Zulu Critics Attack Coronation Rite as Colonialist

King Misuzulu Sinqobile kaZwelithini at an earlier coronation event in August | GovernmentZA/Flickr photo

By Douglas LeBlanc

During his homily at the coronation for King Misuzulu Sinqobile kaZwelithini, the traditional monarch of the Zulu people, on October 29, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba called for a dismantling of colonialism’s legacy. But critics have attacked the Anglican ceremonies used in the service as colonial relics hostile to Zulu traditions.

In his homily before the coronation rites the primate of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa urged reconciliation, both within the divided royal family and among all who were present at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban for the ceremony.

“Reconciliation is very critical,” the archbishop said. “Our church recognizes that for reconciliation, which God wants to see happen, there needs to be both justice and accountability. Thus in the Church we have called for the historic legacy of colonialism to be deconstructed and any remaining complicity of our member churches in British and American empires to be ended.”

Later the same day, people argued that such gestures as the archbishop anointing the king with oil and placing a ring on his finger were relics of colonialism.

“We are trying to walk away from the colonial practices, because they have caused enormous psychological damage on our people,” Dr. Makhosi Khoza said in an interview on the radio program First Take SA. Khoza, a former politician, is one of the leaders of Indonsa Yesizwe, a think tank focused on affirming traditional Zulu culture.

Khoza said leaders of the think tank are concerned “when we start seeing rituals that are unexplained that are done to our king — especially when you start touching the king’s head and sprinkling oil on the king — without really explaining to us what exactly is the symbolism of that.”

Khoza referred to those gestures as part of “exactly the same ritual” that will be used when King Charles III is crowned in May 2023.

Khoza said the think tank was inundated with calls asking for explanations of these symbols.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t give them the answers, because we also didn’t know ourselves what exactly is the symbolism of what was done to our king,” she said.

Widespread confusion notwithstanding, prayers in the coronation rite cited the Old Testament history of such practices: “O Lord and heavenly Father, who by anointing with Oil has of old made and consecrated kings, priests, and prophets, to teach and govern thy people Israel: Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant, Misuzulu Sinqobile kaZwelithini, King of the Zulu Kingdom, who by our office and ministry is now to be anointed with this Oil, and consecrated King. …

“Your head is anointed with holy Oil: as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed: And as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, and following in the rich line of succession of kings of isizwe samaZulu, so you are anointed, blessed, and consecrated King over the Peoples, who the Lord your God hath given you to rule and govern.”

The Zulu monarch’s traditional prime minister, Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi, defended Archbishop Makgoba and Anglican custom.

“I want to emphasize this point, because a very distressing accusation has been made by the Indonsa Yesizwe think tank, under the names of the Rev. Professor Musa Xulu, Dr. Makhosi Khoza, and Dr Themba Fakazi, claiming that the role played by the Anglican Church in the handing-over ceremony amounts to an attempt at ‘recolonization,’” he said in a press conference on November 1, reported by Independent Online (IOL).

“I am devastated by this accusation against the head of my own church, whom I myself asked to be present and whom I myself requested to do what he did,” he added.

“If there is any blame to be apportioned, that blame should fall squarely on my shoulders. But I do not regret asking the archbishop to perform this service, and I believe that it was done in a superbly dignified manner.

“Through the liturgy, the archbishop did what the prophets of old did in the times of King David, even using the oil of anointing. This was wholly appropriate for a Christian King,” Buthelezi said.

In his homily, Archbishop Makgoba recalled that the new king’s family has a long history with Anglican faith.

“Your Majesty, we are grateful for the close relations between the Anglican Church and amaZulu going back into the 19th century, recognizing with shame instances where sound cultural traditions were undermined, but also proud of the role those such as the Colenso family played in defending their Majesties Kings Cetshwayo [1834-84] and Dinizulu [1868-1913]. We recall too the Anglican antecedents of King Dinizulu [1891-1933] and of King Solomon [1924-68], and of how your grandfather, a good Anglican himself, built houses for worship, for which we remain deeply grateful.

“Your father, His Majesty King Zwelithini [1948-2021], was also a great and faithful member of our church who not only attended worship but also held up his faith in the Lord as a moral compass for many until his last breath.”

The king’s coronation follows lawsuits filed by members of the royal family who challenged the legitimacy of his late father’s will. His reign began in May 2021, but his coronation ceremonies were delayed by those challenges.

This story has been updated to correct the dates of the consecration and Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s remarks.


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