King’s burial by tradition a private, secretive affair

Published Mar 15, 2021


Durban - AS TRADITIONAL Prime Minister Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi confirmed on Sunday that the burial of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu would be conducted privately, a cultural expert has said even the issue of the successor should be kept a closely guarded secret.

Speaking at the Kwakhethomthandayo Royal Palace in Nongoma, Buthelezi said the family had agreed that as per his wishes, His Majesty would be buried on Wednesday night in a private occasion attended by men only.

“We had a very long meeting (on Saturday night) attended by the Queen Mother, the king’s stepmother, uNdlunkulu uMaZungu, the widow of Prince Mcwayizeni, brothers of the king, young princesses and princes, the children of the king,” Buthelezi said.

“And it was decided that it was the king’s wish that he should be buried privately, and that it should be done at night, and that it should be done by men only. That decision was taken last night, just confirming the wishes of the king,” he said, and in addition expressing his concern that “there are people who are already disclosing (funeral details) in the public domain before I do so officially”.

Buthelezi said only a memorial service would be held on Thursday at the palace, which sets aside earlier suggestions that the king would be buried during a Category 1 state funeral on the day.

Even though his father, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon lay in state for some time after his death in 1968 before he was buried – which was a departure from the practice with kings before – Zulu custom detects that the burial service be conducted privately.

University of KwaZulu-Natal-based Dr Gugu Mazibuko, an expert on Zulu cultural issues, said if culture was anything to go by, the burial would be only for the eyes of select members of the Zulu Royal Family, including Buthelezi.

In the same vein, the question of who the next king would be should also not be disclosed to the general public all those in the royal family for security reasons, said Mazibuko.

“The burial activity is considered a very sacred ceremony. And it comes with a string of rituals, which should not be seen by the general public. And not anyone even within the royal family is allowed to attend this occasion. And you will find that it is attended by men only, or a special regiment,” she said.

“For instance, King Dinuzulu ka Cetshwayo (the grandfather to the late king), was buried only in the presence of a few family members and the prime minister of the time. There are a number of ritualistic practices that are done on the body and the gravesite, which are never communicated to the nation as a whole, and should not be seen,” Mazibuko said.

“Premier Sihle Zikalala was simply communicating the programmes of the government as far as the government is concerned. But as far as the Zulu nation and its culture is concerned, that is left to the Royal Family and Buthelezi,” said Mazibuko. In addition, she said, even the question of who would take over the throne was never an issue of public discussion, unlike with the British, where it was currently known who would take over after Prince Charles.

“Hiding the real name of the next king prevents possible tensions within the family, since these are extended families where choices may vary. Remember how Ilembe (King Shaka ka Senzangakhona) killed the announced successor of his father, and took over the throne, which was on his return from refuge with the Mthethwa nation to which he had fled the Zulu royal household with his mother. So there is always a high degree of succession infighting for the throne.”

The Mercury