Media strategist Marlan Padayachee, with King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu and Queen Mantfombi. Picture: Supplied
Media strategist Marlan Padayachee, with King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu and Queen Mantfombi. Picture: Supplied

Covid-19 deprives us of a stately funeral fit for the King of Goodwill

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 17, 2021

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As a media strategist, Marlan Padayachee befriended the eighth monarch of the Zulu nation and sharpened the royal brand, here, he pays a personal homage to King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

DURBAN: KING Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu was a charming monarch for all seasons. He shone the light on his home kingdom for half-century and will be best remembered for skilfully burying the hatchet between the ANC and the IFP – the province’s biggest black political fusions that were engaged in a deadly black-on-black factional conflict that claimed 20 000 lives – mainly isiZulu-speaking men, women and children.

Apolitical in nature, but a firm and firm ruler, dubbed the ‘’King of Goodwill’’ – the title of his autobiography – the monarch performed a very delicate balancing act, between his traditional prime minister Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the jailed ANC leader Nelson Mandela, for more than four decades.

In the 1990s, when South Africa was on the cusp of travelling on freedom road, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were caught in the crossfire of the festering 1980s internecine war, between the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and the non-racial ANC in exile.

KZN was notoriously dubbed the ‘’killing fields’’, with warlords brandishing cultural and conventional weapons on both sides.

However, King Goodwill Zwelithini finally presided over his warring subjects, often persuading his Zulus to smoke the peace pipe with the Zulu-speaking ANC supporters.

Finally, the monarch stepped in and got both sides to bury the hatchet.

The king also complained about Buthelezi’s homeland government ‘’imprisoning’’ and restricting him to royal palaces of KwaNongoma.

When Mandela was released from prison, the monarch told him that he was better off in prison, while he was also ‘’imprisoned’’.

More than 20 years ago, I met King Goodwill Zwelithini and was commissioned by electrical contractor Vivian Reddy to produce a colour brochure of the monarch’s milestone of 50 years, titled ‘’King of Goodwill’’. Thereafter, pharmacist Lall Singh commissioned me to capture His Majesty's official portraits – which hang in government offices.

The last time we spoke and exchanged goodwill was when he presented an award to me at the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (Gopio International) conference in Durban in 2018, hosted by his adopted son Ishwar Ramlutchman.

Of this relationship, the king said: ‘’When I adopted Ishwar Ramlutchman, I gave him a name of Mabheka Zulu. The name Mabheka means the one who cares for my people. This was done after his heroic dedication and achievements in serving the poorest of the poor in the Kingdom of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal.’’

The Sivananda-King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu Educational Centre in Durban now stands a lasting legacy of a father-son vision of unifying Zulus and Indians around the common thread of cross-culturalism, peace, reconciliation and socio-economic development for both these ancient tribes.

Together, they hosted the Hindu Festival of Lights – Diwali – at the royal palace each year-end.

Commenting on the promotion of social cohesion in a deeply divided society, and how racial groups depended on each other, the king said: “I always say that the history of the Zulu nation would not be complete without the history of the Indian communities, and the history of the English people, Afrikaners and Germans.’’

The monarch was a respected, compassionate and a charming fatherly figure.

In his death, we can strive to achieve some of his goals:

* Rewrite isiZulu history to decolonise the myth of Jan van Riebeeck and British-Afrikaner wars with Zulus.

* Grow indigenous trees to sustain the environment.

* Pursue the sacred triangle belief systems and moral code of abstinence, cleanliness and veneration.

* Always look to the ancestors for spiritualism and Ubuntu (human kindness).

* Avoid the trappings of the hedonistic world.

* Promote powerful principles – often a road less travelled – and draw wisdom from African ancestry.

* Foster good relations between all race groups.

Usuthu! Let us beat the drums and salute our fallen king, peace apostle, change-maker, visionary, cultural ambassador and front-line leader of Africa’s traditional affairs and politics.

Bayede! His Majesty in all his right royal demeanour, dignity and determination was a fatherly figure to many of us in Zulu-Indian country.

Tragically, the scourge Covid-19 had eclipsed and robbed the ‘’King Goodwill’’ of a stately funeral.

Hamba kahle (go well, farewell in isiZulu) Your Majesty.

* Marlan Padayachee is a veteran journalist who heads a media, strategy and research company.

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