ROYAL, NOBLE, AND common titles in Afrikaans are, like most of the language, descended from Dutch antecedents which, in turn, come from German. The Cape knew not the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was established after the Dutch relinquished the colony, but was founded as an outlet of the Dutch East India Company (or V.O.C., to give its Dutch acronym). After a brief period of British occupation, Dutch dominion over the Cape returned during the Batavian Republic before finally being seized by the British in 1806 and erected as a British colony in 1814. When the Union of South Africa was created in 1910, the country had its first king, George V, though the sovereign was generally only referred to as ‘King of South Africa’ from 1927 onwards.
The country has had no emperors, though some like to attribute that title to Shaka, the greatest King of the Zulus. Typically, however, he is known as king (as in King Shaka International Airport, Durban’s brand new landing-place). South Africa’s royalty have tended to be either native (like Prince Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela) or German (like Prince Hubertus of Prussia, d. 1950, and a few Blüchers, etc.).
There is some debate over the translation of native titles into English, and they are often left untranslated today. (This can be quite confusing, as some native titles are also used as Christian names). In Afrikaans, a tribal chieftain is a stamhoof, a paramount chief is a opperhoof, and a plain old inkosi or chief can be translated either as hoofman or prins. Thus Prince Mangosothu Buthelezi, the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (Inkatha Vryheidsparty, which obtains many Afrikaner votes in KwaZulu-Natal) is sometimes rendered as Hoofman Mangosuthu Buthelezi but perhaps slightly more often as Prins Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
South Africa has had counts and countesses a plenty (Count Gyula Jankovich-Besan being a memorable example) and barons as well (Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn of Saasveld) and a few baronets and knights (Sir De Villiers Graaf, 2nd Baronet, final leader of the Verenigde Party).
In South Africa, the overwhelming majority of what would, in other countries, be aristocracy are instead gentry. South African prime ministers frowned upon grants of titles and knighthoods by the Crown. Poor George VI repeatedly tried to get Maj. Piet van der Byl a baronetcy but his PM of the day (no less a figure than General Smuts) continually refused. Smuts himself was such a princely character that he really ought to have been ennobled (or, better yet, made a prince), but the Greatest South African was one of those noble fools who mistakenly think it is more humble to refuse honours than to accept them.
The country’s native royalty are gathered in the National House of Traditional Leaders, a group which, while not part of the government, is nonetheless allowed to meet occasionally in the old House of Assembly chamber in the Parliament building. Among its members is Leruo Molotlegi, 36th King of the Bafokeng nation (about 300,000-strong). The Bafokeng lands are in what is now the North-West Province, and under which lies the Merensky Reef, a substantial trove of platinum, ferrochrome, rhodium, and palladium. The Tswana-speaking tribe receives a 22% royalty from the sale of all minerals extracted from beneath their land, making them the richest tribe in all of Africa.
The most prominent of South African royals, however, remains the King of the Zulus, who even opens the sessions of the Provincial Legislature of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg. King Goodwill presides over the annual Shaka Day commemorations, which provides a rare moment of unity between Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa (and leader of the ANC), and Prince Buthelezi of Inkatha (the ANC’s arch-rivals), under the smiling countenance of the King.