JOHANNESBURG — The battle for the throne of South Africa’s ethnic Zulu nation has reached the courts as a faction of the royal family seeks to dethrone the king after less than a year.
The North Gauteng High Court in the capital Pretoria is hearing legal arguments this week in the royal succession battle between King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and his half-brother, Prince Simakade Zulu, who believes he is entitled to be king.
The Zulu nation is the largest ethnic group in South Africa with an estimated 12 million Zulu-speaking people, predominantly in the KwaZulu-Natal region.
They are acknowledged for resisting British colonialism in the early 1800s and the Zulu king is arguably the most influential traditional leader in South Africa.
Prince Simakade wants the court to overturn President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recognition of King Misuzulu as the rightful heir.
He is disputing the traditional and legal processes followed to appoint Misuzulu, and his lawyers have told the court that Ramaphosa’s decision to recognize Misuzulu and grant him the relevant certificate was rushed.
Previous attempts to stop the coronation of the king were unsuccessful last year.
Misuzulu ascended to the throne last year after the 2021 death of his father, King Goodwill Zwelithini, who ruled for over 50 years, making him the longest reigning Zulu monarch.
He is the oldest son of King Zwelithini and Queen Mantfombi of the royal house of eSwatini. The late king had six wives and several sons. After the king died last year, Misuzulu’s mother served as the regent for just a month before she died, but in her will she named her son to be the next king.
Addressing the court on Tuesday, Ramaphosa’s lawyer, Marumo Moerane, argued that the president’s issuance of the certificate recognizing Misuzulu as the heir to the throne followed consultations with the Zulu royal family, which confirmed him as the king.
Ramaphosa also relied on previous court judgments which dismissed earlier legal challenges disputing Misuzulu’s ascension to the throne, he said.
The Zulu royal house is estimated to control about 30% of the land in KwaZulu Natal province through the Ingonyama Trust.
It also receives an annual budget of more than $4 million from the provincial government for the upkeep of the royal households and cultural activities.
According to the latest national census, isiZulu is the most spoken language in South Africa with 24.4% of households speaking it.
Court arguments are expected to continue on Wednesday.