Durban - To many, he looks dashing and regal. Whether clad in red, blue or black, with gold brocade and medals on his breast, he is the picture of a king. But, say some of his subjects, this is a European, not a Zulu, king.
King Goodwill Zwelithini came in for an unexpected Facebook/Twitter lashing this week for wearing a “colonial-era” red outfit to the opening of the provincial legislature on Tuesday, and a similar, although black, outfit to the State of the Province address in Pietermaritzburg the next day.
Why, his subjects wanted to know, did His Majesty insist on dressing like the king of England?
Traditional experts have advised critics to voice concern “through the correct channels”, and to remember that what the king wears is “none of anyone’s business”.
The outfits come complete with medals and a sword, and, to provide an African touch, a leopard skin draped across the chest.
“Not impressed by this colonial-era outfit worn by Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini. We r (sic) free now,” wrote journalist Zukile Majova on Facebook.
This was followed by Sakhele Malunga, who wrote: “The question is, who is he trying to impress? Clearly not us as Africans, like Bob Marley once said: ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.’ ”
Provincial Department of Human Settlements spokesman Mbulelo Baloyi defended the king, telling Majova to “go and jump”. He wrote that “iMbube (the king) will continue to don his outfits when opening the legislature, as well as during Sopa (the State of the Province address)”.
Amanda Ngame was sceptical: “He always wears it. Chances are he still benefits from the country of its origin.”
Vukani Mbhele wrote: “We may dislike what the Zulu king is wearing, but insulting him is just not on… The gadgets we carry, the clothes we wear are far from being traditionally African. Basically, we no longer live up to the teachings of our forefathers.”
Royal spokesman Prince Mbonisi Zulu said of the critics: “It’s none of their business.
“It’s not the first time he has worn it, and we don’t deal with social media.”
Zulu cultural experts Jabulani Maphalala and Ndela Ntshangase agreed the attire could be a hangover from the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.
Ntshangase, a retired Zulu lecturer, said: “It gives him the highest authority during war… It’s nothing new in the Zulu nation. All chiefs – even King Shaka – before the English came, wore Zulu war regalia, which was animal skin, ibheshu, isidlodlo… He didn’t wear it every day, but because there was a reason,” he said.
He questioned why the attire had not been questioned “during oppression”.
“No one ever successfully raised concern about the king wearing the attire. Now suddenly, with this new-found freedom, there seems to be a lot of discontent with the king wearing it at big events such as the opening of Parliament.”