Comments by the Zulu king that gay relationships were “rotten” have been dismissed as a mistranslation by the royal family.

A statement issued by Prince Mbonisi Zulu described “shock and dismay” at the South African Times’ report of the king’s speech, which he says was intended to promote compassion in society.

The royal household said it could be described as “reckless translation”.

The king had been speaking at the 133rd anniversary of the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana, during which the Zulu army defeated the British.

King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu is said to have actually told the audience: “During the good olden days our forefathers dedicated their lives for the good of the nation. Men would go for months in the battles to fight the enemies without their wives but did not harass each other sexually and there were no cases of rape of women.

“Nowadays you even have men who rape other men. This is a clear sign of moral decay. We condemned those involved – no matter who you are.”

The prince’s statement continued: “At no stage did His Majesty condemned gay relations or same sex relations.

“His Majesty pointed out that his forefathers and King Cetshwayo was a celebrated genius who inspired his warriors to fight for a common objective.

“He said there was a rare breed of men who became an embodiment of a strong nation capable of withstanding any challenge.

“He went further stating that these men became the champions of good values. They sacrificed all what they had including their families to protect the nation.

The comments attributed to the king earlier today by African news sources were: “Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex-relationships. There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten.

“I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable.”