South Africans mourn longest-serving Zulu monarch

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Durban

Zulu mourners, many wearing traditional leopard skins, on Wednesday accompanied the body of their king Goodwill Zwelithini, the late leader of South Africa’s largest ethnic group, to the royal palace ahead of his burial.

Zwelithini was the longest-serving monarch in Zulu history, reigning for half a century through years of apartheid and the transition to multi-racial democracy.

He died early on Friday in the eastern city of Durban, aged 72, after weeks of treatment for a diabetes-related illness.

His remains were taken back to his birthplace, the small southeastern town of Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal province, where he will be laid to rest after midnight.

The casket draped in leopard skin was placed within the compound of the KwaKhethomthandayo royal residence surrounded by tall trees.

Half a dozen priests recited prayers on a patio of the red-roofed palace. Around 200 mourners listened sombrely to the prayers while others milled around on the lush lawns or in white marquees erected around the gardens.

One of the king’s sons broke down into loud sobs as a handful of women rushed over to console him.

Zwelithini’s body will later be moved to a freshly built grass hut outside the main house before burial.

The intimate ceremony, to be conducted behind closed doors by a select few men, is referred to as a “planting”.

Earlier in the day, bare-breasted women in elaborate necklaces and headbands sang and danced as they paraded through the small town to the palace several kilometres away.—AFP

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