Right royal row divides King Zwelithini's court
Durban - The Zulu royal household is being torn apart by tension over who will succeed King Goodwill Zwelithini, who has yet to publicly declare his successor as monarch of the eight million Zulus who constitute South Arica's largest tribe.
Of his many children, two stand out as likely heirs to the throne: Prince Misuzulu, whose mother is Queen Mantombi from the Swazi royal family; and Prince Lethuk'thula, whose mother is Queen Sibongile from the commoner Dlamini family in KwaZulu-Natal.
The proud Prince Misuzulu (21) is studying in the United States and the more reserved Prince Lethukula (31) is working in the South African Navy in Durban.
Throwing further uncertainty into the succession debate is the claim that, when each of the princes was born, Zwelithini is said to have declared: "A Zulu king has been born."
It has been reliably learnt that the 52-year-old king's failure for more than two decades to let his subjects know who should take over if he dies or steps down, has split the royal household of five wives into cliques supporting each of the two probable heirs.
And there is now even talk that the matter could be taken to court as the king had married his wives under different forms of marriage.
Senior members of the Zulu royal family were almost all reluctant to comment on the issue when contacted by City Press this week, but confirmed that the situation was tense in the kingdom.
"It's not an issue that can be discussed by anyone.
"It's the most feared subject within the royal family. It's too sensitive," said one of the most senior princes in the royal family who preferred to remain anonymous.
In Zulu tradition, the king can have as many wives as he likes, but his heir apparent should come from the first wife if he has not married anyone from another royal family or has not married anyone whose lobola had been paid by the nation.
But Zwelithini has five wives, of whom the first, Queen Sibongile, married him in a western marriage and is not from a royal family.
The third, Queen Mantombi, is the daughter of revered Swazi king Sobhuza, who died in 1982.
Her son, Misuzulu, is tradition ally entitled to succeed Zwelithini. But because of the country's constitution, in terms of which everyone is equal regardless of status, Queen Sibongile's son Lethuk'thula can also legally claim the throne.
According to Professor Hulu mende Maphalala, who has re searched the succession of Zulu kings from Shaka to Zwelithini, tension within the Zulu family is unlikely to have the bloody implications of previous successions.
People have become modernised and did not expect this sort of thing to happen, he said.
Maphalala said the entire issue was further complicated by the fact that Zwelithini had married several women according to different marriage customs, thus making it difficult to clarify their status.
"If he had not had a Christian marriage to the first wife and then traditional marriages to others, it would have been better. But now no- one knows what could happen," he said.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) once raised the issue in 1996, saying Zwelithini was involving himself too much in politics and should leave the throne to one of his sons and "concentrate on politics".
This week an IFP member of the central council and senior member of the royal family, Prince Gideon Zulu, refused to comment on the matter, saying "it is too sensitive".
The king's private secretary, Thabo Sithole, also said the issue was too sensitive to be discussed in the media.
He claimed the issue was being raised by certain individuals bent on destabilising the Zulu kingdom.
"How could they tell the king to step down? And who should take over while the king is still alive to make those decisions himself ?"
Meanwhile, this year's Reed Dance starts on Friday at the king's eNyokeni palace in Nongoma.
Thousands of virgins are ex pected to flock to the palace to participate in the ancient Zulu practice that was reintroduced by Zwelithini in 1984 in an attempt to encourage young girls to abstain from sex.