This week in 1994: Democracy 25

Zulu king and his cousin Buthelezi
Reading Time: 4 minutes


This week we focus on the day when King Goodwill Zwelithini and the Zulu Royal House cut ties with former IFP leader, Prince Mangusuthu Buthelezi.

The incident occurred on 20 September 1994, a day after stone-throwing IFP youth supporters stormed the King’s Enyokeni Palace, disrupting a meeting between the King, Prince Buthelezi and the then President Nelson Mandela.

Following the attack, fearing for his life and furious over what he perceived as a threat to his kingdom, King Zwelithini cancelled the Shaka Day celebrations.

“This is a clear indication that they are invading the kingdom of kwaZulu and it’s a clear indication that death is knocking on the door,” he reportedly said.

South African National Defence Forces were subsequently dispatched to Nongoma to protect the King’s home.

He was later flown to Johannesburg for safety purposes.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) was accused of having used the provincial government bus to transport the people who stormed the Palace.

However, the party has denied involvement in the controversy.

Watch then KZN Premier Dr Frank Mdlalose briefing the media on the matter:

Meeting disruption

King Zwelithini, Prince Buthelezi, who is also the Zulu monarch’s traditional prime minister, and President Mandela had been meeting to discuss the King’s decision to invite Mandela to the KwaZulu-Natal Shaka Day event, which was held annually in honour of the 19th century Zulu king, credited with being the founder of the Zulu nation.

The invite had been made without Buthelezi’s knowledge and that angered him.

He even boycotted in protest the annual Reed Dance, which had been revived under his watch a decade earlier.

Despite the King’s cancellation of the Shaka Day event – Buthelezi went ahead and hosted it.

Watch snap Parliamentary debate on cancellation of Shaka Day celebrations:

He also raised eyebrows when he and his bodyguards stormed a live television broadcast with one-time King spokesperson who is also a member of the royal family, Prince Sifiso Zulu.

Zulu had been criticizing Buthelezi as the battle for the hearts and minds of the Zulu people raged at the time.

The former IFP leader later apologised to the nation after a rebuke from President Mandela.

Protracted royal rift

King Zwelithini and Prince Buthelezi are relatives and tensions had been simmering between them over the King’s growing relationship with Mandela.

King Zwelithini had also begun distancing himself from Buthelezi and the IFP, which had a tumultuous relationship with the governing African National Congress (ANC).

Another bone of contention was the King’s efforts to restore relations with the former IFP leader’s arch rival for the post of traditional prime minister to the monarch.

Prince Mcwayizeni Zulu, who was senior to Buthelezi and the brother of the King’s father, had been locked in a bitter feud for 26 years for the adviser role.

Zulu had insisted he was the rightful senior adviser.

Mcwayizeni was the regent to King Goodwill after his father’s death.

In 1971 when Goodwill ascended to the throne Mcwayizeni excluded Buthelezi from a proposed royal council to advise the king, saying he was not a member of the Zulu royal clan, but of a lower house.

“He has nothing to do with matters of the royal family. He is not a Zulu; he is a Buthelezi,” he proclaimed.

Buthelezi was also excluded from the official programme at the coronation, an incident he didn’t take kindly to and viewed it as an insult.

However, Buthelezi’s political power as the leader of the Zulu homeland helped him keep tight control over the King, leaving Mcwayizeni out in the cold.

The King’s office was a sub-division of Buthelezi’s department in the KwaZulu homeland and he had to ask Buthelezi for whatever he needed.

Things changed, however, at the dawn of democracy when the new government took over.

The King was made a trustee of the province’s tribal lands; the SANDF replaced the palace guard previously appointed by Buthelezi and his budget was put under the control of the provincial legislature.

While relations between Buthelezi and the King improved over time, there had been no reconciliation between Buthelezi and Prince Mcwayizeni at the time of his death.