JOHANNESBURG – The traditional leader of South Africa’s 12 million Zulu people, King Goodwill Zwelithini, has been laid to rest in a private ceremony early Thursday.
Zwelithini, 72, died from health problems related to diabetes last Friday and he was buried in a traditional ceremony known as “ukutshalwa kweNkosi,” which is only attended by senior men of the royal family, many wearing leopard skins and colorful Zulu regalia.
Reigning for more than 50 years, Zwelithini was the longest-serving monarch of the Zulu nation, the largest ethnic group of South Africa's 60 million people. The KwaZulu-Natal province is where most of the country's Zulus live.
Historically, the Zulu nation gave early resistance to British colonialism under the leadership of King Shaka Zulu from 1816 to 1828.
Zwelithini was a proponent of traditional Zulu customs and the most influential of South African traditional leaders, who do not hold political office but have considerable influence, especially among South Africa's rural people. He is credited with speaking openly to encourage public education to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was sweeping through South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.
After Zwelithini's burial, President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the speakers at a memorial service who praised the king.
“It was during his reign that the Zulu nation achieved harmony and peace. It was during the course of his reign that his people alongside all the people of our country realized the dream of freedom from the injustices of colonialism and apartheid,” said Ramaphosa.
Others attending the memorial included former president Jacob Zuma, who is Zulu, and Princess Charlene of Monaco, who is from South Africa.