The death of King Goodwill Zwelithini provides the Zulu royal family with an unprecedented chance to rid itself of the damaging association with any political force.
The world over, a picture of Buckingham Palace is recognised as the residence of the royal family.
People talk of the “royal family” without prefacing it with “British” because over the years, the family has set itself apart.
Politically, they are only figureheads but socially they command the respect of their subjects. AmaZulu royalty, with a bit of work, vision and focus, can have its own “Buckingham Palace” respect worldwide.
In the week that AmaZulu King Goodwill Zwelithini died at the age of 72, the world was still discussing Oprah Winfrey’s interview with the third-in-line to the British crown, Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan Markle.
The world even remembers what colour dress the Queen wore to Meghan’s wedding. This is not by accident, it is by design – and this is the sort of respect the AmaZulu royal family should be aiming for: to be uppermost in the minds of their subjects and the world, rather than to be thought of negatively.
King Goodwill Zwelithini’s death has seen an outpouring of grief, but it has not commanded the same sort of interest and coverage that even the smallest event in the British royal family’s lives does.
This is partly because one of Africa’s biggest royal dynasties has failed to leverage its position to be foremost in the world’s royal perking order.
SA’s most recognisable royal family has done very little to move with the times. Recognition is closely linked with not only political influence, but with the ability of the royal family to leverage its position to generate income for itself through its own economic activities.
This might be a time of mourning for the Zulu royal family and its subjects, but it’s also an opportune time for the family to reposition itself as a self-sustaining unit quite capable of generating income independently of the political landscape.
It’s time to admit that when the king allowed himself and his position to be used as a political pawn in the ’80s and ’90s during the violence raging in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, it did considerable damage to the standing of the family in the eyes of many.
Royal dynasties exist simply because people allow them to, not because of their own might. Continued exploitation of the people through unfair schemes, like the Ingonyama Trust which make people tenants on their own land, eats away at whatever little benevolence people have towards their king.
The death of King Goodwill Zwelithini provides the Zulu royal family with an unprecedented chance to rid itself of the damaging association with any political force and to position itself much like the British royal family.
This is a chance for whoever takes over to show the rest of SA’s royalty that African royalty means just as much to Africa’s cultural heritage as British royalty does to the United Kingdom.
Royal families are here to stay, for now, and that means that sharp and visionary leadership is required to ensure their future existence.
The political opportunism and economic dependence on politicians that characterised the ’80s and ’90s must be put to rest, along with the internment of King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Only then will the world sit up and take notice of the historical value of Africa’s royalty.
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