Premier Zweli Mkhize, left, King Goodwill Zwelithini, centre, and President Jacob Zuma attend the annual Reed Dance ceremony at eNyokeni Palace in Nongoma. The king pleaded for the slaughter of rhinos to stop, saying he would get involved in tracking down poachers. Picture: Siyabulela Duda

Sipho Khumalo

ZULU King Goodwill Zweli-thini has condemned the killing of rhinos, saying that wildlife and the environment were critical for the well-being of the nation.

Addressing thousands of Zulu maidens at the Reed Dance ceremony at his eNyokeni Palace in Nongoma at the weekend, he dubbed those responsible for killing rhinos “heartless” individuals.

“Stop this rubbish of destroying the wildlife and killing rhinos and other animals,” the king said.

“You are really behaving like dogs that do not care about their futures. These animals are a wealth given by God to the people of KwaZulu-Natal. Change the way you are behaving because the killing of rhinos is a defiance of my order as your king to respect and protect wildlife,” he said.

The king, a known environmentalist, said he was aware that some members of his Usuthu tribe were involved in rhino poaching.

“May I warn you today that I will personally hunt you down and deal with you accordingly if you carry on with this unbecoming behaviour,” he said.

The king said the killing of rhinos was no longer something that could be ignored, as it was spreading like wildfire.

“Last year alone, a total of 333 rhinos were illegally killed. This year, which has not yet come to an end, 274 rhinos have been killed. Stop this, I urge you,” said the king.

At the ceremony this year the Zulu maidens, joined by President Jacob Zuma, the king and Premier Zweli Mkhize, planted more than 30 000 trees around the palace.

The trees were donated by the Champion of Environment Foundation in South Africa, headed by Bantu Holomisa, who also participated in the planting of trees.

Addressing the maidens, the king warned them of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, urging the youth not to indulge in such substances.

“Please stay away from criminality. Please purge from your hearts any hero-worshipping of criminals.

“Do not buy anything from criminals.

“Do not be lustful of anything that is ill-gotten,” said the king.

Revived in 1985 by the king, the Reed Dance ceremony is held annually to instil a sense respect and promote the preservation of virginity as part of the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids.