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South African Bishop Mourns Traditional King, Says He “respected Catholic Church"

King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBekhuzulu of the Zulu Kingdom

A Catholic Bishop in South Africa has eulogized king Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the traditional leader of the Zulu people, as an approachable man “who respected the Catholic Church." 

The 72-year-old monarch succumbed to diabetes at the Chief Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban, South Africa. 

Having been the longest-serving monarch of the Zulu Kingdom, the government of South Africa directed that the country’s flag be flown at half mast until the evening of the day he will be laid to rest.

In a statement published Tuesday, March 16 by the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), Bishop Thaddeaus Xolelo Kumalo of South Africa’s Witbank Diocese says he “felt quite sad” when he learnt about the King’s demise. 

"King Zwelithini was a very warm and humble man, who respected the Catholic Church." Bishop Kumalo has been quoted as saying in the March 15 statement. 

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The South African Bishop who, until November 2020, served in the Diocese of Eshowe that covers parts of the Zulu kingdom, says that although the monarch was an Anglican,  he “was very close to the Catholic Church and would often wear the rosary on top of his Zulu traditional regalia." 

The late king, the Bishop says, was "a warm person who wanted to build the nation."

The 66-year-old Bishop goes on to describe the late Zulu king as "an exemplary man who encouraged people, especially the youth, to be self-reliant through agriculture and other development programs."

King Zwelithini, the eldest son of the late king Cyprian and his second wife, the late Queen Thomozile Ndwandwe, became a monarch at the age of 20 when his father died.  

However, he was not crowned as king until 1971 as he went into hiding because there was a plot to kill him. 

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He is survived by six wives and twenty-eight children.

King Zwelithini’s successor is yet to be appointed as the Zulu people do not discuss heirs to the throne while a monarch is alive or laid to rest. The royal family is expected to advise about the new King. 

In his March 16 message, Bishop Kumalo expresses the hope that king Zwelithini's successor will be "a humble man who will be very close to his people and one who will respect Christians." 

Other leaders in South Africa have also eulogized the late king as a statesman with a rich legacy.  

In a statement released on the day of the King’s demise, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, describes the Monarch’s death as “sad news.”

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The late king will be remembered, President Ramaphosa said, as “a much-loved, visionary monarch who made an important contribution to cultural identity, national unity and economic development in KwaZulu-Natal and through this, to the development of our country as a whole.”

In his message, the Head of State offers his “sympathies and prayers” to the royal family, the Zulu nation and the people of God in KwaZulu-Natal Province following the king’s demise. 

In honor of the late king Zwelithini, memorial service with military honors is expected to take place at the Khethomthandayo Royal Palace in Nongoma within KwaZulu-Natal Province on Thursday, March 18.

The King is then expected to be laid to rest on the night of March 18 at a men-only ceremony as per his wishes, and consistent with traditional practices of South Africa’s Zulu people.