King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation in South Africa has died in hospital where he was being treated for diabetes-related issues.
The king, 72, was the leader of South Africa’s largest ethnic group and an influential traditional ruler.
He had been admitted to hospital in KwaZulu-Natal last week to monitor his ongoing diabetes condition.
The king’s prime minister thanked South Africa for its “continued prayers and support in this most difficult time”.
King of the Zulu nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini, was a direct descendent of King Cetshwayo who led the Zulu nation during the war with the British in 1879.
As custodian of Zulu traditions and customs, he revived many cultural practices including Umhlanga – also known as the Reed Dance ceremony. Seen by some as patriarchal, the ceremony is said to be aimed at celebrating virginity among girls and young women and raising awareness about HIV/Aids in a province with some of the highest rates of infection.
South Africa’s president has described him as a “much-loved visionary”.
He will be remembered as a straight-talker, at times to the ire of some.
He was on occasion critical of the governing African National Congress (ANC), accusing it of mishandling the country.
In 2015, he controversially said foreign nationals must pack up and return to their countries – at the time his comments were blamed for fuelling attacks against foreigners in his province.
The king later said the comments had been taken out of context and described the attacks as “vile”.
- Named successor to the throne at just 20 years old in 1968
- Not crowned until 1971 because he went into hiding after receiving death threats
- Crowned during South Africa’s apartheid era
- Reigned as king of the Zulu nation for five decades
- Leaves behind six wives and 28 children
He ruled the Zulu nation under the Traditional Leadership clause of South Africa’s republican constitution but his role was largely ceremonial.
He led the 11 million-strong Zulu nation – about 18% of South Africa’s population – but he also has family links to the Swazi and Xhosa nations through marriage and is respected by other cultural groups too.
He also took his cultural influence internationally as over the years he travelled to the West to promote trade and tourism for his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.