How will King Goodwill Zwelithini be remembered?
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Durban - The era of King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu has ended but how will the eighth and longest-reigning monarch of almost 50 years of the amaZulu nation be remembered?
The 72-year-old led his people through the dark days of the apartheid regime and, after democracy was achieved, remained atop his throne as the leader of his nation but on Friday morning he took his final breath.
On July 14, 1948, in Nongoma, northern KwaZulu-Natal, the eldest son of King Cyprian Bhekuzulu and his second wife Queen Thomo was born – Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu heir to the Zulu Nation.
Following the passing of his father King Cyprian Bhekuzulu in 1968, he was named successor to the throne as a 20-year-old student at the time.
However, he did not ascend until 1971 as he was forced into hiding outside of his realm for three years following threats of assassination.
In 2016 during an interview with Yehia Ghanem from the international news network Al Jazeera, Zwelithini recounted the period when his life was in the crosshairs.
“The threats came just after my 21st birthday when I was about to have a cleansing following the passing of my late father. We gained the information about the threats, then one of my elder sisters and brother-in-law secured my safety and I had to leave my kingdom, the province of KwaZulu-Natal. I remained in the country, but in other provinces, somewhere in the Transvaal,” he said.
Upon his return to the province to claim his birthright he was crowned king on December 3, 1971, with his coronation attracting 20 000 attendees – according to the archives of SA History Online.
Political neutrality was expected of the king, however, that was not always the case as he clashed with Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, then-president of the ANC Oliver Tambo, and others during his reign.
The king's status became a point of bitter contention between delegates and Buthelezi during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). The tension stemmed from the lack of clarity on the future of the monarchy. In July 1992, soon to be elected president Nelson Mandela assured Zwelithini that his status would remain.
As monarch, he revived several Zulu cultural practices, with the primary goal of promoting moral regeneration and addressing social issues such as gender-based violence and the spread of HIV and Aids.
However, traditions such as male circumcision and uMkhosi Womhlanga, the annual reed dance, faced criticism from those who viewed virginity testing as human rights violations but the king remained unapologetic about supporting the cultural practices.
“I feel shame and sorrow for those people who have opposing feelings. I am sorry that some of our black people have such feelings, but as far as that is concerned, I don’t think we would be having so many people in this country if I never revived and supported some of these events and traditions. We would have lost many of them to HIV and Aids,” said the King.
As king and representative of his people, he chaired the board of the Ingonyama Trust which was a corporate entity established in 1994 to administer the land traditionally owned by the Zulu people for their benefit, material welfare and social well-being.
As king and chair of the trust’s board, he was the sole trustee to its land.
The trust oversees a population of 5.2 million people, according to the 2011 census, 250 traditional councils and 2 883 million hectares of land which equates to just shy of 30% of the province’s land.
His eldest son and immediate heir to the throne, 50-year-old Prince Lethukuthula Zulu, died in November. Zwelithini is survived by his six wives and 28 children.