Earlier this week, King Goodwill Zwelithini of Zulu accepted the invitation from Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Dov Segev-Steinberg, to visit Israel early next year, according to the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, despite his government discouraging such visits.
An embassy statement said the king “vowed to use his official visit to explore ways to intensify the co-operation between South Africa and Israel, and especially between the Zulu people and the Israeli people.”
The Zulu are South Africa’s largest ethnic group, with an estimated population of more than 10 million.
The announcement came a day after the South African government reiterated its policy of discouraging its citizens from visiting Israel to protest Jerusalem’s treatment of the Palestinians. The government also announced earlier this year that products originating from Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria would be labeled as from the occupied territories instead of Israel.
“The decision is left to the individual or the organization that is invited to visit Israel,” said South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, at a news conference Tuesday. “There has been a policy of discouraging because we believe Israel is an occupying power and is doing all sorts of things in the Palestine-occupied territory which has been condemned by the entire international community.”
Zwelithini was installed as the eighth Monarch of the Zulus on December 3, 1971, and since then has been defying South Africa’s rulers, white and then black.
According to an official South African government website, in 1991 Zwelithini accused the African National Congress (ANC) of fostering anti-Zulu feelings. During the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) Zwelithini’s status became a point of bitter contention between Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi, founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and other delegates, over the king’s future. Buthelezi walked out of that convention in protest of a lack of clarity on the need to unseat the king and his six wives (and 27 children).
In July, 1992, Nelson Mandela assured Zwelithini that his status was secure under the new government.
Zwelithini’s finances are controlled by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial authorities and his lavish lifestyle and the future of the Zulu royal house has been a matter of much debate – according to the government-run website.
Zwelithini, who has been to Israel before, will look into “new possibilities to cooperate with Israel in the fields of health, agriculture and education amongst other areas of interest for the benefit of the Zulu people,” the embassy statement said.
Segev-Steinberg told the South African website MyShetl that the king’s commitment to visit is “a sign that Israel still has good friends in this country, friends who are happy and willing to share experiences and ensure love and respect for Israel.”
JTA content was used in this report.