King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation in South Africa has died in hospital where he was being treated for diabetes-related issues.
The king, 72, was the leader of South Africa’s largest ethnic group and an influential traditional ruler.
He had been admitted to hospital in KwaZulu-Natal last week to monitor his ongoing diabetes condition.
The king’s prime minister thanked South Africa for its “continued prayers and support in this most difficult time”.
King Goodwill Zwelithini ruled the Zulu nation under the Traditional Leadership clause of South Africa’s republican constitution but his role was largely ceremonial.
An estimated 11 million Zulus – about 18% of the population – live in South Africa, mostly in KwaZulu-Natal province, but the isiZulu language is spoken widely among South Africans.
Following his father’s death in 1968 he was named successor to the throne at the age of 20.
He wasn’t crowned until 1971 because he went into hiding after receiving death threats.
His views on homosexuality, male circumcision and the treatment of women have caused controversy.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera in 2016, King Zwelithini said that God had warned him about the HIV/Aids epidemic before it took hold.
He said that this warning had led him to revive the tradition of the reed dance – where thousands of young women dance for him – so he could get them together to warn them in turn about HIV/Aids.