People of Matabeleland, seem to have embraced 34-year-old Bulelani Khumalo as the King of the Ndebele despite a court challenge against his ascendancy to the throne and more so, without a constitutional provision that recognises a monarch in Zimbabwe.
Born in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, Khumalo grew up a South African citizen and served in the army.
He was identified by the royal Khumalo family and traditional leaders as heir to the King Mzilikazi throne.
When he was due for a supposed coronation in March 2018, the Bulawayo High Court banned the event after self-imposed King, Peter Zwide KaLanga Khumalo successfully won an interdict stopping the ceremony.
Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, July Moyo also said it was unconstitutional to have a king in Zimbabwe and there was no law in the country allowing for the setting up of any monarchy.
But in September 2018, traditional leaders in Matabeleland and the Khumalo family crowned Bulelani – new King of the Ndebele nation in a secret ceremony after going through a series of rites held across seven days.
Observing from his recent public appearances in and out of Bulawayo, it seems people appreciate the cultural role Khumalo represents as he is often received to applause and loud cheers.
In Bulawayo, Khumalo made an appearance at the memorial service of the late national hero – Dumiso Dabengwa where he sat next to MDC president, Nelson Chamisa and his deputy, Professor Welshman Ncube.
People cheered for him as he made his grand entrance.
In Ntabazinduna, for Dabengwa`s burial, Khumalo was again welcomed with applause while his praise poet introduced him to the public.
The next Sunday he attended a football match at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo where Highlanders played against ZPC Kariba and once again received a rapturous welcome.
Seen as a gesture of appreciation to Highlanders supporters, after the match, Khumalo and his delegation moved the around the stadium to waves of honour.
Highlanders Football Club, formerly Lions Club and later Matabeleland Football Club, was established in 1926 by Ndebele royal sons, Albert Njube Lobengula Khumalo and his younger brother Rhodes Lobengula Khumalo.
Bulelani is said to be the great grandson of Rhodes Lobengula Khumalo.
The ‘king’ also spoke to Highlanders’ team players in their dressing room after their match.
But what does this all ‘excitement’ mean to people? Do people appreciate the cultural history of the Ndebele or are they just going along with the flow –clapping hands when they see others doing so?
Are people perhaps seeing a political birthing in the form of the revival of the Ndebele monarch after it was decimated by colonial triumphalism?
Social analyst, Thomas Sithole said the excitement is located on the political and cultural clout that comes with the monarch as an institution.
“I think he is filling a void that has taken very long to fill. The people of Matabeleland, especially those who identify themselves as uMthwakazi feel they haven’t had a political and cultural home since the demise of King Lobengula’s reign hence the coming in of Bulelani is seen as the revival of that kingdom,” he noted.
Sithole added that his presence at the Highlanders match was also of historical significance.
“Highlanders was established by the descendents of King Lobengula hence Bulelani identifies himself with the team due to those ties. In a way he is a critical stakeholder at Highlanders,” he noted.
Cultural studies scholar, Khanyile Mlotshwa weighed in saying that people have always been conscious of their culture and when there is an opportunity to celebrate it, they do so.
“One of the results of the defeat of the Ndebele people by the colonising company, the British South Africa Company was that it sought to destroy the cultural consciousness of the people by making sure they have no king,” he claimed.
“We know the history of those efforts by white people, including the very reason why King Bulelani was born a South African, while his people are Zimbabwean! It is because royalty was exiled to make sure that Ndebele people are cut from their cultural roots. We hope that people will then start to commemorate the defeat of the Ndebele people who perished in the Battle of eGadade in December against the whites, as they find it very easy to celebrate colonial triumph over their ancestors as seen in the July 1 celebrations.”
Nevertheless, the events of the past weeks are a clear testimony that people are becoming aware of their roots and the coming in of Khumalo represents that, Mlotshwa pointed out.
“That has not happened, clearly. Importantly, what I would like to point out is that the Ndebele people have clearly embraced King Bulelani in the midst of a fight over the Ndebele kingship. For the crowds, that are as politically conscious as the Barbourfileds stadium going supporters, King Bulelani is their choice of a king, of a new Ndebele king,” he said.