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Reactions in South Africa to death of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini

Goodwill Zwelithini   -  
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RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP or licensors

South Africa

Reactions are pouring in South Africa to death of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The king wielded great influence among millions of Zulu speakers through his largely ceremonial and spiritual role despite having no official power in current-day South Africa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said the king "will be remembered as a much-loved, visionary monarch who made an important contribution to cultural identity, national unity and economic development".

Returning from hiding over assassination fears, Zwelithini was crowned the eighth Zulu monarch at the age of 23.

The Zulus are South Africa's largest ethnic group with over 11 million people.

Traditional rulers play a largely symbolic role in modern South Africa, where they are constitutionally recognised.

Under the white-minority regime which ended in 1994, kings ruled homelands where most blacks were confined to defuse broader national struggles.

The king wielded great influence among millions of Zulus through his largely ceremonial and spiritual role despite having no official power in modern South Africa.

"If it was true I said people must kill each other, the whole country would (have been) reduced to ashes," he said.

A descendent of the all-powerful Shaka -- who ruled the Zulu nation until his assassination in 1828 -- Zwelithini revived the annual Reed Dance in 1984, where thousands of bare-breasted young women celebrate their virginity by dancing in front of the king.

He was the most prominent among a handful of traditional rulers who hold sway over emotive issues such as land ownership in South Africa.

Born in Nongoma, a small town in the south-eastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province, Zwelithini ascended the throne in 1971 during the apartheid era.

His body will be taken from a Durban hospital to the palace in Nongoma, around 300 kilometres away, to lie in state for "a couple of days", said Buthelezi, without divulging details of the funeral.

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