KWANONGOMA, South Africa (AP) — The new king of South Africa’s Zulu nation Misuzulu kaZwelithini was enthroned in a colorful ceremony Saturday before hundreds of supporters in a rural area of KwaZulu-Natal province.
The king dismissed those who questioned his right to the throne in his first public comments on the matter. He was crowned as the traditional leader of the Zulu nation, although some members of the royal family dispute his right to succeed his late father, King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Some family members prefer an older brother and a different group favors another brother. The late king had six wives and several sons. After the king died last year, his mother Misuzulu kaZwelithini served as regent for just a month before she died, but named her son as the next king in her will. This is considered by many to be the strongest claim to the Zulu throne.
President Cyril Ramaphosa recognized Misuzulu kaZwelithini as the rightful heir to the Zulu throne. Ramaphosa is to present him with an official certificate declaring him king of the Zulu people at a ceremony later this year.
Misuzulu kaZwelithini addressed about 1,000 supporters after undergoing a traditional ritual known as ukengana esibayeni (entry into the royal cattle enclosure) to mark the beginning of his reign as king.
“I know you know the state of the royal family lately. I ask that whatever you hear in the media and the comments made by those challenging the throne, you listen but don’t listen to them,” said Misuzulu kaZwelithini.
He called for unity among the Zulu nation and thanked Ramaphosa for his support.
The ceremony and celebrations were colorful displays of Zulu culture, with hundreds of people dressed in traditional regalia.
Women wearing beads, skirts and hats chanted and sang Zulu hymns and slogans as they awaited the arrival of the new king.
Cheers rose in the air as Misuzulu kaZwelithini entered the main palace precinct where he was handed a sharp, gold-plated scepter and received congratulatory messages from the elders of the Zulu nation.
Hundreds of male Zulu warriors, known as amabuto, wielded traditional shields, spears and sticks as they chanted and marched to the royal palace to pledge their allegiance to their new leader.
Throughout the day the men slaughtered about 50 cattle, while the women cooked the meat and other food and brewed traditional sorghum beer for the festive feast.
The event, widely seen as the installation or coronation of the new king, was also attended by traditional leaders from other South African ethnicities and representatives of other nationalities with origins in the Zulu nation, including communities from Zambia and Malawi.
The Zulu ethnic group is the largest in South Africa with more than 12 million people located mainly in KwaZulu-Natal province. They are recognized for their fierce resistance to British colonialism under King Shaka Zulu in the early 1800s.
As the leader of the Zulu nation that controls some 10,810 square miles of land in KwaZulu-Natal province, the king is arguably the most influential traditional leader in South Africa.