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Succession battle rages as Zulu ruler buried in South Africa

Factions within royal family allege poisoning and forgery after death of queen

The traditional ruler of South Africa’s Zulu nation has been buried amid an increasingly acrimonious succession battle involving allegations of poisoning and forgery.

Queen Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu, died aged 65 last week, only a month after she took the role after the death of her husband, King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Since her death, different factions within the royal family have sought to challenge for the throne, alleging she was poisoned and that her husband’s signature was fraudulently added to his will.

The Zulu are South Africa’s largest ethnic group, accounting for more than one-fifth of the country’s 60 million inhabitants, most living in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The royal family has no formal government powers but upholds Zulu tradition and controls millions of hectares of land through a trust. Monarchs also receive public funds and have significant political influence.

Queen Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu
Queen Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu

No details have been released on the cause of death of the queen, who was buried on Thursday, though some South African media reports say she had been ill for some time.

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Mantfombi married King Goodwill Zwelithini in 1977, becoming his third wife of six and regent, according to instructions left in her husband’s will. The king died in hospital, aged 72, in March after being admitted for treatment for diabetes.

Allegations that the queen had been poisoned have been dismissed by family insiders as a misunderstanding of reports that traces of toxins had been found in her liver some time ago.

The king’s five decades of rule prompted much criticism of political choices and an allegedly lavish lifestyle. His successor will take possession of an extensive portfolio of properties worth millions of dollars and huge herds of valuable cattle.

Under his will, Mantfombi was appointed regent pending the installation of a successor. Discussions on the succession were due to begin only after the royal family’s three-month mourning period had elapsed.

“The ructions which have taken place, which has actually upset all of us, depressed me … they shame the royal family,” he said, adding that the late king’s will was “clear”.

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The eldest surviving son, Prince Misuzulu Zulu, 47, whose name can be loosely translated as “strengthening the Zulus”, is favourite to succeed.

However his claim has been challenged by King Zwelithini’s daughters from his first wife, who claim signatures on the will were forged. Their mother is seeking a judicial ruling that her marriage in 1969 under civil law to the late king should take precedence over any traditional unions.

“History has taught us that at the best of times, issues of succession in the Zulu kingdom tend to bring out the worst in people as they position themselves to secure their interests,” wrote local journalist Cyril Madlala on the Daily Maverick news website.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the traditional prime minister to the royal family, has pledged there would be “no leadership vacuum in the Zulu nation” and called for restraint among family members.

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