In the early hours of Friday March 12 the nation received the shock news of the passing of His Royal Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu the constitutional monarch of the Kingdom of KwaZulu Natal. The announcement was made by the Traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
King Zwelithini become king upon the death of his father, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu in 1968 and has the distinction of being the longest-serving Zulu king in history. His Majesty, however was only formally installed as the eight Monarch of the Zulu nation at Nongoma on December 3 1971.
King Zwelithini was the Head of Ubukhosi, a state-recognised institution made up of local chiefs. Other leadership roles included functioning as the chairman of the Usuthu Tribal Authority and chairman of the Nongoma Regional Authority, among others. He believed that one of greatest roles traditional leaders could play was in influencing policies that would affect the community and society at large. He advocated for greater consultation between government and traditional leaders and was passionate about the need for government to consult with traditional leaders before making key decisions. His view was that the Ubukhosi institution should play a vital role in ensuring community solidarity.
He was a fierce advocate and proponent of African values and traditions. As chairman of the Ingonyama Trust, an established corporate entity, his role was to administer land that was traditionally owned by the king for the benefit of the Zulu nation. This land is said to have consisted of 32% of the area of KwaZulu-Natal.
My first physical meeting with His Majesty was in March 2018 in Morocco at a meeting of heads of states and African leaders hosted by His Royal Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco. King Zwelithini was accompanied by Her Royal Majesty, Queen Nompumelelo Mchiza. I was attending the meeting in my capacity as an honorary executive member of the African Women Leaders Committee with my two invited guests, Princess Tirelo Molotlegi of the Royal Bafokeng Nation and Madame Joan Guriras, former first lady of Namibia. We had pleasant exchanges with the king and queen over lunch and I was taken with how approachable he was and easy to talk to. The agenda for the meeting was Africa and solutions for Africa, something which King Zwelithini was extremely passionate about.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education
My next meeting with King Zwelithini was in Durban on February 18 2020. We met with the king and Queen Nompumelelo as a team with African Enterprise representatives Dr Michael and Carol Cassidy and Theuns Pauw and Dr Robin Stephenson and his wife Jacqui. King Zwelithini has shown fierce resistance to CSE, the Comprehensive Sexuality Education programme which was being rolled out in schools in partnership with UNESCO and the SA Department of Education. Our mission was to seek their support for the FSE (Family Sexuality Education) alternative programme we wanted to roll out in partnership with Focus on the Family.
At our dinner meeting with King Zwelithini we discussed the damaging effects of CSE and also shared with him the details of the FSE programme we were offering as an alternative. King Zwelithini was effusive in his support of the alternative programme. His view was that CSE was in direct conflict with African values and he pledged to only support programmes like FSE which supported traditional african values. King Zwelithini alluded to the FSE programme in his address at the opening of the KZN legislature in 2020.
Relationship with God
During the dinner meeting, the king often talked about God and his relationship with God. He told us that he felt he had a prophetic grace over his life as he dreamt a lot and had visions. He showed us a video of him singing a Gospel song at a traditional event and shared it with the group. It was clear that he loved watching this video of himself singing to God. The King related a portion of his spiritual journey to us and it was clear that he was hungry for a deeper relationship with God. He invited us to attend the opening of the KZN Parliament and invited us to a provincial prayer meeting in KZN that he wanted to host and in which he wanted us to participate. The prayer eeting was unfortunately cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
Recipient of honorary doctorate degrees
The King was a recipient of honorary degrees for his contributions, one honorary doctorate degree from University of Zululand in agriculture and another from honorary doctorate in law from Coker College of South Carolina.
Our sincere condolences to His Royal Majesty’s family and to the Zulu nation.
Sikhotheme Isilo SaMabandla
Dr Pearl Kupe is an attorney, a global consultant to governments and organisations, a public speaker, an author, a businesswoman and an honourary executive member of the Africa Women Leaders’ Forum.