practice assists the Department of Health to protect young maidens from early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Eighth, the Zulu nation and other ethnic groups look up to the Zulu royal family to instil cultural identity and cultural preservation. It would be a shame if the royal family were to remain divided. It would surrender its enviable image and stature.
Ninth, the divisions have come at a time when the Ingonyama Trust is under attack. If the Zulu royal family remains divided, it would be easier for the opponents of Ingonyama Trust to use a faction of the Zulu royal family to advance its course.
Tenth and last, the Zulu king is above politics. Similarly, the Zulu royal family is able to bring together warring factions around the table to find an amicable solution. If the royal family remains divided, it cannot perform this function.
Mngomezulu is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Western Cape