Pampered Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelithini has been given R1.7-million worth of government-owned houses for free – just so that his royal guests will not have to book into hotels.

The Times has also established that the three houses – all in Ulundi, northern KwaZulu-Natal – are being extensively revamped at a cost of at least R1.1-million, again at no expense to the king or to his Royal Household Trust.

Zwelithini is already the beneficiary of generous state funding. He receives an annual budget of more than R50-million, on top of his annual salary of more than R1-million.

He has seven palaces, six in Nongoma and one in Ulundi.

The new royal houses – about 10km away from his Ulundi palace – are among more than a dozen in a neglected ministerial complex used by provincial cabinet ministers when Ulundi was the KwaZulu-Natal capital from 1994 to 2004.

Twelve houses in the complex have been allocated to the provincial health department for employees working in rural hospitals. They are being revamped at a cost of R1-million.

Among the homes allocated to Zwelithini is a luxurious six-bedroom home valued at R620,000 according to the council’s property valuation roll. It was the official residence of a former premier, Lionel Mtshali, who died in 2015.

The other two houses, with municipal values of R570,000 and R510,000, were occupied by a senior member of the Zulu royal family who died and two former MECs. Zulu royal family spokesman Prince Thulani Zulu said the kingasked Premier Willies Mchunu for the houses after visiting the complex in 2014.

“He was shocked to find them in a state of dilapidation. Some had been vandalised.

“The king wanted to take all 15 and renovate them as a royal village for his international guests because hotels are often fully booked. He was surprised to hear that some of them had been allocated to the department of health. But he has no problem with that,” said Zulu.

Zwelithini recently discussed the state of neglected government buildings with Mchunu and human settlements and public works MEC Ravi Pillay.

“He was concerned about state property being left unused, such as some offices in the legislative building in Ulundi. He has decided to move his offices from Nongoma to the old legislative building,” said Zulu.

Public works spokesman Mbulelo Baloyi confirmed that three houses had been allocated to the king after a request from Mchunu’s office.

Baloyi said Mchunu’s office would be responsible for maintenance and furniture. Mchunu’s spokesman Nda-bezinhle Sibiya said the houses would be used to accommodate the king’s guests attending ceremonies, cultural events and meetings of the royal household.

“Every year the provincial government is approached by heads of states, ambassadors and captains of industry from many countries wanting to be presented before His Majesty. When such delegations visit they become the responsibility of the government in terms of government protocol. In many instances they require accommodation and these houses will be used for this purpose.”

Sibiya said over time the costs of revamping the houses would be offset by reduced hotel bills – “ultimately saving the taxpayer money”.

Sibiya said one house was used to accommodate international guests at last year’s reed dance ceremony. It is also understood one was used to host the king’s guests from Swaziland for his wedding to his sixth wife Queen Zola Mafu, a Swazi, in Ulundi in 2014.