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7— Patriotism, Patriarchy and Purity: Natal and the Politics of Zulu Ethnic Consciousness1
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'Bantu Dancing' as a Focus for Ethnic Ambiguity

The same ambiguities which we have already noted in their reaction more widely to the contact between 'western' and African culture can be seen in the response of the African intelligentsia to the introduction by the Natal Department of Education of 'Bantu Dancing' into the syllabus for teacher training in 1948. The matter aroused immediate and passionate debate in the pages of the Natal Native Teachers' Journal . Its inclusion in the syllabus reflected the continued tradition in Natal of encouraging 'ethnic identification' as a mode of social control, and perhaps also the recognition of the growing popularity of ballroom dancing amongst Africans, an aspect of social life which was frowned on by the more puritanical, black and white alike. As S.T.J. Dladla remarked, 'Zulu dancing was loved by the people and should be improved and purified by educated Africans.' Echoing the Charter of the Zulu Society, he continued that it was European ballroom dancing that was 'really objectionable . . . for reasons well known to all'.[78]

His was very much a minority voice in the columns of the Journal however. While the editor clearly supported the departmental initiative, as did the Principal of Nuttal Training School at Indaleni, Mr Gibben, who actually implemented the new syllabus, the reaction of the majority of those Africans who wrote to the Journal on the matter was hostile.[79] The issue brought together concern over the sexuality of the young, the dangers of miscegenation, and above all fears of loss of respectability. As in nineteenth century Europe, 'respectability, particularly in sexual matters . . . played a fundamental role in defining the bourgeoisie as a class'.[80] It was not for nothing that Christian Africans were referred to by their non-Christian neighbours as Amarespectables . The majority condemned the idea of teaching Zulu dancing in school outright, even if they were more ambivalent about its role in Zulu society. As one Elliot E. Ntombela put it:

Indlamu or Primitive Bantu dancing is a mighty intruder in the hands of Educationists. The proper people and place for modernising this primitive art


are The Zulu Cultural Society (Ibandla lika Zulu) . . . even to the supporter of ladlamu himself Mr Gibbins, 'Indlamu or The Primitive Zulu Dance in its naked form is almost immoral' and as such it is quite contrary to the fast growing Cristian [sic] Education in our schools. . . . In other places where the Government has appointed Educated Chiefs, such Primitive Dancing has been exterminated, owing to the numerous immoral absurdities which cannot be tolerated . . . by the majority of true Christians. . . . Personally I do not see any spectacular aspect in Indlamu  . . . that would be an educational, physical, moral or musical incentive sufficient to out-class or equal the present drill taught in our schools or that would warrant the unnecessary task of trying to modernise the unchristian gestures and words of Iudlamu [sic] .[81]

Sidney Ngcongo was even more worried about its implications:

The dancing itself has nothing good in it except muscle development. If you have watched how they dress, and how they dance in that sort of attire you will agree with me that it should be forbidden in schools just as the present English dance is in many institutions. You might have noticed what sort of vulgar language some of the individuals use in praise of their parties in competitive programmes. They use it; and we cannot prevent them from doing it because it is a part of their game.

Another argument is this: parents who send their children to school, do so merely to change them from primitive to civilised. They want them to be Christianised, socialised and educated. They wish to see their children adopting civilised habits. There is no better sign of backwardness than to find the nation still doing what their forefathers did in the case of Africa. A European, passing by car through a proper native country and seeing a mob of Kaffirs with sticks and shields, there and then arrives at the right conclusion about them in his mind.

The joy that a civilised man gets when watching Zulus dance, is the same kind of joy he gets when looking at monkeys playing on the trees. He does not look at them to uplift their standards but to press them further down and merely to amuse himself. Just as he never thinks of improving the monkeys, so it is with the poor African dancing before him.[82]

The fear that they would be regarded as primitive, the desire to appear 'respectable', and sensitivity to racist stereotypes of African culture were dominant also in the words of K.G. Msimang:

 . . . the African people must be very careful not to keep on with customs and beliefs of ancestors which will make them a laughing stock. It is no secret that many people of the other nationalities like to see some of the dances because, as they say, they like to see a bunch of baboons performing, or because they want to see something 'wild' or 'primitive'. No matter to which race we belong, we must remember that all things are not necessarily good because they have come down to us from our ancestors. . . . Finally let us recognise that there is laxity in the matter of sex. On every hand our people are getting used to the idea that sexual experiences are not to be considered too evil, human nature being what it is.[83]

Despite his own social distance and patronizing attitude, Percy Ndhlovu put his finger on an aspect of the psychological colonization involved:

That there are those among educated and civilized Africans who have such an inferiority complex that they imagine their own fellow-men are looked upon as monkeys or baboons when they indulge in primitive dancing, is lamentable. The civilized and educated African should see no shame or disgrace in trying to


uplift his wild fellow-man, by selecting what is good and rejecting what is bad.

When these dances (now regarded as the 'worst') were in full swing, morals were far better than they are at present. . . .[84]

Amongst the few correspondents actually in support of Zulu dancing, M. Shabane set out the case of the cultural nationalists most succinctly:

Any civilized nation or race has its culture and art, including music. It has its own composers, expressing thoughts, feelings and traditions of that particular race or nation. In this no two nations or races can be exactly alike. . . . Unlike the European 'civilized' dance (jitter-bug etc.), the Ingoma Dance is wholesome and quite fitting to African customs and habits in that the Dancers perform, singly and never this 'clutching' of partners, which is quite foreign to the African way of living.[85]

Apart from their sensitivity to European taunts, however, and their need to distance themselves from the popular culture, the opponents of Indhlamu had a deeper and more legitimate objection. They recognized the danger that the encouragement of ethnic identity could have unfortunate and divisive consequences. Sidney Ngcongo maintained that the encouragement of 'warrior tunes' led to a 'fighting spirit' and the eruption of 'faction fights' amongst the youth. This was no figment of the middle-class imagination. 'Tribal wars', as he called them, were an ever-present reality in Natal and not dysfunctional to continued white domination. The deliberate manipulation of ethnic boundaries and chiefly authority by Natal administrators since the mid-nineteenth century had meant that from the end of that century onwards, tensions over land shortage in particular had been expressed in recurrent 'faction fights' both between different so-called tribes and within them between supporters of rival chiefly contenders. The Zulu 'warrior tradition', which glorified violence and battle was, moreover, particularly interwoven with ngoma dancing, based on the war dances (izigiyo ) performed by the regiments as a prelude to combat. Provisions of the Natal Code limiting attendance at gatherings arose from the frequency of the faction fights which followed ngoma dancing which accompanied them.[86]

In Durban, too, by the late 1920s, as Paul la Hausse has shown, ngoma dancing as a form of popular culture and entertainment was closely linked to warlike criminal gangs and to faction fighting, in this case perhaps sparked by competition over jobs. In 1929, C.F. Layman, the Manager of Durban's Native Affairs department, opposed ngoma dancing because the 'congregation of Natives armed with sticks, etc. in towns has almost invariably resulted in serious friction amongst the various towns'. The newly appointed Native Welfare Officer inaugurated a more co-optive strategy in 1933 when he allocated an open-air space for official ngoma dance competitions which were held 'under the careful scrutiny of the NWO, Chief Constable and Borough Police'. According to La Hausse, 'The control of this popular form of recreation served a number of purposes. It provided cheap popular recreation for workers and supplied an alternative to the patronage of shebeens [illicit drinking dens] over weekends, an activity which always carried with it the threat of labour disruption.' Furthermore, the holding of ngoma dance competitions encouraged divisions within Durban's popular classes. Although ngoma dancing in the 1930s continued to be accompanied by sporadic violence, by the late 1940s it had been sufficiently tamed to be contemplated for introduction into schools. At another level, however, the spirit of ethnic hostility which it encouraged was neither controlled nor controllable.[87]

While for much of the twentieth century much popular violence in Zululand/ Natal was expressed in inter-Zulu faction fights, as the intelligentsia forged a


pan-Zulu identity, the same spirit of 'tribalism' with its undercurrents of violence also came to be expressed against the non-Zulu in their midst. Thus, in Down Second Avenue, Zeke Mphahlele records:

I left Adams with a nagging feeling of a strong memory of tribalism that prevailed in Natal. . . . The province is a Zulu country and the bulk of the students at Adams had always been Zulus. They did not like non-Zulu boys and girls coming to the college. They regarded us as foreigners.[88]

Indeed, in the year after this debate flourished in the Natal Native Teachers' Journal, the Principal of Adams College was to ban a dance to commemorate a 'Tshaka Day' ceremony being celebrated by the Zulu Society on campus, for fear that it would inflame 'inter-tribal rivalry'. In the ensuing upheaval, he was forced to suspend some 175 of the male students—out of a total student body of less than 500. The principal was sensitive to the issue, for in June of that year he had expelled two Zulu students who had 'waylaid' and assaulted a Xhosa student, an incident he attributed to 'a little flare-up of intertribal tension'.[89]

A form of Zulu ethnic nationalism which was in part the legacy of the Zulu Society continued to plague even the activities of the ANC in Natal in the early 1950s: at the time, for example, of the Passive Resistance Campaign, it was difficult for the Natal leaders to achieve unanimity on the Natal contribution, because of, as Selby Msimang phrased it, 'the strong anti-Indian feeling in this province', while well into the 1950s African antagonism to Indian men who 'took' their women was intense.[90]

In the poverty-stricken townships around Durban, even more crowded and desperate in the post-war years, the tide of ethnic feeling was to overflow in the anti-Indian riots of 1949. I am not, of course, suggesting that the Zulu Society was in any way either wholly or directly responsible: that would be ludicrous. Its own glorification of a Zulu cultural identity was as much shaped by elements of popular consciousness coming from below as it was a shaping force in the making of that popular consciousness. Like Nairn's nationalists, the Natal intelligentsia used 'what was there'—as did the South African state. The perpetrators of 'ethnic' violence in 1949, as in the present, were, and are, not innocent bystanders or gullible dupes of the state and the intelligentsia. As La Hausse points out, 'in Durban the language of ethnic identity had frequently been interwoven with the language of class solidarity and African nationalism'.[91] Nor is this particularly exceptional: class consciousness takes a specifically cultural form. The problem for Africans in Zululand and Natal, however, was the ways in which a pre-colonial past provided military metaphors for mobilization.

The riots of 1949, like those of more recent date, to which the term 'tribal' has also been affixed, were the outcome of complex forces of which intense poverty and social dislocation were intrinsic. Nevertheless, the 'respectable' debate over the validity of traditional mores resonated with somewhat different pre-occupations at a popular level and legitimated actions which the petty bourgeoisie would be quick to condemn. The fact that the response to these problems has taken an 'ethnic' form is the result not simply of some kind of unchanging and archetypal 'tribalism'. That the responses to poverty and privilege tend to take a 'racial' or 'tribal' form has as much to do with the deliberate manipulation of ethnic rather than other forms of identity by the state and the particular road that the African intelligentsia and political leadership have travelled in Natal.

A comparison between the Natal Bantu Teachers' Association and the Zulu Society with the Cape African Teachers' Association (CATA) in the Eastern Cape is instructive: from being an essentially 'respectable and moderate body' in


the 1930s, by 1949 CATA was the leading element of the by now militant left-wing All Africa Convention. In the Transkei, according to Colin Bundy, teachers played a crucial role as a rural intelligentsia, providing a radical interpretation of the world and integrating peasant struggles against land rehabilitation and cattle-culling with resistance to the state's imposition of chiefs and 'Bantu Education'. The fusion of the more coherent ideology of the intelligentsia with the groundswell of popular discontent intensified Transkeian resistance to the state during the 1940s and 1950s and gave it a very different form to that experienced in Natal.[92] In Natal, to a very considerable extent—although there were, of course, exceptions and a certain radicalization there too—the construction of an ethnic 'answer' to the problems of urbanization and modernity—whether by the Zulu Society or Inkatha—hampered the growth of the kind of radical vision which could have combatted the chauvinism encouraged by the state and the anti-Indian polemic of Natal whites in 1949—or indeed contemporary 'tribal' violence.

previous sub-section
7— Patriotism, Patriarchy and Purity: Natal and the Politics of Zulu Ethnic Consciousness1
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