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Lion skins and dancing at Xhosa king coronation in S.Africa

Clad in animal skins, Mpendulo Sigcawu was crowned king of the Xhosa people on Friday at an elaborate ceremony in South Africa watched by thousands of his subjects, dignitaries and President Jacob Zuma.

The coronation of King Sigcawu was marked by day-long celebrations by choirs, dancers and drummers in the small town of Willowvale, home of the Xhosa royal family.

He becomes the first Xhosaa king for a decade, ending a hiatus caused by a succession dispute and a political inquiry.

The ceremony was the first coronation of a tribal king since the end of the apartheid regime, and President Zuma told guests that traditional leaders had a key role to play in democratic South Africa.

A lion skin was laid across Sigcawu’s shoulders in a ritual making him the official king of the Xhosa, one of the country’s major ethnic groups.

Traditional monarchs have no formal power in South Africa, but they command strong tribal loyalty among millions of people and are recognised under the post-apartheid constitution.

Many of those involved in the colourful event were dressed in lavish finery including feathered headdresses, beaded necklaces and grass skirts, though President Zuma chose to wear a sober business suit.

“Democracy and the traditional system — there ought to be no conflict between these two,” Zuma said in his speech.

“This coronation today marks the end of a painful era of colonial subjugation and oppression and ushers in a new beginning of strengthening who we are as South Africans.

“We are proud of our institutions, including traditional leadership, and that we are able to express ourselves today in our rich diversity.”

Among the foreign diplomats present was Chris Trott, the British Consul General in Cape Town.

The ENCA television news channel said that 15 cows, 30 sheep and 100 chickens were slaughtered for a feast for several thousand people after the ceremony.

The last Xhosa monarch King Xolilizwe Sigcawu came to the throne in 1965 and died in 2005.

The new king’s coronation was delayed for several years, in part by a dispute over the line of succession and a government inquiry into how royal families would participate in modern South Africa.

“Today is part and parcel of the culmination of the restoration of our dignity as a community, as a kingdom and as people,” Zolani Mkiva, Xhosa royal spokesman and praise singer, told ENCA news.