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The Zulu Kingdom Lays its King to Rest

Goodwill Zwelithini, the 72-year-old king of the Zulu nation in South Africa, was laid to rest at a private ceremony shrouded in secrecy and attended only by a select group of royal men in the early hours of Thursday morning. Yet the days leading up to his funeral have opened a rare window into the customs and values surrounding the final rites of passage of a Zulu monarch. For his subjects King Zwelithni has not been buried. They use the Zulu term “ukutshalwa”, a loose translation of which means “planting” – to imply this is not the end of his influence on the people he ruled for more than five decades. One of King Zwelithini’s palaces in the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Nongoma, about 300km (185 miles) from Durban, has been a hive of activity, with mourners streaming in to pay their respects. For those who revered him, the word death is also felt to be inappropriate, instead the end of his mortal life is referred to as “”ukukhothama”, meaning “to bow”. It is a symbolic way to show the timelessness of the Zulu kingdom. Metaphorically King Zwelithni is bowing down so the next in line can rise up to the throne. These days of mourning are a fitting tribute to a man who throughout his half-century reign was a staunch advocate of preserving Zulu cultural identity. His leaving is understood simply as a transition to becoming an ancestor, joining generations of other Zulu kings.