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No, South Africa’s late Zulu king Zwelithini didn’t get a R71.3 million salary

King Goodwill Zwelithini, a leader of South Africa’s Zulu people, died on 12 March 2021 at the age of 72 after 53 years as monarch. According to the Mail & Guardian, he had “reigned under the traditional leadership subsection of South Africa’s constitution as king of the Zulu nation”.

The day after his death, a claim about the salary the South African government paid Zwelithini appeared in a Facebook post. 

The post reads: “The former king of Zulu Nkosi Goodwill Zwelithini salary was R71.3 million. He left 6 young wives and 28 children.”

It shows a photo of Zwelithini with a group of women who include his sixth wife, queen Zola Mafu of Eswatini, a country that borders South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province to the north. 

The post has been viewed more than 57,000 times so far.

It doesn’t specify whether the salary was monthly or yearly. But did Zwelithini earn a salary of R71.3 million in his role as king?

Budget for entire royal household

Chapter 12 of South Africa’s constitution recognises the status and role of traditional leaders under customary law. 

South Africa currently has seven legally recognised kingdoms. In 2010, then-president Jacob Zuma officially recognised Zwelithini as king of the Zulu nation. 

On 2 June 2020 local news website TimesLive reported that KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala had increased the annual budget of the Zulu nation’s royal household from R66.7 million in 2019 to R71.3 million in 2020.

But the budget was for the entire royal household, not just the king. As of February 2020, Zwelithini and all other kings and queens recognised by the South African presidency received a salary of R1.254 million a year. This was a 4% increase on a 2019 salary of R1.206 million. 

King Goodwill Zwelithini did not earn a salary of R71.3 million. This was the amount the government paid, in terms of the constitution, to the entire royal household of the Zulu kingdom, each year. In 2020, Zwelithini’s personal salary was less than that: R1.245 million a year.

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