Nation mourns Zulu King accused of homophobia

For many in South Africa’s LGBTQ community, the late King Goodwill Zwelithini will be remembered for perpetuating cultural homophobia. On Thursday, the country said its final goodbye to the monarch with a memorial service held at the KwaKhethomthandayo Royal Palace in KwaNongoma. The king of the AmaZulu nation passed away at the age of 72 in the early hours of 12 March after an extended illness and was interred in a private ceremony at midnight on Wednesday. So significant was Thursday’s memorial service that Eskom suspended load-shedding for four hours to allow the nation to mourn his passing without disruption. The late leader was lauded by the likes of President Cyril Ramaphosa as a “defender of his people” who “advanced their culture, their customs, their traditions and a deep sense of identity and nationhood.” King Zwelithini, however, had a contentious relationship with the LGBTQ community and was accused of perpetuating the notion that homosexuality is un-Africa and incompatible with traditional cultural values. This said, his critics, enabled a culture of violence and discrimination against queer people on the basis of tradition and patriarchy. In 2012, he was quoted as condemning same-sex love at an event marking the 133rd anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana. “Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same-sex relationships,” King Zwelithini was alleged to have said. “There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten. I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same-sex is not acceptable.” Soon after, the Zulu Royal Household denied that the king made the comments and insisted that his speech had been mistranslated.