A South African princess has denied rumors that the Zulu queen, who died just a month after her reign began, was poisoned by the royal family.
“People think we are murderers,” Princess Thembi told local media on Sunday, amid a bitter family breakdown over who will become the next monarch.
Queen Mantfombi, 65, became interim chief last month after the death of her husband, King Goodwill Zwelithini.
A few days after his death from an unspecified illness, a legal challenge is underway.
A handwriting expert was reportedly hired on board to try to prove that the signature of the king’s will was forged, as claimed by his daughters from his first marriage.
Their mother, Queen Sibongile Dlamini, has taken her fight for the throne to the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, where she claims a 50% share of her estate plus exclusive recognition as the late king’s only legal wife.
The king of the 11 million Zulus left behind six wives and 28 children.
Queen Mantfombi was appointed regent because she was the only woman of royal blood – her brother is King Mswati III of Eswatini.
So far, the favorite in the battle for succession has been Prince Misuzulu, 47, who is the eldest son of Queen Mantfombi and King Zwelithini.
The throne has no formal political power and the role of the monarch within South African society at large is largely ceremonial, but they remain extremely influential and benefit from an annual taxpayer-funded budget in addition. $ 4.9 million (£ 3.5 million).
A public rift has opened between Princess Thembi and Prince Mbonisi, who led the impromptu press conference on Sunday, and Queen Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Prime Minister.
Chief Buthelezi said he was “irritated” by the princess saying he was not invited to a key meeting because he “belittles” others and “does not give us space to discuss freely things”. He accused her and her brother of wanting to “portray me as the author of the rumors that His Majesty has been poisoned”.
He also told national broadcaster SABC that the lawsuit was “shameful”.
With the throne still empty and in the midst of ever-growing divisions, BBC Pumza Fihlani says a resolution is far away unless the factions come to a compromise and agree to put the throne above all else.
A fierce struggle for power and influence
Analysis by Pumza Fihlani, BBC News, Johannesburg
The challenge for the Zulu monarchy is not new.
In fact, the Zulu saying ubukhosi buyabangwa – meaning “the throne is contested” – speaks of what has become an unsurprising and intrusive feature of infighting observed throughout history.
The stakes are high. The Zulu people are the largest group in South Africa and one of the best known throughout history, in part for their prowess on the battlefield.
The country’s best-known warrior, King Shaka, was himself killed by his half-siblings so they could take over.
Before King Goodwill Zwelithini could take on the role of King more than 40 years ago, he was forced into hiding for three years following death threats.
He may have sought to avoid this when he left a will instructing one of his wives to act as regent until a successor was appointed, but she died before that task could be accomplished.
What we see unfolding in the form of swirling reports of divisions, is once again a fierce struggle for power and influence.
It’s also a contest over who belongs and who doesn’t – a fight for who deserves the throne that commands respect from the Zulu people.
It is clear that despite being praised for uniting the 11 million strong Zulu nation for so many decades, the house of King Zwelithini since his death is far from united.