My heart is deeply wounded by the untimely loss of Inkosi Velemandleni kaKhishwekhaya Biyela. Inkosi Biyela served his people with dignity and competence. He was a true custodian of our culture and values. He was widely respected and well-liked. He was someone I greatly admired.

The sense of loss I feel is echoed by many within the Biyela Clan and among all amakhosi. It is most keenly felt by his family, to whom we extend our deepest condolences. But my own sense of loss is not just for a friend, but for an ideal. I fear that with the passing of Inkosi Biyela, the ideal of a unifying leader is fading.

When I was installed as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan in 1953, the Inkosi of the Biyela Clan was Inkosi Ukufakwezwe. At that time, the Department of Native Affairs would assemble amakhosi in Eshowe at Vuma Farm, where we were lectured by various lecturers they had arranged. I still remember being there with Inkosi Ukufakwezwe as though it were yesterday. I can see him even now.

Because of this history, I feel honoured to have served our nation under His Majesty our King with Inkosi Velemandleni Biyela.

I have served with the amakhosi of the Biyela Clan as much as my father Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi served with the amakhosi of the Biyela Clan, and as much as my great grandfather Inkosi Mnyamana Buthelezi served with amakhosi of the Biyela Clan, at Ondini, during the reign of my great grandfather King Cetshwayo.

Inkosi Biyela and I both cherished where we came from, having walked in the footsteps of our forebears who served the Zulu people for generations under our various monarchs. We cherished this so much that we had a saying between the two of us whenever the King called us together as amakhosi. He and I would say to each other, “Now the people of Ondini are all here.”

When I think of the many who have gone before, of the fathers and grandfathers of amakhosi with whom I have served, it pains me to know that Inkosi Biyela was still in the prime of his life. This is a tragedy for our nation. His passing reminds us of the truth of our saying: “Isitsha esihle kasidleli” – It is always the best vessels that break easily.

His passing is not only untimely in terms of his age, but against the backdrop of change in our nation. Now more than ever our young amakhosi need mentors of his rare kind. It is very sad therefore that Inkosi leaves behind a void that cannot be easily filled.

We know that unity is strength. This is engraved on the hearts of all amakhosi. Yet the politics of this province have created cleavages amongst us as amakhosi. I am grateful that throughout my time as Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government we achieved solidarity amongst ourselves. Such unity and solidarity are sorely needed.

I therefore weep to know what we have lost in Inkosi Biyela. His mind was unpolluted by the political winds that cause such cleavages amongst us.

The fact is that we as amakhosi are still in the midst of a battle. We dare not be divided. I am speaking of the battle to preserve the institution of traditional leadership. For although the institution is recognised in South Africa’s Constitution, up to now, the role, powers and functions of amakhosi have never been defined in a single piece of legislation.

I have engaged this battle for several decades. Most recently I engaged on this with Minister Zweli Mkhize when he was the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the national Government. I still hope to resume the matter with the present Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

It is not out of place for me to speak about these things at the funeral of Inkosi Biyela, because he himself was deeply concerned with the future of our institution. He set a very high standard of leadership. No wonder he garnered such respect. I remember a visit to Inkosi by the National Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders, Inkosi Chiliza, not so long ago. Inkosi Chiliza told me afterwards how impressed he was with Inkosi Biyela.

Inkosi served his people in a way that is exemplary to all of us. I must confess that it will be difficult for us not to judge whoever succeeds him by the standards he set. We really sympathise with whoever succeeds Inkosi Biyela, because he has set very high standards for our institution of Traditional Leadership.

We say “Ukhuni luzala umzala” – It is sad that wood (strong as it is) only results in ashes. We pray that we will be able to say of whoever succeeds him, “Injalo iphuma edunjini.” This is our Zulu way of saying, “Like father, like son.”

May Inkosi Biyela’s example be emulated. For it would be tragic if the standards he set in serving his people are lowered upon his passing. Indeed, we thank the Almighty God for giving the Zulu nation a leader of this calibre. Even though we regard his time as too short, the example he set for all of us is such that we must thank the Almighty God for his time amongst us.

I wish to express my deepest sympathies to Inkosi Biyela of Ogelweni and to all the amakhosi of the Biyela Clan. We express our deepest condolences on your loss, knowing that your loss is our loss too, for we share the loss of a great son of the Zulu kingdom.

May the entire family find healing from this wound, and may the soul of Inkosi Velemandleni kaKhishwekhaya Biyela rest in peace.

Requiescat in pace!