“A huge tree has fallen,” Mr Ramaphosa said.
“Moral courage was one of his noblest virtues,” he added.
Mr Ramaphosa gave the eulogy in a white tent erected outside one of the palaces of the king in the small town of Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal.
The palace has been a beehive of activity, with mourners streaming in to pay their respects, reports the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani from the scene.
Many have come bearing gifts in the form of cows – some of which will be slaughtered and shared with the community, she adds.
King Zwelithini – the longest reigning Zulu monarch – died in hospital last week from diabetes-related issues.
The burial ceremony was only attended by a select group of royal men. The secrecy around the burial is part of honouring the monarch, our reporter says.
It is not yet clear who will succeed King Zwelithini – that is a closely guarded secret, in part for the future king’s safety but also in reverence to the moment at hand, she adds.
People at the memorial said they were clear on the kind of king they want – a visionary, a straight-talker (like Zwelithini), and someone who will honour their culture and set it as the guiding light for future generations, our reporter says.
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