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The likely scenarios in the fight for the Zulu throne

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Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA) – A historic day for the Zulu nation as King Misuzulu, successor to late King Goodwill Zwelithini, enters the sacred royal kraal at KwaKhangalemankengane palace in Nongoma. He has completed all the rituals for him to fully occupy the throne and the formality of coronation will take place in Durban next month. Yet the battle for the throne has left the Zulus divided, the writer says.

By Sihle Mavuso

The Zulu monarch has been in turmoil since March last year when its longest-serving monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu died.

At first, the fight was over his multi-million estate and later it was over the throne where the king’s first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini-Zulu sought to have 50 percent of the estate set aside for her.

That was on the basis that she was the first wife, they were married in community of property and the king was not supposed to marry the other five wives that came after her.

That battle began even before the king was buried.

After the king’s burial, another battle ensued. The battle was about who was going to act on the throne until a successor was named. At the first meeting, which was held towards the end of March that year, some royal family members came to it with the name of Prince Mbonisi Zulu as someone who should act on the throne.

It is history now that Mbonisi did not get the nod of approval even though he had already imagined himself acting on the throne. Instead, other royal family members objected and said there was no debate as it was clear that the regent should be Queen Mantfombi Shiyiwe Dlamini-Zulu (not related to Sibongile) since she was the great wife of the late king.

The matter was seemingly settled, but sadly the regent fell ill and died a month later, creating another dilemma about who should act on the throne. To close the gap for a long vacuum and potential chaos, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the monarch’s traditional prime minister, repeatedly told the media that the situation was under control as a successor was already known by royal family members.

Then on May 7 last year, Buthelezi read out a will of the late regent, announcing the then Prince Misuzulu kaZweltihini as the next King of the Zulu nation. That sparked immediate objection from the likes of Prince Thokozani Zulu who wanted to challenge the process.

At first, it was not clear which candidate they wanted to field for the throne against Misuzulu. However, rumours started swirling around that Prince Simakade, the first born son of the late king, Goodwill Zwelithini, was to be fielded.

But Simakade shot himself in the foot when he wrote to Buthelezi, asking him to read out a public statement on his behalf that he was not interested in the throne. That statement later made it to court records when the ascension of Misuzulu was being challenged in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

From that moment, Simakade became the face of those who opposed Misuzulu and Buthelezi. Mbonisi and his half-sister, the now late Princess Thembi Zulu-Ndlovu stood behind Simakade, saying he was the rightful heir to the throne.

As expected, the nation was divided between the de facto king then, Misuzulu, and Simakade, even though he had a handful of supporters. As time passed, some started to say that he was being cheated of his throne as the rightful heir merely because he was born out of wedlock.

Those who believed in his cause said in most instances, Zulu kings were born out of wedlock, even citing the case of King Shaka, the legendary founder of the Zulu nation.

Then, towards the end of last year, Mbonisi dumped Simakade and came up with the name of Prince Buzabazi as the rightful heir. That did not dampen the spirit of those who supported Simakade. On Saturday last week, they performed a parallel ritual of entering the kraal at eNyokeni palace and declared him “King of all Zulus”. That further divided the Zulu nation and what was clear was that some followed him and others stuck with Misuzulu who is followed by the majority of Zulus.

Prince Simakade, the eldest son of the late King Goodwill zwelithini, initially asked Prince Mangosothu Buthelizi to issue a statement on his behalf, denouncing his right to the throne. But on Saturday, August 13, Simakade and his followers performed a parallel ritual of entering the kraal at eNyokeni palace and declared him “King of all Zulus”, just a week before the final riyual of the chosen King Misuzulu, the writer says.

This means that the Zulu nation will now be like the Nazareth Baptist church, which is popularly known as the Shembe church.

Simakade and his backers have since roped in Makhado-based lawyer Johannes Hammann, who helped to dethrone former Venda king, Toni Mphephu Ramabulana. Now there is a risk that there will be two centres of power.

In the unlikely event that the courts rule in favour of Simakade against Misuzulu, who is favoured by the majority of Zulus, it is not likely that loyalty will be automatically switched. Instead, we will probably see what is happening at the Shembe church where Prophet Mduduzi Shembe was dethroned by courts, but his followers refused to disown him, saying they have the right to follow any spiritual leader of their choice.

In the event that the courts affirm Misuzulu kaZwelithini, it is not likely that the backers of Simakade will want to be humiliated and subject themselves to the rule of Misuzulu.

In the end, the battle for the Zulu throne will leave more divisions, even after it has been concluded within the 10-year projection when all the legal battles will be settled.

The nation is already divided down the middle, and with Buzabazi entering the fray, there will be more fractures as he has gained some supporters who believe in his cause. It is not likely that they will abandon him even when the matter of the throne has been finally settled by courts.

As with the Shembe church, there will be the main faction, a second ‘main’ faction and another smaller one with loyal supporters who will stick to their cause with some zealots who have never been seen before.

* Mavuso is a current affairs journalist at www.iol.co.za and he is based in Durban. He covers South Africa and parts of the SADC region.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.