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South Africa waits as ‘intricate’ process decides next Zulu king

Power cuts, corruption and tensions within the ruling ANC party usually dominate the headlines in South Africa. But today, they have been sidelined by one question: who will be the monarch of the Zulus now that their longest-serving ruler is gone?

King Goodwill Zwelithini passed away on March 12 at 72 after half a century on the throne, following a battle with diabetes-related illness.

With six wives and 28 children, he leaves behind a mighty question about succession.

The royal family has been tight-lipped about the issue since the king was laid to rest — or “planted” — last week in an intimate ceremony in the eastern town of Nongoma where he was born.

On Sunday, however, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 92, issued an update saying influential members of the royal family had gathered the previous day to discuss who should ascend the throne.

“It was decided that a meeting will be held on Wednesday morning with His Majesty´s lawyers,” said a statement from Buthelezi, former leader of the powerful Zulu nationalist party Inkhata.

“This is where the matter stands at present. Further updates will be provided after Wednesday´s meeting.”

No deadline has been announced but Sihawu Ngubane of the University of KwaZulu-Natal says a new king should be designated as soon as possible to lead South Africa’s largest ethnic group, which numbers more than 11 million people.

The transition period, says the African languages expert, “must be short, but the word short is relative”.

– ‘The inside knows’ –

Experts in Zulu customs say the king’s will, which was read immediately following his funeral would have designated the third of Zwelithini’s six wives, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini, 65, as ruler until a future king can be named, although the royal palace has not officially confirmed this.

Although she was Zwelithini’s third wife, Dlamani holds the title of “great queen” — a status determined by her dowery or “lobolo”, says Ngubane.

While the king would have paid directly the doweries of his other wives — mainly in the form of livestock — Dlamini’s would have been financed by the Zulu people through their village chiefs.

She “is now the caretaker king, she has got the powers of a king, she can stay on the throne until such a time a king is appointed,” says Ngubane.

“It might take months, or it can take a year.”

Pitika Ntuli, an expert in African traditions, reckons there can be little doubt within the royal family as to who their heir is.

“The inside would know,” he says.

With Dlamini named regent, some speculate her eldest son, Prince Misuzulu Zulu, 46 — whose name can be loosely translated as “strengthening the Zulus” — could be the one.

But Ntuli emphasises that the nature of succession in the tradition of historic Zulu Nguni kingdoms is “intricate” and nothing is automatic. AFP

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