The king also uses the ceremony to talk to the nation, especially young men, about issues including the spread of HIV/Aids, moral regeneration, preventing abuse of women and children and how to conduct themselves as role models within their communities.
In the past few years, the festival — believed to be more than 3,000 years old — has come under fire from animal rights activists, including the Animal Rights Africa, over the ritual bull slaughter.
So intense has the negative sentiment been that, in 2009, Animal Rights Africa went to court in a bid to stop the slaughter of the animal after arguing that the ceremony was cruel.
The animal groups from Africa and Australia united in protest and circulated a petition in what was the biggest opposition to the traditional ritual resuscitated by King Zwelithini more than two decades ago.
They unsuccessfully attempted to petition former president Jacob Zuma, a staunch traditionalist, arguing that the practice was undignified and harmful to the country’s reputation abroad.
So desperate were the animal rights activists to stop the ritual that they even implored former US talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey to chastise the Zulu monarch.