Deputy President David Mabuza sang the praises of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini on Friday and cautioned South Africans to not underestimate the leadership role of the royal household.
His comments come despite several controversies involving Zwelithini, including a Human Rights Commission investigation into his comments that foreigners must be sent home.
He also raised the ire of the Commission for Gender Equality which ruled that a bursary scheme aimed at girls who remained virgins was unconstitutional and should be scrapped. Zwelithini defended the bursary, laying into critics of the reed dance and virginity testing.
However, Mabuza said that Zwelithini had denounced many wrongs in society during his rule and used the monarchy to encourage unity.
Speaking at the King Bhekuzulu Hall at the University of Zululand, where Zwelithini was conferred an honorary doctorate in philanthropy, Mabuza said he was being honoured for his leadership role in the community.
This included his contribution towards the social welfare of vulnerable communities and the fight against HIV/Aids.
Mabuza had praise for the king's work "on the ground", saying that he pointed KwaZulu-Natal in the right direction during the deadly xenophobic attacks.
Zwelithini however, called on the government to send foreigners home in 2016.
Zwelithini made the comments at a "moral regeneration" event in Pongola, northern KwaZulu-Natal, which was widely believed to have prompted violent xenophobic attacks which broke out in the province soon after.
He said honouring Zwelithini also paid special tribute to warriors who fought for land "taken from us".
"In honouring you (Zwelithini), we honour our ancestors trying to bring unity in the divide of clans. You have instilled the value of Ubuntu and how we all have responsibility for one another."
Ignorant South African's won't see the good the king does
Mabuza said that only those who were ill-informed could not see the work Zwelithini did.
"Only ignorant South Africans do not see the work of the king and what he has done to better the lives of our people. Those who refuse to close their eyes cannot hear the testimony of the lives improved for the better by his majesty."
Mabuza said the king also played a vital part in educating people about HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted infections.
"In his majesty, we see a torch bearer in fighting against these things. As custodian and living embodiment of the Zulu nation, he was best placed to get men to circumcise and reduce the risk of spreading HIV. He did this and helped his people."
He added that many young women in KZN abstained from risky sexual relations and waited until marriage before having sex.
"This is all through the education of the king."
Mabuza added that, as Zwelithini approached his 70th birthday, he would also add his voice to the land debate and "other pressing issues" in SA.