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By Hadebe Hadebe

A Zulu warrior during Umkhosi Wokweshwana, Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, KZN 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

ON one occasion l wrote on Facebook, “It is technically incorrect to refer to KwaZulu-Natal as ‘the kingdom of the Zulu’ – other non-Zulu Africans like AmaHlubi and AmaBhaca call the province home”.

Sadly, ‘Zulu nationalism’ instilled during the days of KwaZulu homeland and prior to that contained truths and untruths that will take almost a lifetime to untangle. Nonetheless, there is a need to clarify the present demarcation and name of the province as well as the decision of the Nhlapho Commission to not bestow amaHlubi kingship in the 2000s. Thus, this article confronts long-standing issues of failure to end colonialism and its legacies. It also places the difficult concept of Zulu nationalism in the centre of the underlying argument that the emancipation of Africans in KZN could be a distant dream for as long as the questions pertaining to the Zulu identity and colonialism legacy are not addressed.

Issues of nation building and democratization become equally important in efforts to dealing with the country’s broken past. The landmass called KwaZulu-Natal today is exactly what was referred to as the Natal Colony, which amalgamated the old Natal colony (south of uThukela) and Zululand (for lack of appropriate wording) in the north after the defeat of Zulu armies. The colony became one of the four provinces when the present day South Africa was created in 1910 (Union of South Africa). One cardinal mistake that is often made is to suggest that this colonial creation means the same thing as the Zulu kingdom before the defeat of Cetshwayo in the late 1800s. It does not. The post-Cetshwayo Zulu kingdom is not only questionable but it is also highly contested for many reasons – some are covered in this article.

One of the things  which the colonial and apartheid authorities did was to remove blacks as full citizens of SA by creating bantustans, which were formalized starting in the 1970s. For instance, within the borders of the then province of Natal, blacks were moved to the self-administered KwaZulu bantustan. The lands where this pseudo-state was erected had been considered useless by the colonial authorities, and that is how the decision of locating natives was rationalized. The condition of being placed in the bantustan was not whether one was Zulu or not, but the broader agenda of the apartheid regime of making blacks stateless was at full play. Imposed Zuluness which began in colonial times with an objective to create a Westphalian entity with single nationhood like in Europe set the ball rolling in manufacturing problems in KZN. The Natal Colony was proclaimed in 1843 and British authorities worked around the clock to reshape the African people, their identities and their surroundings.

In this process, Europeans committed many atrocities causing havoc to human life in the region. Some of the reasons for this blatant humiliation of Africans were to establish a Westphalian state in southern Africa; to create mega tribes which would serve as new political organizations, and building of a new economy which needed Africans as cheap labour and consumers of their products. This colonial project resulted in the subjugation and the oppression of Africans. However, the vast territories required support from certain Africans to help them rule. It must be said that the ultimate demise of the Zulu kingdom in 1879 opened floodgates for the redesigning of the Natal Colony, which placed a new version of Zuluness in the centre of efforts to govern the territory. The birth of KwaZulu homeland nearly 100 years later was a complete victory over Africans, and to this day there is little or no hope that they will ever come out of this political quagmire. People like M.G. Buthelezi were instrumental in the early days of the formation of the KwaZulu homeland, a project to disenfranchise millions of blacks and to push them to homelands.

The early days of the KwaZulu homeland were spent in Nongoma before the capital was moved, in 1980, to Ulundi which is closer to Mhlabathini where Buthelezi born and raised. The KwaZulu homeland attempted to incorporate all blacks who came from different clans, kingdoms and tribes under a single banner. This was under the pretense that the homeland was a resurrection of the old kingdom of the Zulu that was defeated by the British in the late 1800s. However, the challenge is that the apartheid project, which was kick started by the English much earlier as already stated, also mischievously included other areas that were not under the direct rule of the ancient Zulu kings within the colony of Natal. Areas outside the province, e.g. eastern Free State, Transvaal and Mozambique, where many Zulu-speaking peoples continue to reside were excluded.

Perhaps the consideration was not to interfere with the programme of the apartheid state. As a result, a large number of Zulu speakers were left out, and this made the homeland a complete joke. As indicated above, the white state had already chosen prime land for farming, settlement, industry and mining for European settlers. So, blacks were placed in areas that were barren and wherein it would be different to grow crops or access ample water resources. The present areas under the Ingonyama Trust fall in this category and it’s amazing that the Zulu monarch and fundamentalists of Zulu nationalism are not calling for the inclusion of prime lands in places like the Natal Midlands which, some people claim, still belong to the British Crown. Throughout the debate on expropriation of land without compensation in recent years, Zulu nationalists are least concerned about the plight of people in the useless pieces of land which the Ingonyama Trust exploits.

Former president Kgalema Motlhante identified this problem and his report was met with rage by KZN’s dictatorial aristocracies. Any attempt to deal with the land question in KZN, like the rest of South Africa, is vehemently opposed. The question is, for how long is this going to be maintained in the face of political pressure and increasing socio-economic problems? Nonetheless, in the Natal Colony the plan was to create a single homeland in a place with many identities, e.g. Mthethwa, Ndwandwe, Ngwane, Hlubi, Tembe and others. This was also a case in the western Transvaal where Bophuthatswana was established. Bakgatla, Barolong and Bahurutshe, among others, were forcefully placed within the new homeland under Lucas Mangope. A book titled: ‘Zulu Identities: Being Zulu Past and Present’ (2008) by Benedict Carton, John Laband and Jabulani Sithole (eds.) explores the notion of Zulu identity in KZN in democratic SA and how the different nations (11 in total) within KZN “took advantage of the provisions of the new legislation [the 2003 Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act] and denied ever being subjects of any of the Zulu kings.”

Others like AmaHlubi (midlands) and the the Nhlangwini (south coast) went as far as mentioning that they were on the verge of developing and codifying their own languages. These nations faced a serious backlash for demanding a correction in history. For example and in his usual style, according to Carton, Laband and Sithole, King Goodwill Zwelithini “publicly condemned the submissions, dismissing them as mischievous challenges, not only to his authority as the Zulu king, but also to the Zulu nation as a whole.” He also referred to these nations as “impostors” in many of his gatherings. Zulu nationalism seeks to conceal way too many issues that remain unresolved in KZN, particularly Zulu identity.

Historian Patrick Harries in the 1980s published a journal article titled ‘History, Ethnicity and the Ngwavuma Land Deal: The Zulu Northern Frontier in the Nineteenth-Century’, following the beginning of the Ingwavuma land controversy in the early 1980s. Basically, Harries highlighted “the long-standing contestations around Zulu over-lordship among Tembe chiefdoms to the north of the Hluhluwe and Mkhuze Rivers.” The late David Webster also covered the same topic in ‘Abafazi baThonga Bafihlakala: Ethnicity and Gender in a KwaZulu Border Community’ (1991). Both the IFP and the ANC have created more problems than providing solutions in KZN. In fact, these political parties have not only gone against dealing with the issues of the past but they have also undermined efforts of forging a new South African identity among the peoples of KZN.

Ibutho chant Zulu songs, Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, KZN 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

Starting in 1994, the IFP continued with the ‘Zululization’ of the province and this was their grand mainstay policy in the homeland. Even the likes of former president Jacob Zuma saw no need to correct this. As such, successive ANC governments in the province have also committed to elevating and recognizing the Zulu monarch as the only kingdom in KZN. Hence, the name of the province is audaciously referred to as ‘The Kingdom of the Zulu’. This blatant Zululization of the post-apartheid project is highly contentious since it fabricates an illusion of a single identity in the province. The challenge with this is that it makes KZN least freer compared to other provinces. The fact that there is a quasi-monarchy within the ‘new’ state makes the democratization project in SA an illusion. That is not to say that traditional authorities need to be outlawed but the positioning of the Zulu monarch in KZN leaves a bitter taste, and tells a bigger story that the people who were defeated by the English will never ever have a voice in an environment which promotes and protects Zuluness at all cost.

What is also quite interesting is that some nations that did not even go to the Nhlapo Commission challenge the eminence of Zulu identity in KZN. For example, Mbongiseni Buthelezi, in Carton, Laband and Sithole, “questions the simplistic assumptions that all black people in KwaZulu-Natal are voluntary subjects of the Zulu king.” In this regard, he argues that people “were forcibly integrated into the Zulu state against their will and that during this process their history and heritage were deliberately suppressed and silenced.” It is quite unfortunate that this harassment continues to this day. This ahistorical attempt to suppress other identities contributes, amongst others, to the tumultuous political situation in KZN to this day. Even such things as restoration of dignities of Africans who live in abject poverty and land reform will never be realized in the province. The problem doesn’t lie so much with verkramptes and powerful capital interests as in other provinces, but with Zulu fundamentalism.

It is the Zulu fundamentalism that entrenches the great damage created by colonial authorities such as Theophilus Shepstone in the 1800s. Among other things, Shepstone engineered the present social and political disorder in Natal. In that province Africans are desperate, and this may be used to partly explain the low scale war that has troubled KZN non-stop, in over three decades. Even recent interventions by the Moerane Commission and by veteran journalist Greg Ardé, author of ‘War Party: How the ANC’s Political Killings are Breaking South Africa’ (2020), fail to capture the depth and historical dimension of the problem in KwaZulu-Natal. Zulu identity and its byproduct KwaZulu homeland have always been opposed by many people. Among other things, concomitant result of forced unity in the homeland was dire as it led to suppression of dissenters and those who opposed the idea of homelands altogether. This gave the new rulers and Pretoria unfettered powers to deal with opponents whichever way they deemed fit. In this regard, feud, exile and even killings took place. One such feud involved Buthelezi and his first Councilor for Community Affairs in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly, Barney Dladla from Estcourt, close to the western border with Lesotho and Orange Free State.

Barney came from the AmaHlubi kingdom that was also defeated and destroyed by the British in the 1800s.He was also a trade union leader. Dladla never quite saw eye to eye with Buthelezi and Pretoria, particularly the then minister of labour Marais Viljoen. There were concerns that Dladla was involved in the affairs of a “foreign country” since Richards Bay was outside the jurisdiction of the bantustan. This Dladla was involved in a wave of labour strikes that engulfed Natal in the early seventies. He even “threatened management with adverse publicity and also threatened to contact shareholders in Switzerland (Alusuisse) to force them to sell their 22% shareholding in the company.” Buthelezi then “banned all black workers from taking up employment at the smelter”, and the South African Defence Force was asked to step in to prevent the very first strategic industry in Richards Bay from closing down. But of particular significance were Dladla’s actions that upset Pretoria to a great deal and Buthelezi was probably asked to deal with his colleague. Dladla and his other colleague Chief Charles Hlengwa became number one rivals to Buthelezi as they openly contested power.

Hlengwa wanted to start an opposition party in the KwaZulu homeland but that was forcibly suppressed. On his part, Dladla had bigger ambitions. He envisaged that another homeland could be built; some say a Hlubi homeland, in western areas (Drakensberg). This is where Dladla originated. It is not clear how he planned to convince Pretoria to execute his ambitions. Himself, Dladla from Ntabamhlophe was going to be the leader. But he died as mysteriously as the idea itself. Had he not died and took his idea with him, it means that Natal was going to have two homelands, along the lines of Transkei and Ciskei, which both spoke Xhosa but did not share history. Divisive isn’t it? In the end, only the homeland of KwaZulu was formed, under the leadership of Buthelezi whose political leanings always created a heated debate. Jabulani ‘Mzala’ Nxumalo didn’t call him “a chief with a double agenda” for nothing. He is now approaching hundred years, the nonagenarian is going to leave behind a land beset with problems. It may be argued that both Buthelezi and Shepstone could go down in history as eminent engineers of the deep pain and suffering of Africans in the former Natal Colony. There is no need to delve into the political violence and repression that occurred under the KwaZulu government.

Monumental dominance of Zulu nationalism and English heritage is strong in KZN and successive governments show no interest to correct this situation. For example, the names of towns such as Greytown, Pinetown, Port Shepstone and Durban leave deep scars in the minds of black people. It is disturbing that millions of people who visit Durban each year aren’t even aware that the place is named after Benjamin D’Urban who brutally killed King Hintsa, with the assistance of George Grey after whom Greytown is called. As for the name of KwaZulu-Natal province, it was Buthelezi who insisted on the inclusion of KwaZulu in the name of the new province when South Africa was once again made a unitary country at the end of apartheid. Portuguese explorer and slave trader Vasco Da Gama, whose memorial (clock) stands in the heart of the Victoria Embankment (now known as Margaret Mncadi Avenue), would be proud of what Africans have achieved in maintaining his global legacy. Da Gama’s destruction is found in diverse places such as Mombasa, India and Brazil. The recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests across meant nothing for Africans who appear unaware that they have equally bigger problems in their backyard. Surprisingly the EFF elected to kneel before the US embassy in Pretoria and the ANC asked people to dress in black on Fridays rather than confronting the bitter colonial and apartheid in SA.

KZN positions itself as the last bastion of English colonialism in Africa. It is unbelievable that the name Natal has outlived even a devil and also continues to exist in a democratic state. In addition, the KwaZulu part of the KZN name has absolutely nothing to do with the identities of people but it was an apartheid creation. And the likes of Buthelezi are guilty of conflating with the Zulu identity and polity (the old area where the Zulu kingdom stood, which did not cover the geographical area where the Natal province stood). As with everything else, there was no referendum on the name, it was therefore decided in Kempton Park to appease warring Inkatha impis. The answer to the question why the Nhlapho Commission did not bestow amaHlubi kingship, among others, is very simple; it was to not upset the Zulu nationalists. Therefore, it was not based on truths and untruths. For example, Buthelezi in the past regularly attended the main event of AmaHlubi in Estcourt called ‘umgubho weNkosi uLangalibalele’, to recognize their separate identity, but political expediency dominates his double character. As shown above, many other communities want recognition in KZN. This is not a manifestation of tribal rivalry but different nations seek to have their voices heard in a place where Zuluness frustrates attempts to correct past injustices, including land possessions and destruction.

By the way the findings of Nhlapo are contested in courts. For example, the kingships of AmaRharhabe and AmaMpondmise were restored in 2016 and 2020, respectively. The implication of this is that AmaHlubi, Tembe and others were encouraged by that court’s decision. The matter for AmaHlubi is before the high court and it could have more and wider implications for the country compared to the restoration of the kingships of AmaRharhabe and AmaMpondmise. The elephant in the room is Zulu nationalism which is known to react angrily at anything it dislikes. Nonetheless, the biggest complaint about the democratic dispensation is that it tends to be ahistorical when dealing with complex matters of land and identities. This, in fear that these issues could tear the famed constitution apart because people will rightfully challenge such things as property rights – people were killed and had their lands taken away from them. Zulu nationalism is not assisting in helping to correct the misdeeds of the past including the transfer of arable lands and water to indigenous communities. The history and politics of KwaZulu-Natal, and by extension that of South Africa, need to be corrected. The sooner the Zulu nationalists and the ANC, among others, wake up to this reality, the better. But the continued failure to do so means that legacies of both colonialism and apartheid will never be addressed; and the pain of the dispossessed will never heal.

Health Minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize seen as part of Ibutho, Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, KZN 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

Information on lands that were forcefully taken by the English colonisers, and later the apartheid state, in Natal, Eastern Cape and elsewhere is an open secret. However, the end of apartheid has seen unusual attitudes that abrasively want this piece of history to be left unopened. Lack of progress when it comes to land reform emanates from the fact that those who benefited from the loot, including some Africans, do not want genuine restorative justice to take place in SA. It’s a pity that such things as Zulu nationalism were designed to mislead the masses. After all, people benefit nothing from this false nationalism as proven with the lngonyama Trust funds. 

In the epic book by Noel Mostert, ‘Frontiers: The Saga of Xhosa People’ (1992) captures a breathtaking moment in our history. Around 1889, two reigning kings of the South African nations, King Cetshwayo, the last King of independent amaZulu at that time and King Langalibalele of the AmaHlubi served time at Robben Island together. They were recorded one morning taking a stroll on the beach and talking reminiscently. Commenting on this, Zingisa Mavuso, “Mostert took this recording and put it in his last page in his book about the Xhosa defeat in 1879 dramatizing the defeat of all South African nations. A drama symbolizing a done, dusted and finished job. He also invoked a thought of what these men could have been talking about, maybe about the future of South Africa linking it to 1994 negotiations. Beautiful stuff. This stroll on the beach is a less known event even amongst historians that could be turned into major literal work, plays and theatre.” This short brief episode reveals one thing; that the kings were equals and no kingdom reported to any other. Contrary to popular belief, central, southern and eastern Africa has never had mega tribes. The present identities of Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Kikuyu, Bhemba, Shangane, Pedi, Tswana, Shona, etc. are based on ‘europianisation’ of Africa in order to create Westphalian state system.

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