Born in 1948 in Nongoma, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who died on Friday, was installed in 1971 following the death of his father, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon.
Despite the fact that his father died in 1968, it took three years for Zwelithini to be installed as there were fears he could be assassinated should he be installed immediately.
When he was finally installed in December 3, 1971, the ceremony became one of the biggest in the history of the Zulu monarchy, with more than 20 000 people attending the event.
However, it did not take long for Zwelithini’s throne to come under threat.
In 1975, the King’s cousin, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who had just launched his own political party, the IFP, accused him of meddling in political matters in the province.
Buthelezi, who at the time was the Prime Minister of the KwaZulu Bantustan government, imposed a restriction on Zwelithini’s movements, resulting in the King having to seek approval from the KwaZulu cabinet if he wanted to travel outside the then Nongoma Tribal Authority.
As tensions between Zwelithini and Buthelezi heightened, the IFP leader also accused the King of conspiring with foreign governments to weaken the IFP and undermine the KwaZulu Bantustan government.
At one point Buthelezi had Zwelithini’s salary cut.
However, the relationship between Buthelezi and Zwelithini improved over the years, resulting in the IFP becoming one of the main supporters of the King.
During the negotiations that preceded the 1994 democratic elections, Buthelezi pushed hard for all rural land in KwaZulu-Natal to fall under the control of Zwelithini.
Buthelezi’s efforts resulted in Zwelithini’s control over the province’s rural land being affirmed by the Ingonyama Trust Act declaring the King as the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust Board (ITB) which currently controls about 3000 hectares of land in the province.
However, ITB later found itself under attack for amongst others, its refusal to issue residents occupying land under its control with title deeds.
A report submitted to Parliament by a panel of experts led by former deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, recommended that the Ingonyama Act giving ITB powers over tribal land should either be amended or repealed.
In response to the panel’s recommendation, in 2018 Zwelithini called an Imbizo attended by throngs of Zulu-speaking people in Ulundi.
At that gathering, Zwelithini threatened that the KZN province would secede from the rest of South Africa should Parliament approve the panel’s recommendations.
Negative sentiments against Zwelithini also revolved around the fact that despite his Ingonyama Trust generating close to R100 million annually, he continued to receive a R60 million annual allowance from the KZN provincial government.
At the time of his death there were mounting calls from both the national government and the National Assembly for Zwelithini to intervene at the ITB, which is currently facing allegations of mismanagement and corruption.
Throughout his reign Zwelithini married six wives and fathered 28 children.