King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu who died on Friday, aged 73 was a traditionalist who led the fight against HIV/Aids in the country Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/African News Agency(ANA)
King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu who died on Friday, aged 73 was a traditionalist who led the fight against HIV/Aids in the country Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/African News Agency(ANA)

King Goodwill Zwelithini: a king who led the fight against HIV/Aids and spoke his mind

By Lee Rondganger Time of article published Mar 12, 2021

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Durban – King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu who died on Friday, aged 73 was a traditionalist who led the fight against HIV/Aids in the country.

As the custodian of Zulu tradition, King Zwelithini, revived some traditions that had fallen away.

Many of the traditions the king revived was in direct response to the Aids crisis facing the country.

In 1984 as the Aids epidemic was taking hold in South Africa, King Zwelithini revived the tradition known as Umkhosi woMhlanga – or Reed Dance – a colourful ceremony for Zulu maidens that among other things promotes moral awareness and Aids education among Zulu women.

In 2009 he revived the practice of male circumcision in an effort to fight the spread of HIV/Aids.

The practice had been banned among Zulus by King Shaka in the 19th century as he believed at the the time that it took too long to heal from traditional circumcision which kept many young warriors away from their military duties in his army.

King Zwelithini’s call to revive male circumcision received the backing of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government and since then more than a million men have been circumcised in the province.

King Zwelithini was also not shy to court controversy and often called out the ruling ANC on corruption and the scourge of gender-based violence

At one of his last public appearances in December last year, at the Reed Dance, King Zwelithini lambasted people who stole government money meant to help needy communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic showed us that our government has money.

“The problem is we don’t have trustworthy people,” The Zululand Observer quoted him as saying.

At the same event, he bemoaned the high-level of femicide in the country saying: “I am disturbed by the killings of women in this country.

“These killings shame me as your king.”

In one of his more controversial speeches in 2015 during the celebration of his 44 years on the throne, Zwelithini praised the apartheid era.

He said the National Party built a powerful government with the strongest economy and army on the continent, but then came “this so-called democracy” in which black people started destroying the gains of the past.

The king said history would judge black people harshly as they had failed to build on the successes of the Afrikaner regime.

Also controversial were comments in March 2015 when during a speech in Pongola he said that foreigners should take their baggage and be sent back which led to an upsurge of xenophobic violence in KwaZulu-Natal.

The SA Human Rights Commission ruled that the speech did not incite violence but was ‘hurtful and harmful’ to foreigners and recommended that the king make a public apology.

King Zwelithini sat on the throne of the Zulu monarchy for almost 50 years.

Born in Nongoma in July 1948, Zwelithini was the eldest son of King Cyprian and his second wife, Queen Thomo.

According to SA History, he was educated at the Bekezulu College of Chiefs and then privately tutored.

He leaves six wives.

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