WATCH | Bellringers strike a muffled note in honour of King Goodwill Zwelithini

King Goodwill Zwelithini was laid to rest on Wednesday evening. On Sunday, a special bell-ringing ceremony was held in his honour.
King Goodwill Zwelithini was laid to rest on Wednesday evening. On Sunday, a special bell-ringing ceremony was held in his honour.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

The KwaZulu-Natal Guild of Church Bellringers in Durban rang their bells in honour of the late Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, on Sunday.

King Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu passed away from Covid-19 complications in a Durban hospital. He was 72.

Though he was Anglican, King Zwelithini was very close to the Catholic Church and would often wear the rosary with his Zulu traditional regalia.

The bellringers paid tribute to the monarch with the more-than-100-year-old bells at half-muffle in special format.

“For the bellringers it was an honour to mark the passing of a respected monarch, lost to the pandemic,” explained Nola Mitchell, the national secretary of the South African Church of Bellringers.

The special method of bellringing used at St Mary's is known as “change ringing”, an activity enjoyed by thousands of bellringers in Britain during the 1600s when there were nearly 6,000 churches with bells.

Mitchell said the performance was befitting for the longest-serving Zulu monarch, whom she described as “iconic”.

“Every bell has its own character. And so did the king. We decided to join the country and indeed the whole world in paying tribute to the Zulu king. We felt the  occasion was fitting for a man of his calibre.”

On special commemorative or solemn occasions, it is usual for the band to perform what is known as muffled ringing. This entails covering one side of the bell clapper with a leather cup which has the effect of muffling the sound of a struck tone.

“We half-muffle the bells in respect of an individual, organisation or event. Half-muffling the bells is a symbol of mourning and the sound they produce sets the mood,” explained Mitchell.

The band of eight bellringers spent the morning at St Mary's and St Paul's churches in Durban, where they rang for 30 minutes at each church.

The format required the ringers to blow in tune, before one of them, Wayne Parasam, pulled the rope alone, to sound the bell 72 times in keeping with the king's age.

Parasam described bellringing as a fascinating hobby, which provides mental stimulation and gentle exercise.

“The average weight of each bell is 350kg. It does not require a great deal of strength to ring them, but one needs to learn to keep a bell swinging under its own momentum,” he said.

Alistair Christison said St Mary's and St Paul's are only two of seven churches in SA to have such a fine ring of bells — each one named after a prominent World War 1 personality or battle,” said Christison.

Meanwhile, the nation awaits news of the future of the Zulu royal household after a family meeting on Friday at which the reading of the king's will revealed that he wanted his successor to come from the palace of his great wife, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini.

The will was read at a private family meeting that controversially excluded Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the kingdom's prime minister and the late king's cousin.

Buthelezi said: “A meeting of senior members of the royal family was held at KwaKhethomthandayo Palace on Saturday where various matters were discussed, including matters related to His Majesty’s will. It was decided that a meeting will be held on Wednesday morning with His Majesty’s lawyers.

“This is where the matter stands at present. Further updates will be provided after Wednesday’s meeting.”


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