South African rain queen laid to rest after 11th hour tension over fire

Thu, Jun 5, 2008


JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South African rain queen Makobo Modjadji was laid to rest as tensions in the royal Balobedu household following her death rose further over a fire that broke out in the house where her coffin was placed.

Sources in the northern Limpopo province said there was “trouble” over which faction in the royal family would arrange the funeral of the monarch, the latest in a dynasty of rain queens revered for their apparent powers to conjure up showers.

Limpopo police said firefighters were called late Sunday to a house in the royal Modjadji complex near the northern city of Polokwane and rescued the coffin of the queen from a fire.

“Firefighters were there and the coffin was brought out without any damage. We are still investigating the cause of the fire but it’s too early to comment,” said Limpopo police spokesman James Ngoepe.

Ngoepe said: “The royal council resolved their differences on Monday morning and the funeral went off without a hitch,” adding that only members of the royal council were allowed to witness the burial held at the Modjadji kraal.

The fire at the royal complex was the latest twist in the tumultuous aftermath of the 27-year-old rain queen’s death in hospital on June 12 from an undisclosed illness, possibly meningitis.

Makobo Modjadji became the Balobedu people’s youngest rain queen at 25 but she ruled only for two years, taking over from a regent who had been temporarily named to allow her to complete her high school studies.

Her coronation was accompanied by a light drizzle — a sign of divine benediction for her people.

The first educated queen of the Balobedu, Modjadji was also the first ruler to throw convention to the winds by falling in love with a married man, creating a split in the royal council.

Her lover has been quoted in the local media as alleging that she had been murdered.

According to oral history, she is descended from a royal house which ruled in southern Zimbabwe in the 15th century. One of her ancestors, a princess, fled to northern South Africa after a family scandal, and set up a new dynasty.

She is thought to have carried with her a potion and secrets for making rain which she passed on to her granddaughter Maselekewane Modjadji, who became the first rain queen in 1800.

Such was the reputation of the rain queen that her kingdom was left untouched by even warrior kings from other clans like the famed Shaka, the greatest Zulu monarch, who took on the might of the British colonial forces.

Shaka regularly consulted the rain queen.

Modjadji combined tradition with modernity — she was often seen sporting a cellphone. But she caused controversy by falling in love with a married man who had not been “approved” by the royal circle.

She also defied convention by moving him into the royal kraal.

Her 41-year-old lover, David Mogale, has said it was instant love for both of them when they met for the first time — at a formal function he had to escort her to.

Mogale has claimed that his wife had either been poisoned or fatally bewitched by some members of the royal family with whom she had severed ties.

“The other reason is because they … disapproved of her marrying me,” he told the Sunday Times newspaper.

The couple have a five-month-old daughter, who is now technically heir to the throne.

When the rain queen is a serving monarch, she cannot marry but a royal council chooses a partner for her for procreation and to ensure the continuity of the line.

Although advances in meteorology have diminished the stature of the rain queen, she still wields clout in South African society.

Modjadji’s grandmother was visited by former presidents F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

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