JOHANNESBURG (AA) – South Africa’s coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal has declared a week of mourning following the death of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala announced at a media briefing on Friday night that the province suspended all government and private functions for a week.

“On Thursday 18th of March, we call for prayer service throughout the province of KwaZulu-Natal to pray for the Zulu nation, following the passing of his majesty,” he said.

Zwelithini, 72, was admitted to hospital last month for diabetic complications where he died on Friday.

He was the longest serving king of the Zulu nation, the country’s largest ethnic group. Zwelithini ascended to the throne in 1971 after the death of his father.

He was one of the most influential traditional leaders in the country, although kings play only ceremonial, traditional and spiritual roles in modern South Africa.

The Zulu royal family is currently meeting with government officials to plan the king’s funeral but no date for his burial has been set yet.

– Special official funeral

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced late Friday that the king will be given a special official funeral which entails ceremonial elements provided by the South African National Defense Force.

The president also ordered the national flag to be flown at half-mast at every flag station in the country from the Saturday morning until the evening of the king’s funeral service.

Ramaphosa expressed his sincere condolences to the royal family, the Zulu nation, the people of KwaZulu-Natal, and beyond for whom the king was an important symbol of history, culture and heritage.

“The king will be remembered as a much-loved, visionary monarch who made an important contribution to cultural identity, national unity and economic development in both the KwaZulu-Natal province and the country as a whole,” Ramaphosa said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was among those who joined thousands in sending sympathy messages following the king’s death.

Former African Union Commission Chairperson and current Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said: “We are very sad and shocked at the passing of King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu. King Zwelithini was the king I worked with as part of my responsibility in the government.”

She said the king played a good role in mobilizing communities to fight HIV/AIDS in the country.

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