EXPLAINER: 5 reasons why the Zulu succession is not laid down in writing as the British do and is always chaotic

King Misuzulu KaZwelithini who is facing resistance from some Zulu royal family members. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/IOL

King Misuzulu KaZwelithini who is facing resistance from some Zulu royal family members. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/IOL

Published Sep 7, 2022


Durban - The tussle over the prestigious Zulu throne in KwaZulu-Natal is not over yet even though all pointers now show that King Misuzulu KaZwelithini has been able to overpower his two rival brothers - Prince Simakade and Prince Buzabazi.

And the odds are heavily stacked against the latter as it appears those who nominated him relied on a non-existent practice.

By and large, Prince Simakade who is still preparing to file court papers to challenge the recognition of Misuzulu KaZwelithini as the rightful heir poses a threat to the current king.

However, it is understood he is struggling to secure funds for the litigation which will cost millions to pursue until it is finalised by the Constitutional Court.

Now, the question that remains to many people is why the Zulu succession plan is not put in writing and settled in advance just as it is done in the British monarch where everything is clear.

1. Firstly, safety for the future king is paramount.

One of the reasons why the future king is not named in advance is it is believed that those with an interest in the throne may assassinate him to scupper his chances.

For instance, the late King Goodwill Zwelithini, at some point had to go hiding in what is now Mpumalanga province when it became known that he was to succeed his father, the late King Cyprian Bhekuzulu.

As a result, the name of the next king is kept under wraps until he has to take over the throne.

2. Polygamy makes it difficult for king to have one first born

What even makes the rivalry more intense in Zulu royal courts is that their kings practise the centuries-old custom of polygamy. There are many first-borns and sometimes children born out of wedlock who may claim the throne.

In British culture it is straightforward, the first-born is the next line while in Zulu or some Nguni cultures that is not the case.

For instance, King Goodwill Zwelithini had several first-born sons from their respective mothers.

3. King Shaka set the precedent that anyone can take the throne

Throughout its over 200 years of history, the Zulu succession has been a chaotic affair. It started with King Shaka in the 1800s when he took over the throne by force when his father, King Senzangakhona, died.That set a precedent that if there is a dispute, the ultimate winner during a fight takes the throne.

One of the fierce battles for the throne was the battle of Ndondakusuka, one which was fought in 1856 between forces of the late King Cetswhayo and his brother Mbuyazi who was defeated.

However, things changed under colonialists as some battles were settled in court and some through British governors intervening to settle them.

4. There is no specific practice on how the next king is appointed

Many customs are followed by the royal family that is used to appoint the next king, hence right now they have three candidates fighting for the throne.

Right now King Misuzulu is sitting on the throne because his late mother, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu, was the great wife on the basis that she came from another respected monarch, the Swati one.

Another culture is the one where the first-born prince takes over the throne, hence King Goodwill Zwelithini took it over even though at the time he never came from the great house.

5. A written will is not used to appoint the next king

A lot has been said about the will of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini which has now been found to have a forged signature and the matter is now going to court.

It was based on that will that Princess Ntandoyenkosi and her sister, Princess Ntombizosuthu Zulu-Duma wanted King Misizulu dethroned. They claimed that he was a product of a will which was forged.

However, in March this year, KwaZulu-Natal deputy judge president, Isaac Madondo, ruled at the Pietermaritzburg High Court that a will was never used to appoint a king.

Hence he said the issue of the will could not be used to stop the ascension of King Misuzulu to the throne, even adding that he qualified since he was the first-born son of the great wife whose lobola was paid for by the Zulu nation.

5. The interest of senior family members on who occupies the throne

There are always senior royal family members whose fortunes are tied to any reigning king to an extent that some become super rich by scoring business deals, board appointments and other benefits through their proximity to the sitting king.

So when there is a sudden change of guard, some of them feel left exposed and vulnerable.

To secure their place next to the bowl, they have to try to influence the process of the appointment of the next king. However, they are always met with resistance since there is always rivalry among the many royal houses.

Unlike in other kingdoms like that of eSwatini where royal family members get some form of stipend to survive, in the Zulu kingdom only a few (like umntwana omkhulu - senior prince) are paid from the budget provided by the provincial government.

The others have to fend for themselves with little or no skills at all. To survive, they have to be close to the throne, hence they always have an interest in who is the next King.

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