A South African court has declared President Cyril Ramaphosa’s official coronation of the new Zulu king, Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, last year as “unlawful and invalid.”
In response to a legal challenge from the king’s half-brother, Prince Simakade Zulu, who claims to be the rightful heir, the court has directed President Ramaphosa to initiate an inquiry to determine if the king’s ascension to the throne adhered to customary laws. The ruling comes amid a contentious family dispute over the succession following the death of their father in 2021.
The late King Goodwill Zwelithini, who held the Zulu throne for over 50 years, was the longest-reigning Zulu monarch with six wives and at least 28 children.
King Misuzulu, his apparent successor, emerged victorious in the succession battle. Following his traditional coronation in August 2022, a state ceremony two months later saw President Ramaphosa presenting him with a certificate of recognition in front of a large audience.
According to South African law, this official recognition by the president allows the new king to be treated as a constitutional monarch and receive government funding, as reported by the BBC.
The Zulu king, in addition to his cultural role, holds control over extensive land under South African law.
Prince Simakade contested President Ramaphosa’s recognition of his younger half-brother as the monarch, alleging it was hasty and lacked adherence to proper traditional and legal processes. President Ramaphosa has yet to announce whether he will accept the court ruling or challenge it in a higher court.
A spokesman mentioned that the legal team is currently reviewing the decision from the Pretoria high court, which emphasized its focus on determining whether the president followed correct procedures in recognizing King Misuzulu, rather than deciding on the rightful king.
The Pretoria High Court ruled that President Cyril Ramaphosa failed to comply with the law, which mandates an investigation into objections regarding the accession of the Zulu king.
The 49-year-old Zulu monarch, King Misuzulu, has not yet commented on the ruling, which has divided public opinion in South Africa and is expected to intensify turmoil within the Zulu royal family. Concerns are rife that the decision may exacerbate tensions in a monarchy marked by allegations of poisoning and killings since the death of the previous king.
Despite the ruling, King Misuzulu’s supporters, including Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s third-largest political party, assert his legitimacy as the rightful king.
“King, my undisputed King. Bayede [Hail the King],” the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader said after the ruling.
Certain supporters of Prince Simakade are confident that the recent ruling is a crucial initial step toward his eventual ascension to the Zulu throne.
In Zulu tradition, the eldest son does not inherently assume the role of king, leading to historical power struggles for the throne. Some believe that this legal development may aid Prince Simakade in his claim.
South Africa officially recognizes eight traditional monarchs, all financially supported by taxpayers.