Johannesburg, Mar 12 (PTI) Late Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini had a history of fostering reconciliation and cultural cooperation between his people and the Indian community of South Africa.
The monarch, who reigned for five decades, succumbed to complications from diabetes in a Durban hospital in the early hours of Friday. He was 72.
About half of South Africa's 1.4 million citizens of Indian origin -- largely descendants of the first indentured labourers who arrived in ships as sugarcane planation workers in the 17th Century -- are believed to live in the KwaZulu-Natal province over which the monarch reigned.
Zwelithini, the eighth Zulu king, frequently referred to the Indians as being part of his loyal subjects, drawing a number of leaders as advisers from the Indian community.
The most notable of them was businessman and philanthropist Ishwar Ramlutchman, who the king anointed as a prince of the Zulu Kingdom for the work he had done to uplift the Zulu community.
“When I adopted Ishwar Ramlutchman, I gave him the name of Mabheka Zulu. The name Mabheka means the one who cares for my people. Over the years, Mabheka has become an additional member of our family whom I always refer to as 'indodana yethu', our son. His commitment and promotion of social cohesion, nature conservation and respect for everyone's cultural heritage and religion has earned him our respect,” Zwelithini had said.
“Lasting bonds between African and Indian communities in South Africa are crucial to a prosperous future especially given that both communities suffered greatly because of apartheid,' the king added.
In recent years, Ramlutchman organised, on behalf of the monarch, annual Diwali festival at his home in rural Nongoma at which Zulu and Indian artistes performed side by side. Thousands attended these parties.
At the 2019 event, Zwelithini highlighted the special relationship between his nation and India.
'My association with the people of India and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, goes a long way,” Zwelithini said.
“We have been interacting for the past years to see how we can build good relations and transfer of skills to my people.
“This is indeed the best demonstration of what I have stood for in all these years, which is respect, acceptance and social cohesion,” the king said.
In 2017, Zwelithini told a delegation from the Indian missions in South Africa that Indians and Zulus could work together to make the province of Kwazulu-Natal a better place for all its citizens.
The king was paying a visit for the first time to India House, the official residence of the Indian Consul General in Durban, to meet then High Commissioner Ruchi Ghanashyam, who was accompanied by Deputy High Commissioner Dr S. Janakiraman, Dr Shashank Vikram, Consul General of India in Durban, Dr K J Srinivasa, Consul General of India in Johannesburg, and SKS Rawat from the Consulate of India in Durban.
“To mark His Majesty the King's first ever visit to India House, His Majesty planted a mango sapling at India House,” Ghanashyam said after discussions on cooperation between the Kingdom and India in a wide ranging meeting.
For the Zulu nation, Zwelithini remains a symbol of reviving their cultural traditions, which had begun to wane during the rule of his seven ancestors, with minimal support from the long-ruling white minority apartheid government.
The king also played an instrumental role in the fight against HIV/AIDS and more recently, in encouraging his people to observe the protocols in the fight against COVID-19. PTI FH IND IND