What’s going on with the amaZulu kingdom?


What’s going on with the amaZulu kingdom?

Almost three years after the death of King Goodwill Zwelithini, the succession question remains before the courts, writes SIHLE KHUMALO.


AT THE best of times, the transition from a (deceased) Zulu king to the next can lead to a dispute — and at the worst of times, a bloody conflict.

Consider the 1816 killing of Sigujana kaSenzangakhona, chief of the Zulu clan, shortly after the death of his father; it paved the way for Shaka kaSenzangakhona to occupy the leadership position.  

Twelve years later, in 1828, and after consolidating a number of clans into a formidable Zulu nation, Shaka was assassinated by his two half-brothers: Dingane kaSenzangakhona and Mhlangana kaSenzangakhona. These two princes plotted against Shaka with their aunt Mkabayi kaJama and Shaka’s adviser, Mbopha kaSithayi. Shortly afterwards, Dingane killed Mhlangana — because there can only be one king.

In 1856, King Mpande’s two eldest sons slugged it out at the Battle of Ndondakusuka (also called the battle of the princes). Prince Cetshwayo and Prince Mbuyazi fought because their father was indecisive in choosing an heir to the throne. Cetshwayo and his warriors annihilated his half-brother’s group, including women and children. About 20,000 people were killed and weeks later bodies were still washing out at the mouth of the Tugela river. Cetshwayo had to wait 16 years until his father's death from natural causes made him king of the Zulus (strictly speaking amaZulu).

In recent times, then Prince Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu — who had been sent to then KwaNdebele in the then Eastern Transvaal as part of his grooming process before turning 21 — had to head back to Zululand in a hurry when there were rumours that Prince Mcwayizeni, the regent, was so keen to hold on to power that he was planning the assassination of the soon-to-be-king.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that there have been accusations and contentions since the passing of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu in March 2021.

It all started when the last will and testament of the departed king was read to the royal family. The king nominated his wife, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini (whose father was King Sobhuza from the kingdom of Eswatini), to succeed him.

A month later, after two days in hospital, Queen Mantfombi died and her will nominated her eldest child, Prince Misuzulu kaZwelithini, to ascend to the throne.

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The letter to the president

In June 2021, Princess Thembi Zulu-Ndlovu (King Zwelithini’s sister) wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa complaining about the meeting  convened by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, in his capacity as the prime minister of the Zulu nation, where Prince Misuzulu was endorsed by some members of the Zulu royal family. Princess Thembi claimed the meeting did not follow the laid-out protocol in dealing with identification and nomination of the new king. More about this letter later.

Legal battles

King Zwelithini’s first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini (not to be confused with Queen Mantfombi Dlamini, who had died the previous month), approached the court in May 2021 claiming half of the deceased king’s estate. Her submission was that when they wed in 1969, two years before Zwelithini became king, the marriage was a civil union and they were married in community of property.

In the same month, Queen Sibongile’s daughters — princesses Ntombizosuthu and Ntandoyenkosi — claimed in a court submission that the signature on their late father’s will was forged. They also applied for an interdict on any activity leading to the installation of their nominated half-brother as the king of the amaZulu.

Early in December 2021, Prince Mbonisi (Zwelithini’s brother) also lodged an urgent application seeking to prevent the coronation of his nephew until all royal family processes had been followed. At the time, there were rumours that the new king was to be crowned that month.

In March 2022, the court dismissed all three cases. In Queen Sibongile's matter, Judge Isaac Madondo, KwaZulu-Natal’s deputy judge president, said the estate matter should first have been handled by the Master of the High Court or the estate's executor, not his court.

In July, Prince Mbonisi was back in court with another urgent application. He wanted any processes leading to the crowning of the new king, now rumoured to be in September 2022, to be halted. His submission was that since the court had yet to deal with the review process of the identification and nomination of the king, it would be unwise to crown him until the matter had been finalised. His application was unsuccessful.

Mediation panel ignored

Back to Princess Thembi-Ndlovu's letter to the president. Ramaphosa referred it to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta). Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, then Cogta minister, appointed a mediation panel chaired by former KZN premier Willies Mchunu.   

After doing its ground work and meeting opposing parties, the panel presented its final report early in 2022. Amid the welter of legal challenges, the key recommendation was to let this process run its course; only then should the president issue a recognition certificate, it said, and in the short term a regent should be appointed.

The president seemingly ignored this recommendation.

It is worth noting that besides the submission of this report in the first quarter of 2022 there had been another key development. Judge Madondo had delivered a judgment in March where he concluded that “Prince Misuzulu remains the undisputed successor to the Zulu throne”. Some legal and cultural experts vehemently objected to the judge dealing with a matter which, they claimed, was never in the application. And in July 2022, an urgent high court application by Prince Mbonisi to interdict the coronation of the new king had been dismissed. 

On October 29, 2022, tens of thousands of people witnessed a historic event when Ramaphosa presented Misuzulu with a recognition certificate at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Also in attendance were former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma and King Mswati III of Eswatini (King Misuzulu’s uncle, because King Sobhuza was the father of the eSwatini monarch and the late Queen Mantfombi, Misuzulu’s mother).

A year later, in October 2023, the court heard about alleged shortcomings in the way the new king was identified and nominated by some royal family members. This time, the key applicant was Prince Simakade, King Zwelithini’s eldest son, whose mother did not marry the king.

In December, Judge Norman Davis declared Misuzulu’s recognition unlawful and invalid and set it aside. As required by the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act whenever there is a complaint about the nomination process of a new traditional leader, the president was ordered to appoint an investigative committee. A day later, the Presidency said this judgment would be appealed.

Just to add another dimension to the saga, in August 2022 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) agreed to grant access to Zwelithini's first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini, to challenge the high court ruling about her claim to half of the king's estate.  

The SCA will now have to deal with that matter and consider whether the procedure followed in identifying and nominating Misuzulu was in accordance with the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act.

When and how will it end?

Who knows?

Only time will tell!

Only Zulu time will tell.

* Sihle Khumalo’s latest book is Milk the Beloved Country.


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