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King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu: An exceptional leader who induced pride and self-belief in his people

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Ndabezinhle Sibiya is the Head of Content and Knowledge Management in KZN Provincial Government Communications. He is former spokesman for former premiers Zweli Mkhize, Senzo Mchunu and Premier Willies Mchunu. He writes in his personal capacity.

Since his coronation in 1971, the Zulu monarch made countless contributions to his people as a peacemaker, a farmer and a promoter of sustainable livelihoods.

The untimely passing of His Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, has brought grief to the nation, particularly to the residents of the Zululand District where KwaKhethomthandayo Palace is located. I can only imagine the distress of the Zulu royal family.  

Isilo Samabandla was the direct descendant of the great warriors who founded the nation that is known all over the world. Historically, Zulu kings induced a strong sense of national pride and made their people believe in themselves in the face of adversity.

The messages of condolence that have been pouring in from different parts of the country – including from the diplomatic community – are an indication of the impact that His Majesty made from the time of his Coronation in 1971. Since I received the news in the early hours of Friday morning, I have been reflecting on my personal experience of His Majesty.

I recall that in 2009, a few days before the people of KwaZulu-Natal witnessed the May inauguration of the fifth Premier (the second from the African National Congress since the dawn of our new democracy), Premier-elect Dr Zweli Mkhize requested his private office to set up a meeting with the King.

Dr Mkhize felt that it was important to meet His Majesty before starting to draft the State of the Province Address. The meeting, at Thokazi Royal Lodge, had specific objectives:

First, to seek inputs and guidance from the King;

Second, to present KZN Government’s Programme of Action during the term of office ending in 2014;

Third, to discuss the setting up of the Royal Household Trust;

Fourth, to discuss the management of communication of the work of the monarch as an institution.

It was during this historic meeting that His Majesty offered to work with members of the executive council under the leadership of the Premier to augment the work of provincial government.

Since that meeting, Isilo Samabandla attended most government events in the role of peacemaker, farmer and a promoter of the creation of sustainable livelihoods. He always offered his undivided attention to Members of the Executive Council and worked consistently to increase the appeal and uptake of government’s programmes of service delivery.

I have been privileged to have been part of this journey and to celebrate many anniversaries of His Majesty at the throne.

Although a dark cloud is hanging over this province right now, we can look back with pride at the achievements of this province, both economically and politically, under the guidance of uBhejane phum’ esiqiwini. The week of mourning gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the critical role of the institution of the monarch over the years.

Many will recall that when political intolerance threatened the fragile peace after years of political violence, His Majesty was always available to guide elected leaders as a peacemaker. He had a rare ability to bring leaders of all political parties together and preached his messages of peace and tolerance without taking sides.  

Isilo always sought to make all leaders of society understand that in everything they did they had to put the interests of ordinary people first. He used all available platforms to make elected public representatives understand that their main focus, as leaders in government and outside government, was to eradicate poverty, to ensure that children had access to education and to ensure that the majority of people had access to water and electricity.

At every occasion, His Majesty emphasised the need for the acceleration of the delivery of services to all people, especially to rural communities. During official opening ceremonies of the KZN legislature, he often stated that ordinary people should be made an integral part of every government programme of action and not mere spectators because he believed this was the essence of democracy.

He often urged the people of KwaZulu-Natal to stand together to fight crime, the proliferation of drugs in schools and communities and eradicate fraud and corruption, especially in our municipalities.

Fighting HIV, Aids and TB

The medical fraternity, and health, HIV and Aids activists commended Isilo for his contribution towards the fight against HIV and Aids.

In the meeting to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Partnership for the Fight Against HIV and Aids, His Majesty announced that he wanted to continue to use cultural events such as Reed Dance and Umkhosi Wokweshwama to rally traditional leaders and the entire nation against the pandemic.

Many people will recall that it was during Umkhosi Wokweshwama on 4 December 2009 that he announced the revival of circumcision for young men. He made the announcement within the context of the fight against HIV and Aids. He stressed that circumcision would assist in the fight against the pandemic although on its own it would not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

He indicated that circumcision had been practiced by many African communities but it was however discontinued by King Shaka because it was associated with delays among the warriors who had to spend many months in the veld at a time when he was busy building a standing Zulu army.

In his speech, His Majesty noted that Umkhosi Wokweshwama coincided with the Campaign Against the Abuse of Women and Children. He called on men to stand up against the scourge.

Since that announcement, traditional leaders have been instrumental in ensuring the success of medical male circumcision (MMC) through mobilising izinduna, amagosa and communities in support of MMC camps. These camps have enabled traditional leaders and health professionals to provide health education and other life skills to young men – helping them reduce teenage pregnancy at schools and avoid contracting HIV and Aids in the long run.

Isilo believed that government needed traditional leaders as their social partners to ensure the creation of a better life for all the people of this province. His views were that the Constitution recognised the functions of traditional leaders in terms of the customary law and customs, and provided guiding principles for the allocation of further roles and functions in identified areas by national or provincial government through legislation or other measures.

During the installation of traditional leaders, His Majesty used this platform to rally traditional leaders to lead in the war against poverty, TB, HIV and Aids. They were encouraged to ensure that support and treatment was given to people with TB in order to reduce the number of defaulters and ensure completion of treatment. In order to ensure the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus, traditional leaders were asked to ensure that women were encouraged to access family planning services.  

As a result of the tireless work of His Majesty, government continues to work with traditional leaders and traditional healers to achieve the objectives of the HIV Counselling and Testing campaign, which is aimed at reducing HIV infections as well as ensuring that eligible HIV-positive people were provided with antiretroviral treatment.

Tackling poverty

On the poverty alleviation front, His Majesty ensured that traditional leaders were part of government’s One Home, One Garden campaign, a programme targeting food security that was launched on International Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July 2009.

The programme utilised 100 hectares of land that His Majesty asked traditional leaders to make available for farming.

He supported Operation Sukuma Sakhe and encouraged the appointment of members of the executive council as champions of district rural development. This improved the level of intergovernmental cooperation.

He argued that rural development had to be comprehensive, all-encompassing and not just concerned with agriculture, communal gardens, women’s sewing and small poultry projects. He believed that rural development should be about creating sustainable economies that would absorb labour and reduce migration to urban centres.

When the recession hit the country in 2008, accompanied by spiralling food prices that threatened food security, government identified agriculture as a catalyst for economic development. His Majesty supported government’s key focus on building self-sufficiency in agricultural production. He often convened meetings with the Premier and his executive council wherein he offered his support for land reform programmes.

He wanted government to create access to local and international markets for small-scale farmers, including agricultural cooperatives in rural areas across the province. He encouraged government to empower emerging farmers to use Dube TradePort Agri Processing Facility to export agricultural products to international markets.

His Majesty was concerned that many emerging farmers had been driven to bankruptcy by lack of farming skills and experience. He blamed the high failure rate of emerging farmers on the high cost of inputs such as fuel, fertilizers, electricity and non-availability of finance for farming operations. He was convinced that the collapse of emerging farmers was rarely from a lack of commitment and love for farming.

As a result of the guidance from His Majesty, a special-purpose vehicle, known as the Agribusiness Development Agency, was established by the KZN government in 2011 to support emerging black commercial farmers and rescue the land reform projects from collapse.

The agency was tasked to assist farmers, reduce the skills gap that the land reform process had inadvertently created and negotiate refinancing mechanisms to save the farms from sinking into debt and being repossessed by the banks. A working agreement was secured with the Land Bank which had financed most of the farms. The bank had to be dissuaded from liquidating the operating farmers and repossessing the property. 

Our culture and heritage

As a custodian of our culture and heritage, Isilo Samabandla presided over cultural activities which served as a basis for promotion of our strong character and identity as the people of this province. These events stimulated tourist flow annually from all over the world and generated much needed job opportunities for the people of this province, especially in rural areas.

As he always pointed out, it is through the acceptance and promotion of our culture and heritage that the people of KwaZulu-Natal can achieve harmony and live side by side as one people and one nation.

In 2010 the provincial government unveiled a Multi-Media Centre, a centre built in the precincts of King Dingane’s uMgungundlovu residence at Mkhumbane Valley – Emakhosini. This place is known as the birthplace of the Zulu nation. (It is here too that the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and more than 60 Voortrekkers were massacred by Dingane on 6 February – 10 months before the bloody conflict of Ncome in December 1838.)

The centre is of strategic importance to the people of this province as a cultural and heritage attraction. It was constructed to preserve and restore the history of the Zulu kings who have been largely neglected by past governments who feared the inspirational value of such memorials for the oppressed communities.

Kings Dingane, Cetshwayo and Dinuzulu lie buried away from the Valley of Emakhosini. It is these three kings whose reigns were seriously affected by the arrival of the European settler regimes. King Dingane’s encounter with the Voorterkkers changed the course of history and his fate.

The subsequent clashes and bloodshed between the Zulu warriors and Voortrekkers resulted in the designation of 16 December as Dingaan se Dag and subsequently the Day of the Covenant or Geloftedag for the Afrikaner community. Under the new democratic government, 16 December is now known as Reconciliation Day.

We continue to celebrate this day and His Majesty was always available to promote messages of peace, reconciliation and acceptance of all communities as contributors in the political, economic, social and other forms of development of our society.

Isilo undertook both national and international trips as a business ambassador for KZN. He built relationships with several heads of state and members of the international community. More importantly, Isilo received invitations from several heads of state, royalty and traditional leaders from different countries across the world and hosted them in return, reflecting the respect that many people of the world have for the institution of the monarchy and opening up possibilities of new relations and new investments for the benefit of the people of KwaZulu-Natal.

Bayede Hlanga Lomhlabathi! DM

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  • I cannot support these views. Read the article by Zenande Booi on 29 August 2019 in the Daily Maverick for another view. Personally, this type of expensive royalty should not be for the tax payers pocket.

  • Peacemaker? Was he not the person who encouraged xenophobia some years back with detrimental and tragic result? Even the Zimbabwean president at the time criticised the king on his stance towards fellow African citizens, if I remember correctly.

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted