President Jacob Zuma held a memorial service Sunday for the queen mother of South Africa’s Zulu people, who was reburied after a more than two-year search for her remains.
Zuma said the reburial of Queen Thomozile Jezangani KaNdwandwe Zulu, the mother of King Goodwill Zwelithini, restored her place in history, speaking at the unveiling of the queen’s new tombstone in the eastern city of Durban.
It also helped undo the legacy of white-minority rule, when members of South Africa’s largest ethnic group were treated as third-class citizens, he said.
“Slowly but surely we are restoring human dignity and erasing the pain caused by colonialism and apartheid oppression,” Zuma told a crowd of nearly 10,000 people.
It was also bringing an important part of the country’s heritage back into the mainstream after years of marginalisation, he added.
The final resting place of the queen, who died in the 1950s in her early 30s, had been unknown.
The current king, who was just 11 years old when she died, made a life-long mission of finding her grave and reburying her according to Zulu tradition.
After a lengthy search that was drawn out by legal red tape, Durban officials announced they had found a grave containing the remains of a woman named Thoko Zulu and carried out DNA tests that identified her as the queen.
She was reburied Saturday at a memorial site in the Durban neighbourhood of Cato Manor, where she lived at the end of her life.
The city plans to develop a 300-million-rand ($45-million, 30-million-euro) cultural museum and heritage centre.
Zuma, South Africa’s first Zulu president, said the reburial had “brought closure not only to his majesty but to the royal family and the entire Zulu nation”.
The king, the symbolic leader of South Africa’s 11 million Zulus, has no formal political power.
He is a descendant of King Shaka, the 19th-century leader still revered for having united a large swathe of the country as the Zulu nation, which fought bloody battles against the region’s British colonisers.
The king’s finances are today controlled by KwaZulu-Natal provincial authorities. His lavish lifestyle has been the subject of much debate in South Africa — as has the future of the Zulu royal house.