Misuzulu ka Zwelithini has been crowned Zulu king in South Africa following a year-long family feud.
The 48-year-old is the previous king’s son, but some royals have claimed he is not the rightful heir and that the late king’s will was forged.
Thousands of people attended Saturday’s traditional coronation at KwaKhangelamankengane Palace, where the king entered the sacred cattle kraal to invoke his ancestors before being announced as the new Zulu monarch to both the living and the dead.
He was supposed to wear the lion’s hide he hunted for the royal event, a key feat in proving he is indeed the chosen one. In preparation for the festivities, more than ten cows were slaughtered.
The government will host him for a state ceremony next month.
The throne has no formal political power, but with a yearly taxpayer-funded budget of more than $4.9 million (£3.5 million), South Africa’s monarchy remains hugely influential.
The Zulu kingdom has a long and illustrious history. It is famous for defeating British troops during the battle of Isandlwana in 1879.
Its succession battles have always been fierce – and bloody at times. The legendary King Shaka ka Senzangakhona assassinated his brother in order to take the throne in 1816, only to be assassinated himself years later in a plot masterminded by his nephew.
However, the latest saga, which began more than a year ago with the death of King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, has been an embarrassing public spectacle.
Throughout several legal challenges, various royal family factions continued to champion their preferred candidates.
King Zwelithini had six wives and had ruled for more than a half-century when he died last year.
In his disputed will, he named his third wife, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu, as regent – a sort of caretaker role until a successor is appointed.
Because her father was the late King Sobhuza II and her brother was King Mswati III of Eswatini, Queen Mantfombi held the highest status among the king’s wives.
Her marriage to the Zulus was contingent on her first-born son being first in line for the throne in the event of her husband’s death.
When she died a month after becoming regent, their son Misuzulu ka Zwelithini was seen as the natural successor. He was also named as his mother’s heir in her will.
Furthermore, the fact that Prince Misuzulu was the only person to inherit his grandfather King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon’s traditional weapons was interpreted as an endorsement that he would eventually succeed his father.
Two more of the late king’s sons, however, have staked their claim to the throne.
Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, Simakade ka Zwelithini, and Buzabazi ka Zwelithini are the three factions of the royal family, each supporting their preferred prince.
Back in March, South Africa’s president formally recognized Misuzulu ka Zwelithini as the new Zulu king, but Misuzulu’s brother, Mbonisi Zulu, filed a legal challenge, asking the court to halt the coronation.
However, the court denied his request and allowed the coronation proceedings to proceed.
A week before King-to-be Misuzulu’s traditional coronation, his half-brother Prince Simakade was announced as the new monarch by a small group of royal family supporters.
His supporters argue that he is the obvious choice to be the late king’s first-born son, but traditional Prime Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi calls this a “foolish provocation.”
Meanwhile, three of King Zwelithini’s brothers held a news conference on Thursday to announce Prince Buzabazi as their choice, claiming that he had the closest relationship with his father of all his sons.
Even on the day of the coronation, the new king’s half-sisters filed an urgent motion in Pietermaritzburg’s high court to prevent the coronation. Princesses Ntandoyenkosi and Ntombizosuthu have claimed that their late father’s will was forged. The court dismissed the challenge.
Other family members have come out in support of Misuzulu, claiming that customs require him to be the rightful heir.
Some believe tribalism is at the root of this conflict. Because King-to-be Misuzulu’s maternal ancestors are from Eswatini, he is not entirely Zulu, which is why some members of the royal family never fully accepted his mother as the Great Wife.
While the battle continues, many believe the throne will be cleansed and the rightful king will be officially installed at a public coronation on September 24 – a public holiday in South Africa – effectively ending the long-running feud.
A fitting choice, given that the holiday was previously known as Shaka’s Day, when thousands of Zulus visited his grave to honor him for uniting the Zulu nation.