A South African court has ruled that the government’s recognition of the king of the Zulu nation last year was unlawful, potentially setting off a new succession battle.
The Pretoria high court ordered the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to set up an inquiry to investigate whether the tumultuous accession of King Misuzulu Zulu took place in line with customary laws.
After the death of his father, Misuzulu, 49, was named in 2021 as monarch for the more than 10 million Zulu people living in South Africa. For his traditional coronation he had to wait 15 months until August 2022 following feuding over the succession. His father, Goodwill Zwelithini, died in March 2021 after a reign of more than 50 years.
Misuzulu’s older brother, Prince Simakade, sought the ruling, which said the presidential recognition of the Zulu king “was unlawful and invalid and the recognition decision is hereby set aside”.
At a large party in October 2022, Ramaphosa gave Misuzulu a giant framed certificate officially recognising him as the ruler of the country’s richest and most influential traditional monarchy.
King Zwelithini had six wives and at least 28 children. Misuzulu is the first son of his third wife, whom he designated as regent in his will. But the queen died suddenly a month after her husband, leaving a will naming Misuzulu as king.
Zwelithini’s first wife claimed to be the only legitimate spouse, but she failed to get a court order stopping the coronation of the man whose name means “to strengthen the Zulu people”.
Before Ramaphosa’s state ceremony, Zwelithini’s eldest son, who was born out of wedlock, filed an emergency lawsuit claiming he was the rightful heir. Brothers of Zwelithini also claimed the throne for another contender.
South Africa’s constitution recognises traditional rulers and chiefs, and they wield significant moral authority.
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