The news that King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu was no more shocked South Africans on Friday even though he had been critically ill for more than a month.
While there is a measure of controversy surrounding his legacy because of some unpopular decisions, there’s no denying that he was much loved by many, and not just by the Zulus. On Saturday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a special official funeral for the longest serving monarch of the Zulu nation. His send-off was expected to attract thousands of mourners from across the country, but yesterday the royal household announced that it wanted a private funeral, with just close family members in attendance.
While it’s not clear what influenced this decision, it is commendable considering the Covid-19 regulations that are in place for funerals. They recognise that the rules apply to all, even the king.
Some Zulus may not be happy with the decision because they would have wanted to come out in their numbers to bid their king his final farewell, but the king would not have wanted his funeral to be a superspreader event, considering how vocal he was against the rampant disregard of Covid-19 regulations. This was even before he contracted the virus himself. On several occasions last year, the king held virtual briefings from his Nongoma palaces, pleading with South Africans to protect themselves from the virus and adhere to the lockdown restrictions.
The Zulu monarch was in no way perfect and was often criticised for some of his actions and utterances, which were seen to be dividing people rather than unifying them. However, the king always tried to show that he cared even though he wasn’t always successful. When Isilo was blamed for inciting xenophobic attacks that gripped KwaZulu-Natal in 2015, he tried to make amends by calling an imbizo where he asked South Africans to put down their weapons. The violence ceased soon after his address.
The king knew how influential he was and there are notable occasions when he used that for the greater good. That responsibility, along with his 50-year legacy, will be one of the burdens his successor must carry and hopefully try to improve on.