The traditional leader of South Africa’s Zulu nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini, has died at the age of 72, according to the official report issued by his family.
This is after he was hospitalized for more than a month.
In several reports made by the local media, Zwelithini had health problems related to diabetes.
As the eighth Zulu king, Zwelithini reigned for more than 50 years. This makes him the longest-serving Zulu monarch.
Being the traditional leader of the Zulu nation, Zwelithini did not occupy a political position. He, however, had a lot of influence over the country’s estimated 12 million Zulus, the largest ethnic group of South Africa’s 60 million people.
The late King Zwelithini was also an outspoken critic of the government’s planned land redistribution policy in his time. He spoke against the policy because of how it affected large tracts of land belonging to the Zulu nation.
The Ingonyama Trust controlled by the King owns 29% of the land of the KwaZulu-Natal province, about 28,000 square kilometres, or 10,811 square miles. It is estimated that more than 5 million people live on the land, most in rural farming communities. The land could be expropriated from the Zulu kingdom if the government follows some of the proposals it has made.
History has it that the Zulus strongly resisted British colonialism under the leadership of King Shaka Zulu from 1816 to 1828.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his tribute speech, hailed Zwelithini for his contribution to the province’s economic and cultural development.
In his words:
“His Majesty will be remembered as a much-loved, visionary monarch who made an important contribution to cultural identity, national unity, and economic development in KwaZulu-Natal and through this, to the development of our country as a whole.”
Other prominent opposition politicians also expressed their condolences to the Zulu nation.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, the Royal House and the Zulu nation in this time of loss. May you find comfort and strength as you mourn and celebrate his full life,” said John Steenhuisen, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance.
Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement also expressed his sadness at Zwelithini’s passing. He acknowledged Zwelithini’s impact in raising the awareness of HIV/AIDS.
In his words:
“As the custodian of Zulu tradition and customs, he specifically played a critical role in the Zulu nation during the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic in South Africa.”