CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – A new Zulu king was named in South Africa amid scenes of chaos after members of the royal family questioned Prince Misuzulu Zulu’s claim to the title following his father’s death, and bodyguards suddenly whisked him away from the public announcement at a palace.
The controversy over the next king, a largely ceremonial role but one with great significance for South Africa and its 12 million Zulu people, arose after the death in March of King Goodwill Zwelithini, who had reigned since 1968.
Zwelithini apparently named one of his six wives, Queen Mantfombi Shiyiwe Dlamini Zulu, as the “regent of the Zulu kingdom” in his will, but she died after holding the title for only a month, throwing the royal succession into turmoil.
The commotion broke out Friday night at the reading of Queen Mantfombi’s will and hours after a memorial service for her. The queen’s will named Prince Misuzulu, 46, her eldest son with King Zwelithini, as the heir and next king.
But another prince objected and interrupted the announcement at the KwaKhangelamankengane Royal Palace in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Two princesses also have questioned whether the late king’s will gave Queen Mantfombi the right to nominate a successor upon her death.
King Zwelithini reportedly had 28 children with his different wives, and Queen Mantfombi was not his first wife. A dispute over succession had been brewing since the late king’s death, fascinating many South Africans with their very own royal scandal.
Significant to the dispute is the fate of the king’s assets and the vast amounts of land traditionally owned by the Zulu people and now held in a trust. Estimates say the trust controls nearly 30% of the land in KwaZulu-Natal province, or around 28,000 square kilometers (10,810 square miles). The king is the sole trustee.
Earlier on Friday, Prince Misuzulu, who wore a traditional leopard-skin headband reserved for royalty and chiefs, called for unity among the Zulu royals at his mother’s memorial service.
“We have no doubt we will unite as a family,” he said in a message read out by his younger sister, Princess Ntandoyesizwe Zulu. “Let us emulate the king by being peaceful.”
The Zulu king has no political or even constitutional position, but his traditional authority is recognized in KwaZulu-Natal, where he is said to “reign but not rule.” More than that, the king holds an important role in bridging the gap between traditional customs and modern democracy in South Africa, where Zulus are the largest ethnic group among the country’s 60 million people.
Forbes put King Zwelithini’s net worth at nearly $20 million, while the Zulu royal household is given an annual budget of around $5 million by the South African government.
King Zwelithini, who had diabetes, reportedly died from a COVID-19-related illness at age 72.