Farewell King Zwelonke, champion of people

Military pallbearers carry the coffin of Xhosa king Zwelonke Mpendulo Sigcawu during the special official funeral at Nqadu Royal Palace.
Military pallbearers carry the coffin of Xhosa king Zwelonke Mpendulo Sigcawu during the special official funeral at Nqadu Royal Palace.
Image: Masi Losi/Sunday Times

Draped in lion skin in line with traditional royal practice, the coffin of amaXhosa King Mpendulo Sigcawu was lowered into the ground at exactly midday on Friday.

Forming a guard of honour around his grave, senior amaXhosa chiefs cried out “Ah! Zwelonke” as each paid their last respects to a monarch described as a champion of his people.

Minutes before, President Cyril Ramaphosa had delivered a moving eulogy at the king’s Nqadu Great Place in Willowvale.

“He was an outspoken champion of transformation and development,” Ramaphosa told thousands of mourners, among them kings from SA and neighbouring states, ministers, political leaders and citizens.

The first of its kind, the funeral was conducted with respect to both military demonstration as per its official government status as well as observing royal customs of the amaXhosa nation.

Ramaphosa described the late monarch as a patriot, a kind-hearted king and a unifier who was vocal about community development and the upliftment of the youth.

He said Sigcawu had also been a champion of women’s rights.

“The country was indeed poorer at the loss of our king.

 “He was also critical about government’s pace of service delivery.

“But he remained patriotic.”

Among those who attended the event were former president Thabo Mbeki, who also delivered a tribute, government ministers, ANC leaders, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, EFF leader Julius Malema and mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.

Ramaphosa said Sigcawu had been concerned about poverty among his people and had introduced many agricultural co-operatives to reduce their dependency on social grants.

“He was vocal about many issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, and he advocated passionately for youth development.

“His majesty believed that the rights of women should be respected.”

He labelled Sigcawu as a unifying figure and a great leader whose influence had extended beyond the borders of SA.

This was after it was revealed to mourners that tributes had been received from as far afield as Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Venezuela and Serbia.

“We have lost a respected leader.

“He was a pillar of the community and a solid partner of government,” Ramaphosa said.

Family representatives Nkosi  Daliwonga and Derrick Mgwebi said African and Western cultures could coexist if relations were exercised properly.

''But in this instance we had to compromise some of our ritual and the military did the same.”

However Mgwebi, a retired military general, said African culture and practices were still being undermined.

In the graveyard at the burial, Ramaphosa handed over the flag to the king’s uncle, Nkosi Xhanti Sigcawu.

The king’s four wives, Nolwando, Sive,  Simanye  and Liyema, sat in the front row with the king’s mother, Queen Nozamile, and his aunt, NomaXhosa  Sigcawu.

His eldest daughter NomaTshawe, 13, cried out as the coffin was lowered, and her mother had to take her away and console her. ​

Mbeki, who described the late king as an outstanding leader, said SA was faced with many challenges including poverty, unemployment, inequality and drought, which affected millions of South Africans.

He said the scourge of corruption and xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals were among the ills facing the country.

SA was crying out for strategic, thoughtful leadership committed to serving the people of the country.

“King Zwelonke was such a leader,” he said, adding that the departed monarch had taken the struggle against xenophobia to heart.

He said before his death he had instructed that they meet to discuss ways to address some of the challenges.

“I regret that meeting never happened.”

Ndebele King Makhosonke Mabena II, who worked closely with Sigcawu, delivered a hard-hitting tribute in which he accused the government of failing the late king.

He said the king   had been in and out of hospital, and had to pay his own medical bills because the state had not done so.

“I want to tell the president [Ramaphosa] that kings, too, do get sick and their families deserve better health care.

“We don’t have medical aid.”

Mabena II said the late king had wanted to create jobs and build stadiums for young people, and was determined to repair bridges and see to it that gravel roads in his kingdom were tarred.

He said what had set him apart was that he was also not afraid to speak his mind.

Defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who was one of the programme directors, described Sigcawu as confrontational, but also blessed with a sense of humour.

“It did not matter who you were.

“He told you what he said and did not buy faces,” she said. — Daily Dispatch