Fred Khumalo | The Zulu royal family's ties of blood

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Zulu Traditional Prime Minister, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and King Misuzulu.Photo : Jabulani Langa
Zulu Traditional Prime Minister, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and King Misuzulu.Photo : Jabulani Langa

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For centuries, ascendancy to the Zulu throne has been a precarious undertaking that sometimes leads to prolonged disputes or open war.

King Shaka ka Senzangakhona, popularly recognised as the face and heart of Zulu nationhood, was himself a usurper who killed the rightful heir, Prince Sigujana ka Senzangakhona. Shaka was himself murdered by his brothers, princes Dingane and Mhlangana, aided by their acolyte Mbopha ka Sithayi.

A few years later, after a bloody reign in which he acquired many enemies – both black and white – Dingane was murdered in turn. And so it has gone on.

Here is a summarised genealogy of this illustrious royal family:

Nkosinkulu (1627 to 1709)

The progenitor of the Zulu clan was Nkosinkulu ka Malandela, whose grave is in the Emakhosini Valley, a national monument located less than 10km south of Ulundi and 30km away from Melmoth, on the banks of the White Mfolozi River. Nkosinkulu fathered two sons, Phunga and Mageba. The former reigned from 1709 to 1727, dying without an heir. As a result, his widow married Mageba, who sired Ndaba.

Ndaba (1697 to 1763)

Unlike Phunga and Mageba, who took no interest in military matters, Ndaba was a keen warrior, always armed and ready for combat. He formed the early Zulu regiments to plunder cattle and defend existing boundaries.

Jama (1727 to 1781)

Jama not only lacked military skills, but was also something of a nonentity. So forgettable was he that an imbongi (poet) composed these lines about him:?

Jama is insignificant, he is tiny.

Even on an assegai point he can fit,

Even on a branch he can be at ease.

Senzangakhona (1757 to 1816)

Statue of Shaka kaSenzangakhona. Photo: Supplied

Senzangakhona was what today’s generation would call “eye candy” – tall, good looking and a smooth talker. He had sex with Nandi, a girl of the Mhlongo clan, on the side of a footpath as part of a ritual called “amahlaya endlela” – jokes of the road. However, the joke was on him, since, in their coupling – which was supposed to be nonpenetrative – the royal spear stabbed the wrong way and Nandi fell pregnant.

Senzangakhona duly paid the inhlawulo fine for deflowering her and also married her, to protect her honour, but this derailed the plans of the royal family, who had already picked out a suitable bride for Senzangakhona.

They did not welcome Nandi and sent her and her child to live in exile with her people. It was an action that so angered young Shaka that he later exacted revenge on some members of the royal family on his blood soaked march to power.

READ: Fred Khumalo | Close Up - The challenges facing the new Zulu king

Shaka ka Senzangakhona (1787 to 1828)

Growing up among his mother’s people, the Mhlongos, Shaka was victimised for being Zulu. The trauma he suffered turned him into an angry young man and a vehement fighter. At an early age, he was trained to become a superb warrior and military strategist. After coming of age, he returned to his roots – the Zulu royal house – where he asserted himself by murdering the heir apparent, Prince Sigujana. To this day – through song, book, film and legend – Shaka is synonymous with Zulu military might and pride. 

Dingane ka Senzangakhona (1788 to 1840) 

Statue of  Dingane kaSenzangakhona
Statue of Dingane kaSenzangakhona

Dingane was a paranoid and power-obsessed prince who so craved the throne that he killed nearly all his brothers (including Shaka). However, while preparing to kill his remaining brother, Mpande, Dingane’s prime minister, Ndlela ka Sompisi (of the Ntuli people) – afraid that the murder would end the royal lineage – stopped him. In appealing for Mpande’s life, Ndlela described the prince as a simpleton.

Dingane was assassinated by the Nyawo people of present-day Eswatini, on the orders of Zulu generals who realised that Dingane was a liability to the nation.

Mpande ka Senzangakhona (1798 to 1872)

Mpande ka Senzangakhona is one of the longest-reigning monarchs not only in the kingdom of the Zulus, but, arguably, in southern Africa. He ascended the throne at the age of 42 and ruled over a relatively peaceful nation until his death at the age of 74.

READ: What the Zulu kingship judgment tells us about the future of South African customary law

Though of peaceful disposition, in 1856, when his two sons Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi were about to go to war over the right to succession, Mpande did not intervene. Instead, he declared: “Our house didn’t gain the kingship by being appointed to sit on a mat. [In traditional Zulu culture, when a father appoints one of his sons as his heir, the young man sits on a mat, denoting his rank.] Our house gained the kingship by stabbing with the assegai.”

Cetshwayo ka Mpande (1827 to 1884)

Cetshwayo became king after winning the battle of Ndondakusuka in 1856, in which he stabbed his brother and rival heir, Mbuyazi, to death. He is best remembered for leading his people to victory against British imperialism in the battle of Isandlwana in 1879.

Dinizulu ka Cetshwayo (1868 to 1913)

Dinizulu (which means “one who is a source of worry to the Zulus”) was thus named by his father Cetshwayo because he was expected to keep the Zulu people vigilant against a growing number of enemies. Born in troubled times, when Dinizulu ascended to the throne, he tried to revive Cetshwayo’s military regiments. For this, he was arrested and exiled to the island of St Helena. He was again imprisoned in 1908 for his alleged role in the Bambatha rebellion of 1906, in which Zulus rejected white rule and refused to pay a poll tax.

Solomon ka Dinizulu (1893 to 1933)

Solomon’s original name was Solomona, a contraction of iso lomona, meaning “an envious eye”. He spent his formative years on St Helena with his exiled father. When he was five, his family was repatriated to Zululand, where the young boy converted to Christianity and took the name of the biblical King Solomon. He was the first westernised Zulu king.

His sister, Princess Magogo, was the mother of Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. Solomon had a taste for “the queen’s tears”, as Zulus refer to European alcohol, and his drinking habit eventually led to the breakdown of his marriage to Queen Christina MaSibiya.

Cyprian Bhekuzulu Nyangayezizwe ka Solomon (1924 to 1968)

King Bhekuzulu succeeded his father after a lengthy dispute played out in court. His mother, feisty Queen Christina MaSibiya, had approached the white legal authorities to ensure that her son ascended the throne.

Zwelithini Goodwill ka Bhekuzulu (1948 to 2021)

Born into a divided Zulu royal house, when Zwelithini came of age, the throne was occupied by senior Prince Israel Mcwayizeni ka Solomon, who had been appointed regent after the death of King Bhekuzulu. Mcwayizeni was extremely unpopular among some members of the family and, at one stage, it was rumoured that he was plotting to kill Zwelithini. As a result, the young prince was sent into exile in KwaNdebele.

After his 21st birthday and his first marriage, Prince Zwelithini was crowned king at a traditional ceremony at Nongoma on December 3 1971, attended by 20 000 people. He died on March 12 last year at the age of 72.

READ: A divided royal family remembers King Zwelithini

Now the royal family is again divided, with some supporting Prince Misuzulu and others throwing in their lot with his brother, Prince Simakade.

This summarised genealogy of the Zulu royal family was compiled with the aid of the following books: The Last Zulu King: The Life and Death of Cetshwayo by CT Binns;?Zulu Woman: The Life of Christina Sibiya by Rebecca Hourwich Reyher; King of Goodwill: The Authorised Biography of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu by OEHM Nxumalo, CT Msimang and IS Cooke; The Assassination of King Shaka: Zulu History’s Dramatic Moment by John Laband; and UZulu: Umlando Nobuqhawe bukaZulu by Shalo Mbatha

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