In the southern African country, sovereigns and traditional chiefs are recognized by the Constitution. Kings without executive power, they exercise deep moral authority and are respected by their people.
Misuzulu Zulu, 47, also called Misuzulu kaZwelithini and whose first name means "strengthening the Zulu people", succeeds his father Goodwill Zwelithini, who died last year after 50 years of reign. He has two wives and at least four children.
Since morning, "amaButho" warriors, lined up in impressive columns bristling with spears and shields, have flocked to the pretty marble palace of KwaKhangelamankengane, in Nongoma, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal province (KZN, southeast) and cradle of the Zulu Nation.
"It's a great day, we are making history," Bongani Khumalo, 80, who is part of the regiments of warriors in charge of protecting the king, told AFP.
Under a scorching sun, they danced and mimed the war for hours, wearing animal skins, waiting to see the king appear. South Africa has 11 million Zulus, almost one in five South Africans, the largest ethnic group in the country.
The women came in traditional outfits, pleated skirts and beaded belts for some. Others draped themselves in fabrics bearing the effigy of the sovereign with the inscription "Bayede", "Greet the king" in the Zulu language.
- Legendary people -
Young girls dance topless. Each in turn, they enter the circle to the rhythm of celebratory songs, raise their legs high before making their soles resound in the dust.
The king's poets stroll through the crowd, recounting the legend of the warlike people and the qualities of the new sovereign.
The traditional coronation took place last night, in the greatest secrecy. Just after midnight, the sovereign entered the "cattle enclosure" of the palace, a sort of temple of the Zulu Nation where men, in a restricted circle, communicate with the ancestors. Only a handful of people know what happened there.
"Today the king will be recognized by the entire Zulu Nation," his sister, Princess Ntandoyesizwe Zulu, 46, told AFP, pretending to ignore the dispute that has plagued the palace for more than a year.
The late king's first wife and her clan dispute the legitimacy of Misuzulu Zulu, born to the king's favorite and third wife. A last-minute appeal on Saturday to try to prevent the coronation failed.
Suddenly, with a rustle, the sovereign finally appears: dressed in a spectacular costume of black feathers tightened at the waist by a belt, a spear and a shield in his hand, Misuzulu Zulu joins the warriors. In haunting songs sung in low voices, they promise him protection and loyalty.
"We have our king!" Sinenhlanhla Msweli, 29, shouted into the crowd.
Later, the ruler declared before his gathered people: "The Zulu Nation today begins a new chapter. I promise to work to unite it".
The king, who must be formally recognized by President Cyril Ramaphosa during a ceremony in the coming months, inherits the throne but also land. He enjoys nearly 30,000 km2, approximately the size of Belgium, managed by a trust of which he is the sole administrator.
Known for leading a lavish lifestyle, his father also received around 75,000 euros annually from the state for his personal use and a budget of 4.2 million euros per year for the functioning of the kingdom, according to a government scale.