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Archbishop of Cape Town presides at requiem for Zulu king  

19 March 2021


The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks at the memorial service for King Goodwill Zwelithini on Thursday

The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks at the memorial service for King Goodwill Zwelithini on Thursday

AS THE Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini was laid to rest on Thursday, a debate was ignited in South Africa about the prominent part played by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in his memorial service at KwaNongoma.

King Zwelithini died on 12 March, aged 72, of Covid-19-related complications. His requiem mass was presided over by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba. The Archbishop explained that he was there in his capacity as the Bishop of Zululand, because no new elections had yet been held in the diocese to elect a new bishop. According to custom, the Primate of the Province fills that vacant post in the interim.

Speaking in English, Dr Makgoba said: “I’m appreciative of the long relationship between the royal family and the Anglican Church going back into the 19th century, despite the fact that our record as a Church has a mixed history, to say the least.

“What can be said today is that the reign of his Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini was truly a consequential reign, a historic reign, an historic era, unprecedented in South Africa’s history, during which we, as a nation, reinvented ourselves. And as we have seen over the past week, the hold of the Zulu monarchy on our collective imagination is as strong as it ever was.”

Melo Magolego, a former Mandela Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright scholar, complained on Twitter: “For me it’s the strong contingent of the Anglican church at an event which should be height of African spirituality.”

Another anonymous Twitter user wrote: “King Zwelithini was a custodian of the Zulu culture and its customs. His reign involved reviving and honouring abandoned Zulu customs. We want a decolonised Zulu ceremony.” Nathi Sitholi argued that amabutho, traditional warriors, were angry not to have been included.

The service was broadcast live on national television. The power supplier Eskom stopped planned power outages for four hours to enable South Africans to watch the service. The king’s body was buried in a traditional, secret ceremony at midnight the previous evening. The memorial was attended by the President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who gave an address; a former president, Jacob Zuma, a Zulu; and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

King Zwelethini, the longest-serving monarch of the Zulus in the 200 years history of the Zulu nation, was a controversial figure, seen as an ally of the Inkatha leader Chief Buthelezi, who ruled the KwaZulu Bantustan during apartheid. He became a king in 1968, on the death of his father, and ascended to the throne at the height of apartheid in 1971, when he was aged 21.

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