King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation in South Africa has died in hospital where he was being treated for diabetes-related issues.

At one point, the Zulu king allegedly stoked xenophobic attacks after he called for the deportation of all foreigners from South Africa.

Meanwhile, 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.

Around 10 million people live in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Following his father’s death in 1968 he was named successor to the throne at the age of 20.

He wasn’t crowned for two years because he went into hiding after receiving death threats.

The King once came under fire for making sentiments which were allegedly viewed by some as having a bearing in xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals in SA.

According to South African media reports, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini called for the deportation of foreigners in South Africa, saying it was unacceptable for South Africans to compete with people from other countries for the few economic opportunities available.

Addressing Pongolo community members during a moral regeneration event, Zwelithini accused government of failing to protect locals from the “influx of foreign nationals”.

“When you walk in the street you cannot recognise a shop that you used to know because it has been taken over by foreigners, who then mess it up by hanging amanikiniki (rags),” he said then.

“Most government leaders do not want to speak out on this matter because they are scared of losing votes. As the King of the Zulu nation, I cannot tolerate a situation where we are being led by leaders with no views whatsoever.

“We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.

“I know you were in their countries during the struggle for liberation. But the fact of the matter is you did not set up businesses in their countries,” he said at the time.

Zimbabwe Exiles forum director, who was also a South African based human rights lawyer, Gabriel Shumba described remarks by King Zwelithini as reckless and uncalled for.

“Politicians are the ones who cause xenophobic attacks because we will not be surprised if tomorrow more Zimbabweans are hanged or killed because of such reckless talk. Such sentiments are coming at a time when foreigners are being attacked here in South Africa and this can only fuel more attacks,” said Shumba.

He said South Africans faced isolation and hatred by fellow Africans due to xenophobic attacks and ill-treatment of foreigners.

“ This is exactly why South Africans will never be loved by Africans because when they were fighting apartheid Africa we stood by them, but now they think the infrastructure which is there means they must kick out everybody who is a foreigner,” said Shumba.

He said it was unfortunate that foreigners were blamed for all sorts of crimes in the neighbouring country.

Efforts to get a comment from Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi were fruitless as he was unreachable on his mobile phone. -BBC / The Herald