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King Zwelithini’s death dents Ndebele Monarch restoration efforts

The death of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu is a blow to efforts to restore the Ndebele Monarch in Zimbabwe, due to the strong historical ties between the Zulu and Ndebele nations, cultural activists have said.

King Zwelithini (72) died Friday morning at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.

His death was announced by the traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

However, his death has robbed the Ndebele nation of a sympathetic ear ever since attempts to resuscitate the fallen state gained new momentum in the past two decades.

King Zwelithini was openly compassionate about the Ndebele people as the Zulu and Ndebele nations share common historical and cultural links dating back before uMfecane during the reign of Tshaka and Mzilikazi.

In an interview with CITE, historian Pathisa Nyathi confirmed that King Zwelithini’s recognition in Matabeleland arose from deep historical ties between the Zulu and Ndebele.

“His relevance comes against this background, from sharing common history, culture and language. In terms of literature, when isiNdebele was not in written form, those who were older than us learnt Zulu in school, as it had already developed literature,” he said.

Nyathi praised how the Zulu kingdom retained its titular kingship, which had strengthened the preservation of its culture unlike in Zimbabwe where authorities were against the revival of the Ndebele monarch.

“The kingship became more of a cultural rallying point, not a political rallying point as is feared in this country. The fear is perhaps there will be contestation which is nothing like that. A king is a rallying point for culture, its preservation and continuity. Here we have no traditional ceremonies like Inxwala and we don’t know how they are conducted,” he lamented.

Nyathi blamed the coming in of Cecil John Rhodes for destroying the Ndebele monarch.

“Rhodes removed all the three royal qualifying sons who could act as rallying points uNjube, Ngub’entsha and Mphezeni. He took them out of Matabeleland to the Cape to give them an education,” he said.

“For Rhodes his consideration was more political than understanding of our African beliefs and their preservation. Anyway when a king is dead, we say long live the king!”

One of the Matabeleland traditional leaders, Chief Mathema of Gwanda echoed that South Africa was lucky to have an understanding government unlike in Zimbabwe.

“Here we’ve been unlucky in our efforts to revive our own monarch. It is seen as politically motivated. The Ndebele had a monarch before and is still needed. South Africa, which experienced apartheid, did not see their culture decimated but in Zimbabwe, colonisers and the post-independence government continued to destroy Ndebele culture,” he said.

Chief Mathema accused the government of blocking their attempts yet “helped in restoring the Mambo dynasty while saying no to a Ndebele king.”

“King Zwelithini’s death is, therefore, a big loss to the Nguni nation particularly to the Ndebele who have strong ties historically. We left KwaZulu in South Africa to come and settle in Zimbabwe. I once stayed with the late, had dinner with him, even with the late Xhosa King Sigcawu. We worked well, laughed and ate together.”

Bulelani Khumalo, a claimant to the Ndebele throne, acknowledged the passing of the Zulu King would have “a little bit of setback for the revival of the Ndebele monarch but that did not mean we will fail.”

He added that the relations between the Zulu and Ndebele would remain stronger.

“By the passing of the Zulu King, people normally focus on the disagreements King Mzilikazi had with King Shaka but they forget that blood is thicker than water by this I mean small differences don’t wipe out the fact that we are cousins and we will always help each other during difficult times,” he said.

“We hope the Zulu will quickly have one of the sons to take over then we move forward. The Ndebele nation feels a great loss and is indeed mourning the passing of His Royal Majesty.”

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, Nicholas Ngqabutho Mabhena said the king’s death was disturbing because they had been working together on documenting migrants.

“In the last five years, we were working together in finding solutions to xenophobic attacks happening in Johannesburg and KwaZulu Natal. We had several meetings, he was a symbol of peace because he committed himself to social cohesion,” he said.

Mabhena said in 2019 during xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg, he and a delegation met him at KwaNongoma.

“Our visit coincided with the annual Reeds dance where his majesty had invited other African migrants who he presented knobkerries of peace at a dinner gala. He was unaware I was on that list and when he was informed, he called me to the stage and I too received a knobkerrie. It is an evening that I will always cherish,” he said.

Social critical studies scholar, Khanyile Mlotswa, praised how King Zwelithini had managed to steer his nation past the challenges of apartheid and storms of post-apartheid to be the longest-serving monarch.

“The Zulu monarchy is very old. That King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu held this monarchy intact since he was installed in 1971 at the age of 21 to this moment when he joins his ancestors, is historic. It opens us to reflect on history in many ways depending on our positionalities,” he said.

“For me as a Ndebele person of Nguni origin, I am awed by how the king and many people of his generation like the former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and their elders like Prince Buthelezi have managed to hold it together for the Zulu nation through all the storms of history.”

Mlotshwa said for Matabeleland, colonial history hit people hard, as they are still fumbling in the darkness of Zimbabwean nationalism

“But King Zwelithini was insulted, maligned, despised; they have managed to hold it together,” he said.

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One Comment

  1. It is better to rewrite the article and amend amaNdebele to uMthwakazi because when you say amaNdebele you include some of us which are not part of your nation

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