Funeral of Rain Queen Makobo Modjadji VI

Relatives sit near the coffin of the Rain Queen during the funeral in Ga-Modjadji, South Africa. The relatives are divided on the cause of their 27-year-old queen's death. Photo: The New York Times

South Africa’s Rain Queen has gone to an early grave. The young woman was said to have power over the elements and the flow of rivers.

Her tribe, the Bolobedu, are divided over the cause of her recent death at the age of 27 and suspect the 400-year-old dynasty, immortalised by Rider Haggard’s novel She, may not survive.

The official cause of the death of Queen Makobo Modjadji was given as “chronic meningitis”. But hospital staff said she had AIDS. Many in the tribe believe she was poisoned by elders who disapproved of her relationship with a commoner. The royal council refused to acknowledge him or their two children.

Some community members say she died of a broken heart after elders sought to disgrace David Mogale, her lover, banning him from the royal village.

Conspiracy theories were compounded by the mysterious disappearance of the dead queen’s younger brother, Mpapatia, who has not been seen since her death. On the eve of the funeral, a fire broke out in a chief’s house where the queen’s body lay. It was put out as flames reached the coffin.

Queen Makobo’s natural successor would be her five-month-old baby, Princess Masalanabo. But as Mr Mogale is the father, the traditionalists are unlikely to accept her.

Many fear the end of the dynasty itself.