Swift announcement of Zulu King’s death departure from tradition: Experts

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Cultural experts say the announcement of the passing of AmaZulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu hours after his death in a Durban hospital is a departure from how the deaths of Zulu monarchs and traditional leaders have been dealt with until now.

The burial and funeral monarchs of Amakhosi and Zulu monarchs have in the past normally been dealt with in private – witnessed only by close family members.

A lecturer at the School of isiZulu at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Sihawu Ngubane, says the exact resting place of a king is also not common knowledge.

“It is not by default that the funeral of any king or chief is kept as a family affair. It is traditional that when a king is gone or passed on, nobody is informed of an incident but what happens they conduct the funeral service and everything very early in the morning and after that, it is only after then people will be told that this is what has happened and it is an aftermath,” says Ngubane.

Tributes have been flowing following the Zulu King’s passing.

IFP leader Velenkosi Hlabisa pays tribute to the late King:

Ngubane says this is also because of the belief that during the burial the late king’s spirit and powers are passed on to the successor.

“Nobody is allowed to come closer except family members because they don’t want to interfere with the position and the powers of the king. Sometimes, there is a belief that the spirit will have to move from that king to the next king. So that thing must be kept as secret as possible and that is why it is kept like that,” says the expert.

The successor to the throne has customarily been decided on by members of the royal family for centuries. Ngubane says according to cultural prescripts, it is only members of the royal family who observe the customs to mourn the late King.

KZN Premier Zikalala media briefing on the King’s passing:

The AmaZulu are not expected to observe these customs. King Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu’s coronation in 1971 brought together many of the AmaZulu and kept the focus on their culture and traditions at the height of apartheid South Africa.

Historians have called for these cultural practices to be preserved for future generations.

“They are not aware of what is happening in the Zulu monarch, especially the youth. I think that is lacking because of the teaching of history. The kind of history that is being taught in high schools deals with mostly politics of abroad and all that. But some understand some of these rituals but some don’t understand it,” explains senior lecturer of history at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Mphumeleli  Ngubane.

The King’s passing comes more than 50 years after that of King Cyprian Bhekuzulu in 1968.

As most official cultural ceremonies take place at the Enyokeni Palace at Nongoma in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Amakhosi, dignitaries and AmaZulu from around the country are expected to visit the palace.