Amabutho rebellion at King Zwelithini’s funeral meant to 'embarrass' Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa greeting former president Jacob Zuma at the Special Official Funeral of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa greeting former president Jacob Zuma at the Special Official Funeral of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu. Picture: GCIS

Published Mar 21, 2021


Johannesburg - The rebellion by Zulu warriors at the funeral of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini, which forced the police to whisk away President Cyril Ramaphosa through the back door for safety reasons, was meant to "embarrass" and send warning signs to him that he was not welcome in KwaZulu-Natal until he smoked a peace pipe with former president Jacob Zuma, sources said.

The police were this week were forced to cut the mesh wire fence of the KwaKhethomthandayo Royal Palace to make way for Ramaphosa's motorcade after angry Zulu warriors, known as Amabutho, charged towards the venue of King Zwelithini's memorial service in protest against the decision to deny them access to the proceedings for Covid-19 lockdown regulations reasons.

This came after hundreds of Amabutho, armed with traditional weapons, came to the venue unannounced and in breach of lockdown regulations, and tried to force their way in. Some of them were seen scuffling with the police, threatening them before overpowering them.

Ramaphosa was at the Zulu Royal Palace to read the eulogy for the late King Zwelithini when the Amabutho threatened his security. They reportedly blocked his exit route.

According to media reports, the Amabutho had camped outside the gate trying to get in but security forces locked them out, in line with Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

In retaliation, the angry mob closed the road that led in and out of the palace, saying no one would leave.

When the time came for Ramaphosa and other dignitaries to leave the palace, the Amabutho blocked the armed SAPS battalion from allowing mourners to leave.

“The plan wasn’t to harm the president, but to embarrass him. This was a clear message to him that he isn’t welcomed in the province until he has smoked a peace pipe with Zuma and others," said a source, adding that the incident was “a friendly warning” to Ramaphosa.

Another source said the Amabutho came “unannounced” and without following the Covid-19 regulations to bid their farewell to the king.

“The Amabutho came unannounced and there were concerns about the breaches of the Covid-19 protocols and the safety measures that had to be considered. The Amabutho came illegally and did not apply like everyone. The president had to be whisked away as the Amabutho were also breaking the Covid-19 regulations,” said the source.

A source with intimate knowledge of the security plans for the memorial service laid the blame squarely on Police Minister Bheki Cele, saying the police failed to take into account negative sentiments against Ramaphosa among many residents of KwaZulu-Natal.

“Cele, as police minister, was supposed to plan an alternative exit route for president and other dignitaries as he knew very well that Ramaphosa is persona no grata in some parts of Kwazulu-Natal.”

Ramaphosa spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, did not respond to questions regarding the circumstances that led to the president being whisked away. Instead, he referred all enquiries to the SAPS, saying security matters are a police matter.

Cele yesterday denied that Amabutho threatened Ramaphosa and blocked his entourage from exiting KwaKhethomthandayo Palace.

"There was no motorcade of the president that was forced to make a speedy escape. He came in an unmarked black BMW and he walked to and from the place he was seated by his protectors without any threats by Amabutho," Cele said.

"I was there and I saw everything. The problem started when the president had already left the scene, most cars that were parked inside wanted to go out and the gates were opened. By then, the president had already left the venue, and some of Amabutho, who were chanting outside, walked in as the gates were opened."

Cele also denied that the president's life was put at risk, saying such reports were "fake news".

"People always post mischievous videos on social media with misleading content, this is one of the fights we have with fake news paddlers," Cele added.

Zulu Royal Household spokesperson Prince Thulani Zulu refused to respond to questions about the conduct of the Amabutho and allegations that they threatened Ramaphosa's security.

"We are still mourning the death of our king and cannot concentrate or comment on anything happening outside the world of mourning for now," he said.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize's spokesperson Lwazi Manzi referred questions about the breach of Covid-19 regulations to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), "who are the custodians of the Disaster Management Act regulations and also of traditional affairs."

Cogta spokesperson Lungi Mtshali said he was at a funeral. He promised to respond but failed to do so.

Governance expert and political analyst Sandile Swana said the incident said a lot about the relationship between the Zulu monarchy and elected KwaZulu-Natal politicians.

But it does mean something for elected politicians in KZN. The king wanted all of them to kneel before him, and so that they understand that as ordinary people if you're elected as a president, you come and kneel down before the king, which means even politics does not supercede them and their permanent authority, their control of land and population.

“Those Amabutho had closed in because they wanted things to be done on their terms. I am not sure but I think somebody tried to introduce some form of security which was not a solution. That’s when they rebelled and took over and locked down the president.

“This is a reminder that when you’re dealing with amaZulu in KZN you cannot ignore that they have physical power. They can even abuse the state. It's like a no-go-area but you must understand that when you come with your physical force in KZN it could be worse."

Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana said he couldn't "speculate" on the implications of the incident on Ramaphosa's political standing.