The coronation was coordinated by the apartheid government and the prospective coronation would likely be spearheaded by the current government authorities according to its protocol when installing traditional leadership, writes University of KwaZulu-Natal history lecturer, Mphumeleli Ngidi.
The day 3 December 1971, a showery Friday, hosted a rare event many, at the time, had never witnessed… and only a few would ever witness another in future. It would take more than 50 years to witness another coronation of a Zulu king. Despite the legal battles before the courts, the topic of coronation has been the talk of the streets, and we await the coronation of the next Majesty of the AmaZulu nation.
The rich history of the world-renowned Zulu nation – famed for its founder, King Shaka Zulu, and for famously defeating the British in the battle of Isandlwana in 1879 – has continued to draw attention from across the globe.
Contestation of the throne has been a “norm”. It has habitually been the case since the assassination of King Shaka by his half-brothers in September 1828. From King Shaka to King Zwelithini, a period covering two centuries, ascending to the throne of KwaZulu has never been suave for any king. Blood spills, battles and vehement contestations ensue – a king emerges from that situation.
Many of the current generation have never witnessed the coronation of a Zulu king. This short piece takes you through what happened in December 1971 at the installation of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini. The heavy rains which engulfed the hills of KwaNongoma – the headquarters of the Zulu royal family in northern KwaZulu-Natal – did not deter a multi-racial crowd of approximately 30 000 from all corners of the globe who attended the landmark coronation of the king of the Zulu nation, Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu kaSolomon, at KwaKhethomthandayo, Nongoma.
The event had been scheduled to commence at 10:00 but muddy roads heading to the venue resulted in slightly over a thousand people being present at the venue by the stipulated time. Shielded by umbrellas the small crowd was scattered in small groups. Two big tents had been stationed at the venue. It was reported that the government police and the royal guards assigned for crowd control had difficulties allocating seats in the tents to dignitaries as some “not reserved for” people occupied reserved seats while running away from the rain.
Prince Zwelithini, resplendent in a navy blue uniform with leopard skin trimmings, arrived a few minutes after 10:00 with a security convoy in a luxury vehicle. The prince was accompanied by his wife, Princess MaDlamini, and other princes from the royal Zulu family, and they were all clothed in traditional Zulu garb.
Upon the prince’s entry, the crowd quickly amplified to over 10 000 and grew more rapidly in a few minutes. The Prison Service Bantu Band, stationed on an upper hill, provided the music before the prospective king reached the venue. The band was quietened by the praise singer, inyosi, who hailed the praises of Prince Zwelithini and the kings of the Zulu nation before him. During a little pause between inyosi praises, the crowd would roar to salute their imminent king: “Bayede Ndabezitha”. As inyosi continued his praises, Prince Zwelithini popped out of the vehicle and the rowdy attendees sang more deafeningly as he headed to the stage, where he waited for the commencement of the programme.
While Prince Zwelithini had been seated, a large convoy of amabutho, clad in their traditional regalia, came, bursting in Zulu songs and dancing. The amabutho were not age-barred but the young and the old assembled in a single group. They paid homage to the soon-to-be king through the bayede formality and were seated on the ground a few metres from the stage. Royal guards had a hard time trying to organise amabutho, who were high spirited as if they were heading to war. The amabutho were followed by a convoy from the Kingdom of Eswatini, which was led by Prince Makhosini Ngwane and princesses of the Swaziland kingdom. The Eswatini entourage had been sent to represent their leader, iNgwenyama Sobhuza II, who could not attend the event for uncommunicated reasons.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, clad in full Zulu regalia with leopard skin over his shoulders, was last of all the high-profile personnel of African descent at the venue. Members of the press with cameras flocked in their numbers towards Prince Buthelezi. Buthelezi was a prominent figure and as expected caught the attention as he was the Chief Minister of the apartheid-oriented KwaZulu Territorial Authority, the homeland, and the leader of the Buthelezi clan. Prince Buthelezi was followed by his sister M. Dotwana, mother Princess Magogo and wife, Princess Irene, and other members of the Buthelezi family, who were all wearing traditional attire.
Amabutho sang without pause while members of the press continued to take photos of the festivities, with their main focus on Prince Zwelithini, Prince Mangosuthu and amabutho. “Bayede” echoed through the ancient hills of Nongoma.
There were delays to the programme as people waited for M.C. Botha, Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, who was the principal apartheid government official, to officially administer the entire installation of Prince Goodwill Zwelithini. Botha was popularly known as indlovu enebatha among the Zulus. It is common for Zulus to give non-Zulus Zulu names. Upon the arrival of Botha, the programme swiftly commenced with prayers from Archbishop A. Zulu, who read a verse from Isaiah in the Bible, and was followed by Reverend Mhlungu.
Various speakers took to the podium, and the crowd sat quietly with intermittent song disturbance from amabutho. Prince Mcwayizeni, who occupied the throne as a regent for 18 months after the departure of King Bhekuzulu kaSolomon, was also afforded an opportunity on stage, and he officially handed over the throne with words of encouragement to the prospective king. Prince Mcwayizeni said that he will spearhead a committee to advice the newly crowned king. Other speakers included Mr Henri Torlage, the Commissioner-General of Zululand, and N. Otte.
While installing the king, Botha stressed that the king was the paramount ruler of the Zulus. Botha also articulated that although the king should not interfere in political affairs, he should have a voice in the homeland. This, Botha said, was to be necessitated through amending some of the sections of the homeland laws. Botha handed over official documents which authorised Prince Zwelithini’s ascension to the throne. The prince became the paramount king of the Zulu nation.
After the installation, King Goodwill Zwelithini stepped onto the podium. The king was overcome with emotion, broke down and wiped away tears in front of his people. He said that although he was at a tender age, he had “a big responsibility on his shoulders” and requested his nation to work together with the government. King Zwelithini thanked the government for officialising his installation and Prince Mcwayizeni for holding the ship.
Gifts that were presented to the newly installed king included a luxurious throne from the government and a vehicle (izinyawo zenkosi) from members of the Zulu nation. The representatives of the Eswatini Kingdom presented a gift of R400. They said that the money was in exchange for cattle as the distance between Eswatini and KwaZulu would not allow them to present live cattle. In turn, King Zwelithini presented M.C. Botha with a lion’s skin. Upon this presentation, the king stressed that the lion’s skin had been a great symbol to the Zulu nation since the reign of King Mpande kaSenzakakhona in the mid-nineteenth century.
Throughout the proceedings Prince Buthelezi sat quietly. King Zwelithini was officially presented with the position’s documents. Buthelezi was lauded for his role in managing amabutho, who could barely hold their adrenaline from running high as they sang to the disturbance of the programme. While controlling the proceedings, Buthelezi led amabutho after the four-hour event in song. King Zwelithini, now crowned, changed his ceremony attire to traditional Zulu wear and joined amabutho, who were led by Prince Buthelezi and Prince Sithela kaManqina.
The aftermath of the event was marred by complaints of food shortage, and it was suspected that people had bombarded the kitchen and forcibly served themselves. There were also incidents of crime as some attendees were pickpocketed or lost their items at the hands of thieves. Foreign attendees were the primary victims of crime.
The event in 1971 was coordinated by the apartheid government, and the coronation of Prince Misuzulu will likely be spearheaded by the current authorities according to its protocol for installing traditional leaders.
The date of the coronation has not been announced, and there are still legal battles before the courts regardless of the fact that President Ramaphosa has issued Prince Misuzulu with a certificate. I will leave such analysis to political and legal experts as I am writing from a historian’s point of view.
– Dr Mphumeleli Ngidi is a lecturer of history at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.