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President Cyril Ramaphosa and King Misuzulu kaZwelithini in Durban in October 2022. Picture: DARREN STEWART
President Cyril Ramaphosa and King Misuzulu kaZwelithini in Durban in October 2022. Picture: DARREN STEWART

The battle for the Zulu throne will not have a bearing on the political landscape of KwaZulu-Natal because the monarchy started losing grassroots political influence under King Goodwill Zwelithini already, according to political analysts in the province.

The Zulu monarch is a significant political stakeholder, with the royal household receiving an annual budget allocation from the provincial government. For the 2024/25 financial year this was R25.3m, and premier Nomsa Ncube-Dube requested an additional R20m for King Misuzulu KaZwelithini to fight the legal challenge to his inheritance of the throne.

The late king’s eldest son, Prince Simakade Zulu, is challenging the ascension to the throne of his half-brother Misuzulu on the basis that he is the late Goodwill Zwelithini’s firstborn son. Though born out of wedlock, Prince Simakade was traditionally adopted by the late Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu (the great wife), who is Misuzulu’s mother. In the court challenge Simakade argues the process to select Misuzulu as his father’s successor was flawed and not in accordance with Zulu customs. Also, that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recognition of Misuzulu as king was not conducted in accordance with the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act 3 of 2019.

Despite the budgetary support from the province, whoever wins the throne will have no influence on the political landscape as their influence has dwindled while King Zwelithini was still on the throne, Zakhele Ndlovu, a political analyst based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says.

Prof Sihawukele Ngubane, a cultural expert also based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says Goodwill Zwelithini remained true to his decision to be politically neutral.

“As the father figure to the Zulu nation the king is expected to embrace every citizen in the province regardless of political affiliation and reach out to all religions in the province. He embraced all racial groupings in the province and also participated in religious events for many years. He even had an Indian man in his regiment, which was in line with the nonracialism policy of the ruling party that was led by former president Nelson Mandela,” Ngubane said.

Cultural and political analyst Prof Musa Xulu says: “In the 1970s and ’80s you observed the politics of Zuluness where the Zulu kingdom, kingship and nationhood became integrated into the KwaZulu homeland and the IFP.”

Supporting the IFP is no longer embedded in the identity of the AmaZulu as “the monarch began to move away from politics of Zuluness entanglement after 1994 and gravitated towards the ANC, eventually choosing a neutral stance in the 2000s”, Xulu said.

Ndlovu noted that “the death of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi will have a larger affect on the KwaZulu-Natal political landscape than the squabbles at the royal household as the IFP has now lost the glue that kept it intact and has lost a recognisable face of the party. The question remains: will we see the development of unmanageable factions within the party, which will weaken and divide the party, like we are seeing with the ANC?” 

Xulu added that “as traditional prime minister, who was a political head of the monarch, he [Buthelezi] served as a bridge between government and the monarch. Though Buthelezi politically pushed the Zulu kingdom agenda, he insisted that he was doing it as a member of the Zulu royal family, not as the founder of the IFP.”

Ngubane said Buthelezi’s passing “has left a void as he was also instrumental in the day-to-day affairs of the king. He used to advise and provide guidance on how the king should rule in matters, taking advantage of his experience in affairs of the royal house. Buthelezi was a pillar to the nation and played a pivotal role in the installation of King Misuzulu.

“The current king has not deviated from his father’s practices and has been consistent in maintaining the status quo.”

Xulu echoes this, saying: “The current king has very marginal influence on political issues. I believe that he is going to choose political neutrality, which will work well for him.”

However, reports on King Misuzulu’s speech at the 144th commemoration of the battle of Isandlwana in January 2023 made him come across as a Cyril Ramaphosa supporter, as he pleaded with the Zulu nation to be patient with the president because it is hard to lead a nation. These utterances had him at loggerheads with former president Jacob Zuma, who responded immediately — an unorthodox act seen as undermining the king by speaking once he has concluded his speech.

Could this act of defiance be detrimental to Zuma’s uMkhonto WeSizwe (MK) party campaign in KwaZulu-Natal? An October 2023 survey by the Social Research Foundation (SRF) of the electorate in the province showed Zuma was the most favourite political figure, followed by Buthelezi and then King Misuzulu.

EFF president Julius Malema ranked higher than Ramaphosa, IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa and Ncube-Dube.

But Ndlovu said: “While Zuma remains popular, he is no longer the force he used to be and the uMkhonto WeSizwe party is not as popular among the public. New and younger voters do not believe in him as older voters do. 

“Most Zulu people identify with Zuma on the basis that he is a traditionalist who still remains rooted in his birthplace of Nkandla even as a former president, increasing his popularity among KwaZulu-Natal’s rural electorate, which were the IFP’s core supporters,” Ndlovu added.

“Zuma’s rise as the ANC leader in 2007 changed the perception that the ANC was a Xhosa-dominated party and his ‘100% Zulu boy’ brand garnered support for the ANC, winning the province with a majority of 64% in 2009. It, however, remains to be seen if he still enjoys the same popularity he did 10 to 15 years ago.”

KwaZulu-Natal has the second-highest number of registered voters after Gauteng. According to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC), voters in the province account for roughly 21% of the total number of voters registered for the 2024 elections. This translates to about 5.6-million voters.

ANC support in the province dropped nearly 10 percentage points during the 2019 national elections (from 65.31% in the 2014 poll to 55.47%) with the biggest beneficiaries the IFP and the EFF.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to see the ANC maintaining its majority in the province beyond 2024. There are three provinces where the ANC appears to be wobbly: the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

“If the ANC loses significant support in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, then I can see that translating to a loss of its majority and the party potentially getting less than 50% in the National Assembly, thus paving the way for a [national] coalition government,” Ndlovu said.


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