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7— Patriotism, Patriarchy and Purity: Natal and the Politics of Zulu Ethnic Consciousness1
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Ethnic Ideology in the Inter-war Years

The significance of Zulu ethnic associations and cultural nationalism in diffusing class-based organization and fracturing national movements is no new phenomenon. For much of the twentieth century, the tendency of Natal to 'take off' has been a feature of white as well as of black politics.[6] In the inter-war period, a profound factionalism characterized Natal political organization, with the co-existence there of two branches of the African National Congress, one belonging to the national organization, and the other a virtually autonomous Natal variant under the Rev. John Dube, who had previously been the President of the ANC. Similarly, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union Yase Natal was one of the first of many fragments to break off from the national Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), and from the outset its activities were distinguished by the strong infusion of Zulu ethnic consciousness.[7] In the 1920s the creation of the first Inkatha movement was explicitly seen as a counter to more radical tendencies and was envisaged by both the South African state and the black middle class as a counter to the ICU and to 'Bolshevik' propaganda in the countryside. It was also hoped that the Natal offshoot of the Natal Bantu Teachers' Organization, the Zulu Cultural Society, would play a similar conservative role in the 1930s and 1940s. More recently, the second Inkatha movement has been seen by many whites as the answer to more radical forms of politics, whether nationalist or more overtly class-based. Although there were no direct connections between these three organizations, their objectives were similar: the reconstruction of Zulu ethnic identity around symbols of the Zulu monarchy and its history. They also drew on the same constituency and had the same fragmenting effect on nation and class-based movements.

About six million strong, the Zulu are the single largest ethnic group in South Africa today, with relative linguistic and cultural homogeneity and a proud military past centring around the monarchy.[8] It would nonetheless be wrong to relate the pervasive cultural nationalism of Natal simply to the historical existence of the Zulu kingdom, the most powerful and cohesive state in southern Africa in the nineteenth century. Twentieth century ethnic consciousness is not an


unmediated transmission of innate and immutable past values and culture. Indeed, as Barrington Moore has reminded us:

Culture or tradition . . . is not something that exists outside of or independently of individual human beings living together in society. . . . The assumption of inertia, that cultural and social continuity do not require explanation, obliterates the fact that both have to be recreated anew in each generation, often with great pain and suffering. . . . To speak of cultural inertia is to overlook the concrete interests and privileges that are served by indoctrination, education and the entire complicated process of transmitting culture from one generation to the next.[9]

Using the building blocks of past history, language and 'custom', twentieth century ethnic consciousness has been the product of intense ideological labour by the black intelligentsia of Natal and the white ideologues of South Africa, designed to confront new and dangerous social conditions. The paradoxes in this situation are apparent when it is appreciated that it was the Christian African community—the amakholwa ('the converted')—many of whose forebears had fled the Zulu kingdom in the nineteenth century, who forged the cultural ethnic organizations in the twentieth. Thus, the first Inkatha movement was founded by Solomon kaDinizulu, the son and heir of the last Zulu king, in alliance with the Natal intelligentsia, so as to gain state recognition for the Zulu monarchy and to pay off its not inconsiderable debts. Despite the undisputed popular support which the Zulu royal house enjoyed in the 1920s, the origin of Inkatha in 1922–4 owed as much to the deliberate reconstruction by the Zulu royal family and the Natal intelligentsia of 'traditional' institutions as to any spontaneous reaction of the Zulu people.[10]

With the sharpening of class conflict and political militancy in Natal and Zululand in the 1920s, the Zulu royal family and the traditionalism that it represented constituted a bulwark against radical change—a bulwark as much for the African intelligentsia as for the white ideologues of segregation.[11] The heightened political militancy of Africans in the later 1920s, particularly in Durban and in rural Natal, led architects of segregation such as G. N. Heaton Nicholls to perceive clearly the utility of ethnic-based organizations in defusing class-based organizations and class consciousness.[12] As Nicholls put it, 'If we do not get back to communalism we will most certainly arrive very soon at communism.'[13] For Nicholls, as for many others, there was a direct connection between politics and 'racial purity'. Through 'Bantu communalism' and the bolstering of the position of the Zulu monarchy, Nicholls also hoped to foster 'Bantu race pride' and thus prevent that bogey of the white racist imagination, miscegenation.[14]

In 1937 the Zulu Cultural Society was founded by Albert Luthuli, later to become President of the ANC and a winner of the Nobel Prize.[15] In its origins, it shared Inkatha's objective of fighting for state recognition of the scion of the Zulu royal house as Paramount, and added to it a concern for the preservation of Zulu tradition and custom at a time when these seemed to be disintegrating in the face of the pressures of proletarianization and urbanization. With the Zulu Regent, Mshiyeni kaDinizulu, and the South African Minister of Native Affairs as patrons, the society was, par excellence, an instrument of the Zulu Christian intelligentsia. It is not accidental that it was Heaton Nicholls who persuaded the Native Affairs Department in Pretoria to finance the Zulu Society to the tune of £250 per annum. The funding was to last ten years. For his efforts, Charles Mpanza, the indefatigable first secretary of the Society, whose salary was paid by


the grant, enthusiastically—and shrewdly—described Nicholls as

a staunch friend of the Zulu Society—and why not keep him so!—between you and me, Sir, the gentleman is going up the ladder and may find his way to State Ministry koaamaaje —so it is not without reward to play 'good' with him . . . [16]

From the first, the Zulu Society also had strong links with the Native Affairs Department in Natal, and it received the warm support of H.C. Lugg, Natal's Commissioner for Native Affairs, a man who was also keenly aware of the glories of the Zulu past.

The Zulu ethnic movement, like segregation itself, can be seen as a response to the immense social dislocations which resulted from capitalist development in South Africa. As increasing numbers of people were pushed into the towns in search of work, social relations in the countryside were transformed and whole communities disrupted.[17] The cheap labour system and the racist ideology which accompanied South Africa's industrialization exacerbated the tensions. In the 1920s these forces produced a turbulent and, at times, radical response from Natal's migrant workers and peasants. Although the province had witnessed little of the immediate post-World War I upheavals manifested on the Rand, by the second half of the 1920s there had been a marked change, as the ICU, first organized in Durban by that fiery populist, Allison Wessels George Champion, spread dramatically through the Natal countryside. The expansion of wattle plantations and sheep farming in the Natal midlands in the 1920s led to the eviction of tens of thousands of labour tenants and the increased exploitation of many more. At the same time, the Christian African petty bourgeoisie were experiencing intensified economic hardships and racial discrimination particularly in the wake of the Labour-National Party victory of 1924 and the introduction of its 'civilized labour policy'. These pressures cut across classes, radicalized the African petty bourgeoisie, and brought about the coalescence of a middle-level Christian and educated leadership and the recently dispossessed around the symbols of Zulu ethnic consciousness.

In the countryside, mass militancy expressed in work stoppages, a demand for increased wages, and general 'insolence and insubordination', led to a backlash in which angry white farmers burnt down ICU offices and clamoured for state intervention against a movement which threatened rural stability. In Durban, the ICU organized beer boycotts which resulted in a white mob attack on ICU headquarters in 1929, while a demonstration organized by the Communist Party on 'Dingane's Day' the following year was fired on by the police who shot the leader, Johannes Nkosi.[18] Five years of militant action by Africans had gained little in an immediate sense and saw instead the passage of ever more draconian security measures, such as the 1927 Native Administration Act and the 1930 Riotous Assemblies (Amendment) Act.[19] The death of Nkosi and the banishment of Champion led to a lull in urban politics in the 1930s and 1940s, which was only broken by the violence of the 1949 Indian riots.

There were a variety of reasons for this apparent quiescence. The world Depression, drought between 1931 and 1936, and a malaria epidemic which raged in the early 1930s imposed their own constraints on political action. Many of the unemployed who had fuelled the working class militancy of the late 1920s in Durban were removed from the city as the Depression began to bite. In the rural areas, in 1933 sporadic violent protest against tax collectors and dipping schemes failed to lead to a revival of the rural political activism of the late 1920s. In part because of the urgency of the agrarian issue, and in part because of the role


of the Zulu Regent, Mshiyeni, in dampening down local opposition, Natal's conservative black leadership remained largely outside the bitter protest over Hertzog's bill to remove the African franchise in the Cape.[20] Instead, the Rev. John Dube, Natal's leading political figure, was closely involved in advocating Heaton Nicholls's land settlement and development schemes in these years. Promises that the reserves would be extended and developed locally seemed more important than African political rights in the Cape Province.[21] At the same time, the rivalry between Champion, who had returned to Durban in 1932, and Dube, and the divisions between the Natal Native Congress, the Natal African Congress and the ANC (Natal Branch), and similar divisions between independent fragments of the ICU all claiming the mantle of the parent organization, speak of a factionalism born of frustration.[22] None of these splinter groups seem to have had much of a constituency. Fighting each other, the members of the elite had little energy and less inclination to mobilize the wider constituency of the oppressed and underprivileged.

The co-optive strategies of both the local state and the central state as embodied both in the Durban municipality and the Chief Native Commissioner also had some success in diverting African energies into different channels. Thus the creation first of the Urban Native Advisory Board in Durban and then of forms of electoral politics through the establishment of the 'Native senators' and elections for the Native Representative Council under the Hertzog legislation seems to have absorbed a great deal of the political energies of the leading political figures.[23] In addition, a more sophisticated native administration attempted to set up its own collaborative machinery through meetings of chiefs and "prominent natives' in a bid to oust more radical leaders.[24] It is in this context and in the relative vacuum left by the disintegration of formal political activities that the formation of the Zulu Society as a cultural organization by the Natal Bantu Teachers' Association should be understood. It also opened up a new opportunity for the state and diverted energies away from more radical answers to the very real problems posed by increasing proletarianization and urbanization.

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7— Patriotism, Patriarchy and Purity: Natal and the Politics of Zulu Ethnic Consciousness1
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