The grief-gripped Zulu nation will today bury its fallen monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu, in Nongoma. In an outpouring of condolences, the agricultural fraternity said it too had lost a visionary who unapologetically embraced the sector.
Zwelithini was 72 when he succumbed to a diabetes-related illness on Friday, 12 March 2021. This week, a multitude of high-profile guests, including agricultural minister Thoko Didiza, flocked to his home in northern KwaZulu-Natal to pay their last respects.
The executive chairman of the South African Farmers Development Association (SAFDA), Dr Siyabonga Madlala, described the Zulu king as a true custodian of the land; someone who was most passionate about protecting the farming land of the Zulu nation through the controversial Ingonyama Trust.
Agri SA deputy president and Makhathini Flats cotton farmer Phenias Gumede described Zwelithini as a close friend and farmer in his own right who understood the challenges of Mzansi’s producers.
“His Majesty was one of those unique kings. Though he was very much respected, he loved people regardless of their background, if they were young, old, poor, rich, when you met him, you felt like you were meeting your own father, or grandfather,” Gumede said.
Zwelithini will be buried this evening at a private ceremony to be attended by a selected group of men from the Zulu royal house.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver Zwelithini’s eulogy at his memorial service on Thursday. In his weekly letter to the nation, the statesman paid tribute Zwelithini, remembering the monarch as a champion of preservation of heritage and a leader committed to rural development.
“His Majesty will be remembered as a much-loved, visionary monarch who made an important contribution to cultural identity, national unity and economic development in KwaZulu-Natal and through this, to the development of our country.
“(King Zwelithini) was a vital player in rural development and committed to driving programmes that uplift the material conditions of his people,” said Ramaphosa.
An agricultural icon
Gumede echoed Ramaphosa’s sentiments and added that the Zulu king would be remembered most for his work in rural development and the promotion of agriculture as a vehicle of change.
Madlala said the Zulu king wanted nothing more than to see his people progress across the value chain of agriculture.
“He was a farmer of note himself and encouraged farming, in fact we were following in his footsteps. He will be greatly missed by the farming community in KwaZulu-Natal and the country at large. He will forever be in our minds and our hearts.”
Zwelithini was also the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust, an entity of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development. He has always provided his vision for the trust, said Didiza.
“We have worked very well with His Majesty on improving the operations of the Ingonyama Trust Board and subsequently improving the lives of his subjects,” the minister remarked.
“I wish to send my heartfelt and sincere condolences to the royal family and the Zulu nation. We continue to pray for your strength during this difficult time and may His Majesty rest in eternal peace.”
For the fallen Zulu king, agriculture was the key to sustained livelihoods, added Madlala. The mmajority of the SAFDA constituency are currently farming on Ingonyama land of which Zwelithini was the custodian.
“That is how deep his contribution was for us. He would advocate that the land must be made available for rural communities to farm on it,” said Madlala.
Advocate for the farmworker
Agri SA said it had very good relations with the king and worked well with him on farmer development projects.
Gumede said Zwelithini was a visionary and embraced all projects in collaboration with the Motsepe Foundation and Agri SA enthusiastically.
“He was a very great father of the nation and loved farming. He encouraged people to develop themselves and not rely on government or on any other people. He encouraged people to work very hard to succeed in life.
“It was very painful to hear of his passing, though we will get another King he was rare and will be difficult to replace.”
Gumede furthermore said the Zulu king was a no-nonsense advocate for the farmworker.
Often farmers in his home province would engage with Zwelithini in tackling agricultural issues, including farm attacks, stock theft, labour issues and natural resources.
“His legacy will remain embedded in our hearts and minds and we wish his family all the strength in these difficult times,” said Gumede.
“The Zulu king valued honesty and was not afraid to tell the truth or speak his mind. He was not shy and if farmers were doing the wrong thing especially when it came to labour issues, he did not want to see any farmer abusing his workers. He was straight forward.
“He was not shy to talk about farm murders, he believed when you kill a farmer you destroy the country’s food chain and supply. You create hunger, he was a straightforward talker.”