The late Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who died on Saturday aged 95, had longevity in all aspects of his life and was a formidable Zulu royal family power-broker.
In his capacity as the traditional prime minister of the Zulu monarchy and nation, he served three kings: King Bhekuzulu, King Goodwill Zwelithini, and King Misuzulu, the incumbent.
He always told the story of how King Bhekuzulu appointed him in 1954 in KwaDukuza (Stanger) during an event to unveil the tombstone of the legendary King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation.
That position was held by his late father, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi, who was married to Princess Magogo Constance Zulu kaDinuzulu.
His role then was largely behind the scenes until the death of King Bhekuzulu.
Prince Mcwayizweni was then appointed regent, and later a feud within the royal family ensued when it was alleged that he refused to vacate the throne in favour of the young King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Due to threats and opposition to his ascension before 1971, the young King Goodwill Zwelithini had to go into hiding while Buthelezi was fighting with Prince Mcwayizeni to vacate the throne.
He eventually won the battle, and King Goodwill Zwelithini took to the throne.
However, years later, they had a highly publicised fallout in the late 80s and early 90s.
It was reported that, as a result of the feud, the late king even contemplated forming his own political party, which was to be called the Inala Party.
NEWS: Ithala SOC Limited, the financial institution which was founded by the KwaZulu government under Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has also mourned his passing. The institution said Buthelezi played a role in the development and growth of black businesses. @IOL— Sihle Mavuso (@ZANewsFlash) September 11, 2023
The extent of that historic feud was brought to the fore again in August 2022 outside the gates of Enyokeni Palace in Nongoma, when the royal family faction in support of Prince Simakade conducted a counter ceremony, ushering him into the kraal and to the ancestors as the next Zulu king.
In one of the interactions with the media, the faction bitterly recalled that while Buthelezi was the head of the KwaZulu government, he fell out with the king and later withheld his salary for months.
They also recalled an incident in the 1990s when King Goodwill Zwelithini hosted Nelson Mandela at the palace, and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters caused havoc by throwing stones while the meeting was going on.
The IFP supporters were repelled by the army battalion that was in the area to secure Mandela and the monarch.
Despite that fallout, Buthelezi and the king later reconciled, and they continued working together to the extent that he was the one allowed to sort out royal feuds and other personal issues.
Buthelezi then played another important role in the installation of King Misuzulu. He insisted that culture dictated that he succeed his father, as his mother, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu, came from the royal family of eSwatini.
It all started well with the two working together until they fell out early over the issue of the Ingonyama Trust Board.
That was after King Misuzulu dethroned former judge Jerome Ngwenya as chairperson of the board. Buthelezi said he doubted the capabilities of the new chairperson, Inkosi Thanduyise Mzimela, and said King Misuzulu had previously made an undertaking that he would retain Ngwenya.
In May this year, Buthelezi convened a meeting of Amakhosi, Zulu royals, and mayors (as observers) in Empangeni to talk about the issue and his fears that the Ingonyama Trust land could soon be lost. That sparked concerns within the inner circle of the king that Buthelezi was mobilising to dethrone him.
Later, to underline their fallout, Buthelezi revealed that he met with a furious King Misuzulu, who disrespected him by banging tables and shouting profanities while addressing him.
The cracks widened when he said the monarch was in eSwatini being treated for suspected poisoning, and the king’s office vehemently denied that.
That fallout was the culmination of a long behind-the-scenes power struggle and disagreements between King Misuzulu KaZwelithini and Buthelezi.
Insiders said the king wanted to end the decades-long stranglehold of the Buthelezis over the Zulu monarch by appointing Prince Mthokozisi Mahlobo as the next Zulu traditional prime minister. He wanted to do that by making Mahlobo an understudy of Buthelezi by appointing him as deputy traditional prime minister, a position that had never been there in the hierarchy of the Zulu kingdom.
Feeling undermined, Buthelezi, who allegedly wanted to be succeeded by his son, Prince Zuzifa Buthelezi, asked the monarch to feel free to be at liberty to release him from his duties rather than making Mahlobo his deputy.
He died before they could reconcile.