King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: THE TIMES
King Goodwill Zwelithini. Picture: THE TIMES

Political leaders and pundits are concerned about the Zulu king’s increasing political meddling and comments on emotive issues.

SA is a constitutional democracy in which political parties contest political power and traditional leaders are respected as figureheads in some communities.

King Goodwill Zwelithini is a figurehead of the KwaZulu-Natal government and is generally accorded the responsibility and respect of opening the legislature every year and other roles that are not political.

However, in recent times, the Zulu king has made explosive comments on  political issues. He kicked off this week by holding a rally in Durban on Sunday when he issued threats to politicians and political parties. Anyone seeking the Zulu vote in the 2019 general election must come and kneel before him, he said.

On Tuesday, he warmed up to right-wing political organisation AfriForum, meeting a delegation led by its CEO, Kallie Kriel.

The king is sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust which controls 2.8-million hectares, about 13% of KwaZulu-Natal's land. He and AfriForum agreed to form a partnership to develop agriculture on this land while the National Assembly is preparing legislation to guarantee land-tenure rights for people living on this land.

A few months ago, the king urged Zulus to take up arms to defend the land under the trust, and to contribute money to a legal fund to defend his rights.

About two years ago, the king's xenophobic utterances were blamed as the spark that led to a wave of violent attacks on foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in deaths and destruction.

Some political analysts say power-hungry monarchs have led many nations to wars in the past, which had devastating consequences.  Emperor Hirohito, who ruled Japan from 1926 until his death in 1989, approved a hawkish Japanese general’s plan to attack the US fleet in Pearl Harbor, which resulted in the US  entering the Second World War.  This led to millions of deaths and the horrific unleashing of atomic bombs.

Xolani Dube, senior researcher at the Xubera Institute for Research and Development in KwaZulu-Natal, says the Zulu king is wrong to meddle in political matters as this diminishes his authority and may result in him becoming a pawn in political skirmishes.

“The Zulu royal house has sacred symbolism for the Zulu nation. It must remain sacred. Our king must comprehend the profoundness of his role in KwaZulu-Natal. It is for this reason that politics should not be his terrain," Dube says.

“His position is not under threat. To the contrary, he has been accorded respect . It would be naïve of him to misinterpret this respect.”

The National Freedom Party says the king’s  political posture is diminishing his standing in society. The party’s spokesperson, Sabelo Sigudu, says King Goodwill Zwelithini must decide whether he is a politician or in charge of an apolitical institution.

“We respect the Zulu majesty and we feel that his actions should always be above politics. We feel very strongly about his interaction with the racist AfriForum earlier this week. We feel that the Zulu king was pandering to  AfriForum under the guise of facilitating food security, and we think this is bad for us Africans as it is taking us back.

“We also did not take kindly to his utterances that whoever wants votes should come and kneel before him. This is democracy and people are free to vote for whoever they want without the king telling them how to vote. The king should be warned not to enter the political ring because he will be taken as a player and punches will be thrown at him.”

ANC KwaZulu-Natal secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli declined to comment. He said in the past that the ANC was quietly engaging with the Zulu king on matters he had raised in public.

Zwakele Mncwango, DA candidate for premier in KwaZulu-Natal, says although the DA does not share the king’s views on many political matters it defends his right to express them.

“We may have different views about his association with AfriForum, but we think he has the democratic right to associate with anybody he wishes to. The DA in KwaZulu-Natal regards him as one of the important stakeholders in the province. Therefore, we will continue to work with him, even as we sometimes differ with him.”