Several conversations about the security of the Zulu royal family were had this week after police confirmed that the death of the first-born son of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, Prince Lethukuthula Zulu, was being investigated as a possible murder.
The prince’s death may have sparked succession talks in mainstream circles, but, in reality, the identity of the successor to the Zulu throne has long been decided. It is known only to the king and perhaps an adviser or two, and will remain a closely guarded secret until the monarch chooses to announce it.
A private service was held for the 50-year-old prince at Khethomthandayo Royal Palace in Nongoma on Friday. The king did not attend the ceremony, but watched an online stream of it from his palace.
The prince’s body was found by security guards on November 6 at the Graceland residential complex in Northwold, Johannesburg. Details about the scene of his death remain sketchy, but what is known is that there was another man in the house, who was found asleep. The identity of the man – described as a “friend” by family members to whom City Press spoke – is not yet being revealed.
“It’s unwise for police to mention his name, as there have been no arrests. There’s been no update yet on the investigation.
“The case is being handled by the provincial investigating unit,” Gauteng’s police spokesperson, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, told City Press.
Prince Lethukuthula’s mother was the king’s first wife, Queen Sibongile Dlamini.
Lethukuthula is the second royal child to have died in the past two years. In September 2018, Prince Butho Zulu passed away after an undisclosed illness. He was the son of Zwelithini’s second wife, Queen Buhle kaMathe.
Inkosi Mandla Mkhwanazi, head of the Mkhwanazi Tribal Authority in KwaDlangezwa, said Prince Lethukuthula’s sudden death “hurts right now”, but that the Zulu nation “will get through it”.
“We should look at this, as it’s the second loss of a prince in two years. As a Christian, I can only say that everything happens for a reason with God, but we need to look at this carefully and if there’s anything within our power that we can do better, [it must be done].
“We can never speculate on any [successors] within the royal household. You don’t speculate on such matters,” he told City Press.
Inkosi Simphiwe Zuma, of the Nxamalala clan, told City Press that the prince’s death was a clear indication that “no one is safe”.
“If the prince had had bodyguards, the chances are that he’d be alive today. In this day and age, no one is safe, not even me – I could be killed tomorrow. The question we should be asking ourselves is: How do we go back to the old days, when respect for life was paramount? The nation must mourn and come out of this time stronger and wiser.
“Every son of the king is a prince, so there can’t be any talk of succession,” he said.
Security for the Zulu royal household, including for its palaces and the king, is primarily financed by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial treasury through the Royal Household Trust, which is housed within the premier’s office.
In June, it was announced that the budget allocation for the household would be increased by R4.5 million to R71.3 million.
A palace spokesperson, Prince Thulani Zulu, told City Press that rolling out security specifically for the king’s children would be unrealistic.
“Not everyone can get security, as it’s just too expensive. Having security for all the king’s sons and daughters would be a nightmare.”
No one was willing to discuss succession with City Press on the record.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the traditional prime minister of the Zulu nation, told the paper that such talk would be “insensitive”.
“His Majesty the King has never discussed this matter. It would be insensitive and unwise for me to speculate. It’s true that Prince Lethukuthula was his eldest son, but the king is married to six queens. It’s his prerogative to say who his successor will be,” said Buthelezi.
Professor Jabulani Maphalala, a historian and the current commissioner for traditional leadership, disputes and claims, told City Press that, while the prince’s death was a tragedy, it was necessary for the monarch to guide the Zulu nation in dealing with such matters.
“The prince’s death is a big loss, but it doesn’t change Zulu customs. Instead, it shines a mirror on how such matters should be handled. The customs following the prince’s death will be followed meticulously.
“The king won’t come close to where the dead or injured are. He wouldn’t even have been on the property where the funeral was conducted. This custom dates back several hundred years, to when we lived in the Great Lakes Region, as recorded in oral history,” explained Maphalala.
He said the death of Prince Lethukuthula should not create any debates around succession, as this had already been settled.
“The Zulu nation paid the lobola for Queen Mantfombi Dlamini [the king’s third wife], who’s the daughter of Sobhuza II of Swaziland and sister of Eswatini’s monarch, King Mswati III. She’s the wife who’ll be the mother of the successor. It’s done this way to avoid any confusion. Tradition dictates that it must be a son,” said Maphalala. – Additional reporting by Lwazi Hlangu