A new Zulu King was formally enthroned as the head of South Africa's most influential traditional monarchy at a colorful ceremony Saturday attended by tens of thousands.
President Cyril Ramaphosa handed over a giant framed certificate officially recognizing the 48-year-old new ruler Misuzulu Zulu in the coastal city of Durban.
"Our king, is indeed officially the King of the Zulu nation and the only king of the Zulu nation," said Ramaphosa to loud applause at an 85,000-seater soccer stadium.
The king vowed to promote "peace and reconciliation" and to "be a catalyst" for development.
The coronation of the ruler of the country's richest monarchy comes after a year of bitter feuding over the royal succession that has spilled into the courts.
Misuzulu ascended the throne once held by his late father, Goodwill Zwelithini, who died in March 2021—after more than 50 years on the throne.
The crowning which followed a traditional coronation ceremony in August, is the first South Africa has witnessed in more than half a century.
"This historic moment only comes once in a lifetime, many of us will never see this historic moment again," said Ramaphosa.
Although the title of king does not bestow executive power, the monarchs wield great moral influence over more than 11 million Zulus, who make up nearly a fifth of South Africa's population of 60 million people.
Amabutho, or royal regiments, clad in traditional skirts, leopard skin tops, and carrying shields and sticks chanted songs of praise for their king.
Singing and blowing whistles as they slowly glided around the pitch, women wore broad-brimmed Zulu hats and traditional wraps.
Young girls, some bare breasted, in equally brightly colored pleated skirts and beads, excitedly danced and ululated in the Moses Mabhida Stadium, built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament.
'Great day for' Zulus
Londolo Zungu, 49, was among the women at the party. "We are very happy, more than happy, we are supporting the king 100 percent," she told AFP.
Khaya Ndwandwe, a Zulu historian, said government's recognition of Misuzulu as "the real king of the Zulu people" means "now the king will be more than protected."
"It's a day of great joy for the Zulu people," said Ndwandwe.
The ceremony was given rolling live coverage on all of South Africa's largest television stations and media outlets.
A long grey feather stuck out from the king's hair, while a bunch of black feathers were arranged on the back of his head as he sat on a throne covered in leopard skin.
Head of the Anglican church in South Africa Archbishop Thabo Makgoba dabbed holy oil on the king's hands, face and head as crowds looked on.
"As you embark upon your reign as king … I believe you are being called to step up and emulate the highest traditions of your ancestors," said Makgoba.
In his acceptance speech, the king pledged to work for progress as the world grapples with "poverty, unemployment, trust deficit in government and traditional leadership structures, climate change disasters, economic meltdown."
Among the delegates were King Mswati III of Africa's last absolute monarchy, Eswatini, who also is an uncle to the new Zulu king.
Two of South Africa's ex-presidents, Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, were present as well.
Zulu kings are descendants of King Shaka, the 19th-century leader still revered for having united a large swath of the country as the Zulu nation, which fought bloody battles against the British colonizers.
King Zwelithini, who died after more than 50 years in charge, left six wives and at least 28 children.
Misuzulu is the first son of Zwelithini's third wife, who he designated as regent in his will.
The queen, however, died suddenly a month after Zwelithini, leaving a will naming Misuzulu as the next king—a development that did not go down well with other family members.
The new monarch's first name means "strengthening the Zulus," but his path to the crown has not been smooth.