Durban - The dispute in the Zulu royal household over who should ascend the throne has made its way into political campaigning ahead of local government elections in KwaZulu-Natal, with an IFP social media post yesterday gaining attention for featuring King Misuzulu.
The IFP later retracted the post, saying the picture had been used in error.
The post, which was widely circulated before being withdrawn, read: “We partner with traditional leaders by recognising just how vital traditional leaders are, and how important it is to support and resource amakhosi, so that they can execute their functions of ensuring that communities’ needs are met and that everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
The message was seen in some quarters as a veiled reference, and an attack on the KZN government’s stance of withholding the budget normally allocated to the royal household and the sponsoring of traditional ceremonies, pending resolution of the kingship dispute.
The IFP has in the past expressed its reservations over the withholding of funding, saying the move underlined the ANC’s belittling of the king, the royal household and the institution of traditional leadership.
Yesterday the ANC in KZN accused the IFP of political desperation in an effort to garner votes and called on the party to refrain from using the Zulu monarchy for political gain.
“We also feel that we should place it on record that as the ANC we respect the Zulu monarchy and the entire royal family. It is through that respect that we call on the IFP to refrain from reducing the Zulu monarchy to a level where it becomes a subject of the IFP,” said ANC KZN spokesperson Nhlakanipho Ntombela.
“They are no custodians of the monarchy. Just like us, they are also the subjects of the Zulu monarchy and should behave as such.”
He also warned the IFP against abusing the proximity of its former leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi to the king, saying it had also noted the IFP’s desperate attempts to confuse the electorate by using the king’s image in election material shared on social media.
In a statement issued late yesterday afternoon, the IFP apologised for the post.
“Earlier today, as part of the IFP’s LGE social media campaign, an infographic in support of traditional leadership was released with a photo of His Majesty, the King of the Zulu Nation,” said party spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa.
“This photo was erroneously used. We apologise for any inconvenience caused to His Majesty, the royal family, and to the Traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu nation and monarch.”
Hlengwa added that disciplinary action would be taken against the implicated staff members, while also stressing the IFP’s continued support of traditional leadership.
Approached for comment, royal household spokesperson Prince Thulani Zulu said while the royal family had not seen the post, they were disturbed that a political party would seek to plunge the king into the realm of politics.
“As you are well aware that both the king and the royal family steer clear of politics, it would be very unfortunate for any political party to try and involve the king because such action has potential to damage the king’s and the royal house images,” said Prince Zulu.
He added that whoever was responsible for distributing such an image needed to retract it and apologise, bearing in mind the harm that it could cause.
Political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu warned yesterday that plans to exploit the vulnerable state of a divided royal household could tarnish the image of both the king and the household.
Mngomezulu said the development showed how traditional leadership and the Zulu royal house had been unwillingly drawn into politics.
“Parties are looking at how the dispute over succession can work for them, it has been done before and if is not carefully managed it could harm the image of the royal house,” he said.
The analyst predicted that the IFP’s blunder was likely to have a telling effect on its political fortunes in the November elections in the same way that the DA had been forced to take down election campaign posters in Phoenix last week.
“We are seeing another instance of a party (IFP) scoring an own goal just days after another (DA), to a degree this demonstrates an element of desperation on the opposition benches,” he added.
Mngomezulu noted that while the ANC had made blunders in previous elections, it had survived because of its nationwide presence and support. This, he said, had guaranteed its hold on power and this was making smaller parties desperate.
Yesterday’s developments came after another political storm following the eThekwini municipality’s decision to replace the banner of Zulu kings in the Durban CBD with a banner documenting the municipality’s achievements and urging the public to go out to vote for the parties of their choice.
* This article was updated and edited to make some changes.