Durban - Dozens of cattle and sheep have started arriving as gifts at the Ondini Palace in Ulundi as the Zulu royal family prepares to host what may be the biggest wedding witnessed in the town.
Thousands of people are expected to flock to the palace to witness King Goodwill Zwelithini formally wed his sixth wife, Zola Mafu. Some members of the royal family believe that the number of people who will attend the nuptials might be as high as 10 000.
Dozens of cattle and sheep are to be slaughtered for umgcagco (the traditional Zulu wedding) which will happen over three days starting on Friday.
Inkosi Phathisizwe Chiliza, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal house of traditional leaders, said amakhosi throughout the province had started donating cattle and sheep that would be slaughtered to prepare a feast for the guests expected at the wedding.
“It is really difficult to even count how many cattle are here at the palace already. From last week people have been coming to the Ondini palace to bring various gifts. Amakhosi have been bringing in cattle and sheep that will be slaughtered. Some of the amakhosi have been bringing about seven cattle each.”
Chiliza said it was customary that amakhosi had to take charge and bring food to the palace ahead of the king’s wedding.
“In isiZulu we say the king is the orphan of the nation and therefore we are the ones who have to take care of him.”
Chiliza said the wedding was significant because it signifies “the revival” of the Ondini Palace, as it will become the home of the new bride.
The palace has been without a queen since it was built in 1993 for R5 million by the erstwhile KwaZulu government.
Owing to hostilities between the king and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, former leader of the KwaZulu government, the palace could not be handed over.
The handover took place only in 2003 after the two had smoked the peace pipe.
Historian Jabulani Maphalala said the palace had initially been built for one of King Zwelithini’s older wives but no one had lived there.
“It is not clear why Queen MaNdlovu has not lived there but over the years it has become a white elephant,” he said.
The original Ondini Palace, the capital of King Cetshwayo, was razed to the ground by British forces on July 4, 1879, an event which marked the end of the Zulu kingdom.
Chiliza said having a queen at the Ondini palace would close a “very difficult chapter” in the life of the Zulu nation.
“What happened there in 1879 was very painful because Ulundi is regarded as the capital of the Zulus but that wound will be healed this weekend.”
Chiliza said “multitudes” from across the province and international guests would witness the wedding, adding that excitement was already building up.
“All over the province, the various clans are practising amahubo (songs) that will be sung at the wedding. We call upon all people, especially the younger generation to come in their numbers and witness this occasion.”
The feasting continues for as long as there are people at the palace.
“The festivities would go on as long as necessary, even a week if needs be and our role as amakhosi is to ensure that the palace has the warmth that it deserves.”
Maphalala said the traditional wedding would not differ from that of commoners in terms of the rituals that are performed. King Zwelithini would also celebrate his birthday this weekend as he turns 66 on Sunday.
The other wives
The last time King Zwelithini married was 22 years ago when he married Queen Nompumelelo Mchiza.
Before that he had been down the aisle four times starting in 1969 when he married, Sibongile Dlamini.
This was before he was installed as king in 1971.
He married again in 1974 with Buhle Mathe; in 1977 he married Queen Mantfombi Dlamini, the daughter of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland and in 1988 he married Thandi Ndlovu.
Who is Zola Mafu?
The 27 year-old has been living at KwaKhangela palace with fellow Swazi national Queen Mantfombi since coming to the royal family in 2004 when she was just 17 years old.
In 2005 at the age of 18 she gave birth to Prince Nhlendla. While King Zwelithini paid lobolo for her, the wedding was delayed a number of times.
In 2008, the king told a gathering that the wedding had been delayed due to the death of Mafu’s father in 2007. Because the Mafu family was still in mourning, the wedding had to be postponed to allow for the bride’s mother to be able to attend the wedding, he said at the time.
Further delays were experienced even after the mourning period as reports that members of the Mafu family were squabbling over who should receive lobolo.