Careless with our history

2014-10-20 00:00

SOME people complain that the Zulu language is not given the respect it deserves, but I have also observed that some of those same people unnecessarily speak more in English than in Zulu.

Some people complain that not enough books are being written in Zulu (and other indigenous languages), but when the books are available, not many buy them.

And there are people who get worked up about “our history”, but ask them a simple factual historical detail and they go blank.

The fact is, I can research and come up with the dates related to the kings and queens of England in a matter of minutes, from the current House of Windsor backwards to the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Hanover and so on. Even information beyond the 15th century is available, sometimes in shockingly trivial detail.

Here at home, one can easily get information on the British settlers of the 19th century, but try to research some of the recent prominent people or events; you either get nothing or get a jumble.

It is a no-brainer that information on the former will likely still be available for many centuries to come, but as for the recent prominent people and events, it is a given that they will disappear without a trace.

Here’s an example of what is happening right now. I am among those who are confused about his majesty’s birthday. I am not finding any explanation for this confusion, and I do not understand why it is being allowed to continue like this. This is embarrassing because here we are talking about the reigning king of the Zulu nation, the “rhino that comes out of the game reserve”, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu.

If I am this confused, what will be the case with the generations that come after me?

But let me say this now, my confusion may be my fault. I may be missing something and, if that is the case, I am highly receptive to being enlightened.

All sources consulted to-date agree that the king was born in July, 1948. But then they divide into two groups, one saying his birth date was July 14 and the other saying it was July 27.

I would not be this troubled if what I suppose to be among the authoritative sources of this history, the museums and his majesty’s authorised biography, at least concurred. But no, these sources also do not agree. Generally, the sources online tell you that the king was born on July 14. They include the websites zuluculture, Wikipedia, whoswho, and the South African History Online (SAHO).

On March 24 this year, I presented to SAHO both dates and requested it to establish which was which. The response was a quick: “Our references are clear that it is the 14th July”, and it cited its 1992 source by Gastrow S., titled Who’s Who in South African Politics.

When newspapers reported on the king’s wedding, Sunday World and the Sunday Times went with the July 14 date, while the Sunday Tribune said the king celebrated his birthday on July 27.

According to Isolezwe (Zulu newspaper), particularly in 2008 when his majesty turned 60, and in 2012, the king’s birthday is July 27.

In 2013, the Ingonyama Trust published, in at least Isolezwe and The Witness , birthday wishes for the king for July 27. At the time of writing this column, the trust’s website is still running the king’s birthday wishes for July 27, 2013.

According to the permanent display at the Ncome Museum in Dundee, and a 2008 temporary exhibition at the Local History Museum in Durban, the king was born on July 14. But the king’s authorised biography, published in 2003, which among its authors includes professors O.E.H.M. Nxumalo and C.T. Msimang, the king was born on July 27.

Could it happen that maybe both dates are relevant and there is some explanation as is the case with the reigning British queen? Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, 1926, but she also has what they call the official birthday, which is not a universally fixed day.

Information is readily available that she was born at 2.40 am, and not just in London, but the exact address is 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair.

I so hope it is me who is missing something here, because if not, then this is a tragedy. This is the time to show (not just say) that we care about our history.

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