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7— Patriotism, Patriarchy and Purity: Natal and the Politics of Zulu Ethnic Consciousness1
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The Selection and Assembling of an Ethnic Ideology

The complexities of the traditionalism which imbued the ethnic ideologues should not be underestimated, however. While proclaiming the virtues of their past and the wholesomeness of traditions, the 'new African' was too much a product of the mission station and western culture to give unreserved approval to an unconditional return to 'tribal' life. Moreover, precisely because restructured ethnicity was designed to forge an alliance between members of the Christian intelligentsia and landowners and the pre-colonial ruling class, it was never free of tension. The ideology was composed of disparate elements drawn from very different traditions: on the one hand, pre-colonial ideology focused around the Zulu king, as the symbol of the unity of the nation; on the other, the aspirations of Christian converts imbued with nineteenth century notions not only of progress and improvement but also of universalism, the possibilities of individual assimilation to western norms and a constitutional monarchy. Born of the contradiction between the promise of progress and the reality of conquest and exploitation, as Tom Nairn has suggested, the mobilization of nationalism or ethnic consciousness is everywhere both backward and forward looking. In the Third World, as 'newly awakened elites' have 'discovered that tranquil incorporation into the cosmopolitan technocracy was possible for only a few of them at a time', they were thrown on their own resources and sought to mobilize their societies for advance. This could, however, be done only in terms of

what was there; and the point of the dilemma was that there was nothing—none of the economic and political institutions of modernity now so needed.

All that there was was the people and peculiarities of the region: its inherited ethnos, speech, folklore, skin-colour and so on. . . . People are what [nationalism] has to go on: in the archetypal situation of the really poor or underdeveloped' territory, it may be more or less all that nationalists have going for them. For kindred reasons it has to function through highly rhetorical forms, through a sentimental culture sufficiently accessible to the lower strata now being called into battle. This is why a romantic culture quite remote from Enlightenment rationalism always went hand in hand with the spread of nationalism. The new middle-class intelligentsia of nationalism had to invite the masses into history; and the invitation card had to be written in a language they understood.[33]

This dilemma was well expressed by the Rev. John Dube before the Native Economic Commission in 1930. On being pressed by one of the Commissioners on whether he could 'reconcile the tribal system with progress', he replied:

Well, it is the only thing we have and I think that if it were properly regulated, it would be the best. The tribal system has many advantages and I cannot get away from it. It is under the tribal system that the land is hel[d] by our Natives and, if I want land, I cannot get away from it. If I want land, I must associate the occupation of the land with the tribal system.[34]

Yet his was no unconditional support for 'tradition' either, despite Dube's


adherence to the Zulu monarchy and his key role in the Zulu Society. As late as 1925 he categorically denounced the practice of lobola (bridewealth), which was by this time gaining acceptance by white missionaries and administrators as a protection for women:

The women who respond more quickly to the preaching of the Gospel are confronted with the difficulties of lobola . This custom is a great hindrance to the spread of the Gospel. So long as our women are looked upon as an asset of commercial value, so long will the progress of the Native be retarded. An unprejudiced diagnosis of the custom will show it is at the root of many things that hamper the progress of the Native people. . . . Why is it that Natives who have worked on the farms of Europeans since boyhood . . . so soon as they return to home revert to their old sluggish habits, saying I bought my wife to do all my work? Those who have learnt to cook for the best white families, when back in their homes do not even make an attempt to improve old time methods. All this can be traced to the evil of lobola .[35]

In a letter to J.S. Marwick, the key representative of Natal commercial farming interests in the Union parliament and, like Heaton Nicholls, an ardent opponent of the ICU, Dube put his position even more explicitly. After denouncing ICU leaders with their 'misleading and dangerous propaganda, their absurd promises, their international socialistic inclinations and communism', Dube argued that the victory of 'socialistic' doctrines

would mean the breaking down of parental control and restraint, tribal responsibility and our whole traditions,—the whole structure upon which our Bantu nation rests. . . . We have got to maintain . . . the sense of paternal and tribal responsibility by Bantu traditions with all its obligations of courage, honour, truth, loyalty and obedience for all we are worth. . . . Don't think for one moment that I am not progressive. I am anxious as any man could be for the development of my people, but on the right lines.[36]

The same ambiguities can be seen in the position of almost all the Zulu-speaking intelligentsia of this period. Thus, for all their preoccupation with the 'traditional', a call to the past was intended to bolster more mundane preoccupations. As small landowners and petty entrepreneurs, leading members of both Inkatha and the Zulu Society had a concern with rural 'development'. According to Nicholas Cope, the initial impulse behind the formation of Inkatha by the Northern Natal petty bourgeoisie was to enable them to cooperate with rural chiefs in the purchase and development of land: 'Inkatha was seen as a means through which commercial agriculture could be set underway on land purchased ostensibly by a "tribe"—non-tribal land-buying syndicates had been practically outlawed following the 1913 (Natives Land) Act.'[37] Albert Luthuli himself revived the Groutville Cane Growers' Association and founded the Natal and Zululand Bantu Cane Growers' Association, which were designed to foster the interests of the small-scale African sugar growers and negotiate on their behalf with millers. In 1942, when he stood for election to the Native Representative Council with Zulu Society support, his platform included a request to the government for 'more help . . . to the rural community in their farming operations'; the establishment of 'a Land Bank for Bantus'; improvements in the general status of chiefs and chiefs' courts; the acquisition of land by the government for Africans; local government or councils in 'advanced communities' such as Edendale; the extension of education in rural areas; and 'more civilized salaries for black teachers'.[38]


The Chairman of the Zulu Society, A.H. Ngidi, had far more ambitious economic schemes which he hoped the Zulu Society would promote. Perhaps influenced by the successes of the 1939 Afrikaner Volkskongres in mobilizing Afrikaner resources for the promotion of Afrikaner capital, by 1945 Ngidi was writing to the Secretary of the Society about vast commercial ventures and the rehabilitation of the reserves 'agriculturally, industrially, commercially, educationally and socially'. He argued that the Zulu should be persuaded to sell their cattle in order to accumulate capital to start stores 'and displace Indians and Europeans as exploiters of the people'—the irony was doubtless unintended![39] The language of economic ethnic mobilization is very explicit:

The feeling that we should extricate and help ourselves out of the present predicament of exclusive exploitation by cosmopolitan non-African South Africans and overseas white markets ought by now to instil us with a very strong sense of racial solidarity, loyalty and mutual confidence. . . . Our organisations must be principally NATIONAL. Basic Nationalism or Africanism. This is the dominant note in the National Orchestra of National Life. Other issues, religious, political, professional, vocational, agricultural, industrial, commercial, educational, economic and social must be dealt with under clear cut AFRICAN NATIONALISM.[40]

This self-conscious Africanism did not lead to any disengagement from the state, however. Ngidi had grandiose schemes for the reserves, premised on the reduction of African livestock, which should be preceded by the regulation and definition of all occupied land, and on the closer settlement of all reserves in Natal and Zululand, which he thought should include special zones for townships and be divided into a third for cultivation and two-thirds for commonage and houses.[41] As Mpanza remarked, apparently without sarcasm, Ngidi's ideas about cattle-culling were 'a wonderful means of our indirect cooperation with the present aims of the NAD'.[42] Mpanza himself saw no contradiction in his collaboration with the Native Affairs Department (NAD): as he saw it, it was important to cooperate with the 'Department of our Affairs (i.e. building up necessarily the relations with a department that stands between the Nation and the present-day recognised Government). . . . It is necessary to "Ride on a tamed elephant to hunt elephants."'[43]

The preparedness of Mpanza and the President to play along with the Native Affairs Department, especially during the war years, when Mpanza broadcast government propaganda in Zulu on the South African Broadcasting Corporation and, together with the Regent, Mshiyeni, encouraged African recruitment, led many of the more prominent African political figures in Natal to dissociate themselves from the organization.[44] There were differences, too, over the Society's readiness to accept the education of African children in the vernacular, although it was its support for the 'betterment of the reserves' which was the most sensitive issue for those with a finger on the popular political pulse. By 1946, Selby Msimang, Selby Ngcobo, A.W.G. Champion, and ultimately even Dube and Luthuli had all left the organization.[45] In that year Mpanza himself left to take up a position organizing railway workers on behalf of the Department of Harbours and Railways.[46]

At the same time, the 1940s saw the development of a far more powerful pan-South African nationalist feeling which was channelled into the revitalized ANC. Once the conservative Dube had been ousted from the presidency of the Natal branch, this became the natural focus for African political aspirations. The inter-war flirtation by the Natal elite with ethnic nationalism nonetheless left its


legacy, and it remained a powerful force at different levels in society, mediating perceptions of and responses to at times traumatic social change.

That this should have been the case was deeply rooted in the history, culture and ideology of Natal's intelligentsia. It was a history, culture and ideology full of contradictions as the African petty bourgeoisie tussled with the attractions of assimilation to the hegemonic European life-style and the impossibility of its achievement in South Africa's racially defined society. There were tensions between what was seen as valuable in African culture, recently discovered by the new science of anthropology, and their own self-definition as a respectable, Christian bourgeoisie. Nor was this a new phenomenon amongst the African Christian intelligentsia in the 1920s and 1930s.[47]

For all the tensions, however, it is clear that there were always more ties between the amakholwa in Natal and wider African society than the nineteenth century missionaries who were anxious to establish totally self-contained Christian communities would have liked. Tim Couzens, for example, shows the shift in the ideas of the Dhlomo brothers, H.I.E and R.R.R, both of them prominent writers and intellectuals who were educated in the traditions of mission Christianity at Edendale, Amanzimtoti and, in the case of Rolfes Dhlomo, at John Dube's Christian Ohlange. Rolfes Dhlomo was initially imbued with 'an earnest didactic' Christianity which condemned traditional culture and led to his writing An African Tragedy, the first novel in English by an African to be published. In typically anti-modernist fashion, and following much missionary preaching, it dealt with the evils of city life. His anti-modernism came, however, to be paralleled by an interest in the Zulu past.[48] 'Respectability' came to be joined with ethnic consciousness.[49] In 1928 Rolfes Dhlomo was writing in Ilanga lase Natal (28 December): 'Our folklore and historical records must be preserved from dying out, anything of racial pride, by means of a literature, otherwise these will be lost forever and our connection with the past forgotten."[50] He went on to write a series of historical novels about the heroes of the Zulu past—Shaka, Dingane, Mpande, and Cetshwayo.

It is in the Zulu Society that many of the ambiguities of this cultural nationalism were expressed. Albert Luthuli, then a teacher at Adams, the leading African high school in Natal, and President of the Natal Bantu Teachers' Association, who took the initiative in its establishment as an auxiliary of the Teachers' Association, described his motives many years later:

I believed then, as I do now, that an authentic, comprehensive South African culture will grow in its own way. This will not be determined by cultural societies, but they may influence it. It seemed to me that African teachers ought to play some part in its process.

We were thoroughly aware of the meeting of cultures, African and European, and of the disorganisation of both . . . as a result. We did not have the desire of the Nationalists that we should return to the primitive. But we did have an intense wish to preserve what is valuable in our heritage while discarding the inappropriate and outmoded. Our people were ill-equipped to withstand the impact of a twentieth century industrial society. Our task seemed to consist of relating the past coherently to the present and the future.[51]

An appendix to the Charter of the Society, published in 1939, captures the flavour of what was being sought, asserting that 'Not all customs are suitable in modern times, but instead of thoughtless elimination, there should be "the substitution of something better."' One of its enumerated principles saw the Divine Hand in the separate existence of the Zulu people:


55.) It is plain that responsible opinion is unanimously in favour of the Zulus being established always, retaining what is of good repute in the Heritage that was given them by the other Great Owner of Nations to distinguish the Zulus from other nations in giving them their individuality severally. Thus the Zulus may appear with their own traditional sacred anthem, not an anthem borrowed from other peoples.[52]

These were not, however, the only objectives of the Zulu Society. Perhaps influenced by Rolfes Dhlomo's plea and practice of nearly a decade earlier, a major task of the Society was the collecting of Zulu folklore and traditions for publication, that archetypal activity of the ethnically aware intelligentsia, and in this too, they appear to have received the support of the Chief Native Commissioner for Natal, H.C. Lugg, and his clerk, Carl Faye. Clearly, collecting folklore was far more acceptable an activity than political agitation.

An even more important objective of the Society, as in the case of the Inkatha of the late 1920s, was to gain state recognition of the Zulu monarchy. As the President of the Zulu Society, A.W. Dhlamini, put it. The pivot of the Z.S. is the Paramount Chieftainship of the Zulus.'[53] By 1939 they had so far succeeded that the government agreed to recognize the Regent as the Acting Paramount Chief of the Zulu, although the law made no provision for such a title and it had not been accorded by law to any chief in the Union, 'although it had become the practice in the Transkei for the Chiefs of Eastern and Western Pondoland to assume the title'.[54] For all the triumph of this moment, in the end it was probably its close involvement in the Zulu royal family politics, and especially the politics of the succession, which fatally weakened the Zulu Society in 1948, when the royal family began to back Cyprian as heir to Solomon kaDinizulu, and not Thandayipi, whom the Society had been grooming for the office.[55]

The patronage of Mshiyeni and the Zulu Society's support for him were seen as crucial to the Society's activities. By the second half of the 1930s the Regent had established himself as the key political figure in both Zululand and Natal, capable apparently of quelling 'faction fights', which the government had been unable to suppress for years, the 'kingmaker' both in relation to the elections of the white Senators, like Edgar Brookes, who represented African interests in Parliament, and in relation to elections to the Native Representative Council. No official occasion was complete without his attendance. He and fellow members of the Zulu royal family played a key role in settling the standards of Zulu 'custom' and 'etiquette' and were crucial to the state's policies of co-option and social control.[56]

Behind the talk of etiquette and tradition, however, was a very real concern with the disintegration of the fabric of Zulu life under the impact of proletarianization and urbanization during the 1930s. In particular, as the Charter of the Zulu Society makes clear, there was the fear that the 'departure from wholesome Zulu traditions' meant a lack of discipline in the home. Particularly 'alarming' was the loss of control over women, as 'mothers' of 'our leading men, chiefs and counsellors', and over the young, who 'by force of circumstances, leave their homes at an early age to work in towns and to attend schools'.[57] Only the monarchy, it was thought, could serve as a protection against these forces.

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