Late on Saturday night, the traditional Prime Minister, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi issued a statement that Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini may have been poisoned.
In his statement, Chief Buthelezi mentioned how King Misuzulu’s senior aide, Douglas Xaba who stayed with him, “passed on quite suddenly and that there are suspicions that he was poisoned”.
He suggested that “When His Majesty began to feel unwell, he suspected that he too may have been poisoned”:
“He immediately sought out medical treatment in Eswatini. I am informed that His Majesty felt uncomfortable seeking treatment in South Africa, as his parents had both received treatment in South Africa and subsequently died,” Chief Buthelezi said.
Suspicions are high right now as King Misuzulu’s accession to the throne was sooner than expected, and he has been at the centre of palace intrigue.
His father – the Zulu nation’s longest-reigning monarch who served on the throne for almost 50 years- died during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2021 of diabetes-related complications, while his mother, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini-Zulu, then became the regent, but also died a month later.
The BBC notes that at the time, Chief Buthelezi dismissed rumours that she had been poisoned:
He had backed King Misuzulu’s accession to the throne after her death, but recent reports suggested that sharp differences had emerged between the two.
It followed a dispute over the chairmanship of the Ingonyama Trust Board, which manages vast tracts of land controlled by the monarch. The king appointed Chief Thanduyise Mzimela as its chairman, but this was opposed by Chief Buthelezi who felt he was inexperienced for the post, according to local media.
To make hay while the sun shines, a number of confidants of the king were assassinated last year, including a member of the Usuthu Traditional Council, Dr Dumisani Blasius Khumalo, and Prince Mbongiseni Milton Muntukaphiwana Zulu, a close ally of the King, who were both shot dead, per News24.
However, the king’s official spokesman said that the King was in “perfect health”. The Zulu Royal House confirmed that King Misuzulu only underwent minor check-ups and was not currently in hospital, adding that “unnecessary panic” should not be created, in what appeared to be an indirect reference to Chief Buthelezi’s statement.
“His Majesty’s office decided to err on the side of caution and ensure that all possible impediments were tested, in order to mitigate against any untimely eventuality, given the reports of Mr Xaba’s sudden passing,” Royal House spokesperson Prince Africa Zulu said.
Zulu added that it appears that there is “an orchestrated agenda and a desperate narrative to communicate defamatory and baseless claims of His Majesty’s ill health”.
“The motives are unclear at this stage, however, the king remains cognisant that the political environment is ripe, due to the approaching cycle of political elections. It seems the intention is to create the public perception that His Majesty, the King is unwell and unfit.”
The Guardian notes a “bitter feud over the royal succession”, as Misuzulu being crowned king was “a development that did not go down well with other family members”. The BBC notes the same:
But a vicious power struggle has been raging within the royal family over the 48-year-old’s accession, and tensions have also recently surfaced between the monarch and Chief Buthelezi.
Although the king of the Zulu nation does not bestow executive power, he does wield great moral influence over more than 11 million Zulus and is bestowed with a yearly government-funded budget of a few million rands.
A faction within the family is challenging Misuzulu’s claim to the throne in court, insisting that another son of the late king, Prince Simakade, is the rightful heir.
King Zwelithini had six wives and at least 26 children, so there is plenty of opportunity for in-fighting over the throne.
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