Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi says he has never required help from the Zulu royal family for his political existence.
He reacted on Friday after the IFP's election manifesto poster featuring an image of Zulu King Misuzulu caused an outcry.
The use of the king's image elicited a strong rebuke from the African National Congress (ANC) in KwaZulu-Natal and the Zulu royal house, whose spokesperson, Prince Thulani Zulu, later instructed the party to remove the poster.
The IFP was forced to remove the poster featuring the Zulu monarch from social media after the king threatened to take action against the party.
However, Buthelezi said neither he nor the IFP leadership knew about the social media post. He said they also did not sanction it.
"I have never needed nor used the royal family as a prop in my political life. Why should accusations like this cause me to retreat? As I have said, I am not a coward. I could happily do without these attacks at this stage in my life," he said at a press briefing in Durban on Friday.
Buthelezi said the IFP's communications directorate had issued an unconditional apology and retraction for the error made by a staff member "who failed to follow the chain of approvals before posting a social media infographic".
"It was brought to the party's attention after the fact, and swift action was taken to remove it, apologise and explain the error."
He said after being informed about the poster, he knew his detractors would use it "as confirmation that the IFP is using His Majesty the King to win votes".
"It played directly into the malicious narrative they have been spinning for decades. And they did not disappoint. Both I and the IFP have been viciously attacked on social media, not only by cadres of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, but by members of the faction within the Zulu royal family who oppose the heirship of His Majesty King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini."
Buthelezi said while the social media post "should never have included an image of the king, it explicitly expressed the IFP's support for the institution of traditional leadership".
"It made no statement whatsoever about the king's political affiliation," Buthelezi said.