Honoured at last

2008-09-19 00:00

In 2006, during the commemoration of the 1906 Bhambatha Poll Tax Uprisings, the construction of a statue of King Dinuzulu for the lower Berea in Durban was commissioned. The statue will be erected next to that of General Louis Botha, the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Born in 1868, Dinuzulu became king of the Zulus in May, 1884, following the death of his father, King Cetshwayo on February 8, 1884. On February 11, 1884, Cetshwayo’s brothers, princes Ndabuko, Shingana, Ziwedu, Mahanana, Dabulamanzi and Sitheku approached Melmoth Osborne, the British representative at Eshowe, with the message that, before he died, Cetshwayo had anointed Dinuzulu as his successor to the throne.

The princes or abantwana did this in the common belief among the Zulus at that time that the action by King Shaka in 1828 to send Sotobe kaMphangalala Sibiya on a diplomatic mission to King George of England had established close ties between the Zulus and the English. So the message to Osborn was more of a courtesy call than a request for approval.

The message was met with resistance from the British and the colonial authorities in Natal. They did not recognise Dinuzulu. Neither did the successive colonial, union and apartheid governments, until the democratic government did in 1994 and the KwaZulu–Natal provincial government in 2005 with the passing of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Act.

When Dinuzulu ascended the throne in 1884, he, unknowingly, stepped right into the centre of global issues at play at the time. The world’s superpowers were meeting in Brussels to stage the biggest colonial scramble for land — the scramble for Africa.

By 1885, a microcosmic replication of the Brussels Conference was taking place in Zululand, with the Boers, the Germans and the British all claiming land there. This was made worse by the Zulu Civil War of 1883 to 1888, between Usuthu and Mandlakazi. So, Dinuzulu reigned over a wanted asset and he was attacked from all quarters.

In May 1884, the young king spent his time defending whatever remained of Shaka’s legacy. He was humiliated many times by the British authorities, especially by Governor Arthur Havelock. On November 9, 1887, Havelock had a conference with the king during which Dinuzulu told him that he, Dinuzulu, was the rightful successor to the throne of Shaka’s kingdom, Havelock replied: “Such a thing is now impossible. Dinuzulu must know … that the rule of the House of Shaka is a thing of the past.”

Despite the insults, a diplomatic Dinuzulu kept his options open. He undertook diplomatic missions to the Boers of the New Republic led by Lucas Meyer, even though the Boers had grabbed land at eMakhosini, the cradle of Zulu history.

Dinuzulu enjoyed unwavering support from the women of Bishopstowe, the Colenso sisters, Harriette, Agnes and Frances. The sisters were the daughters of Bishop John Colenso, who had publicly recognised African thought patterns and symbolism as being part of the modern world. He was dismissed by the Anglican Church as a bishop who, having been sent to convert the Zulus had, in fact, been converted by the Zulus. The Colenso family forms a permanent feature of the story of the Zulu people and the people of KwaZulu–Natal, and they are proof that it is dangerous to define society and politics according to racial stereotypes.

In 1888, after Zululand had been annexed, Dinuzulu ascended Mount Ceza in Mahlabathini. He made preparations to end the civil war in majestic victory and to challenge the warrant of arrest against him and his uncles Ndabuko and Shingana. It was a religious turning point when, on June 21 that year, Dinuzulu became the first Zulu king to pray to a Christian god. His chaplain, Reverend Paul Mthimkhulu read scripture from the Bible and preached a Christian sermon to Dinuzulu and the Usuthu army of 10 000 men. This was followed by a prayer. This is relevant to the invitation extended to the congregations to join the King Dinuzulu prayer tomorrow, following the official unveiling of the statue.

The following day Dinuzulu marched on Nongoma and ended the civil war in great victory. He proceeded northwards to oPhongolo where he dismissed and disintegrated the Zulu army, which had met for the last time in history under the command of a king.

Now a converted Christian, Dinuzulu was arrested, tried and sentenced for treason. Imprisonment at St Helena island followed. These were years of mass social transformation on the part of the king in particular and Zulu society in general. The king exchanged his traditional garb for suits, learnt to read, write and play the piano and collaborated with the amakholwa communities, featuring the likes of Dr John Langalibalele Dube and Dr Pixley ke Isaka Seme.

For Zulu society in general, its capacity to defend itself was severely damaged. The 1890s saw more than 80% of land being grabbed and distributed among white farmers, cattle were dying of diseases, young men were being absorbed by migrant labour and African poverty was being created everywhere.

The Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 complicated matters even further, almost entirely crippling the economy of the land. And so Poll Tax was imposed against which Bhambatha and many others rebelled in 1906. Dinuzulu was implicated. He was arrested in December 1907, tried in 1908 and sentenced to a heavy fine and four years’ imprisonment.

In 1910 the Union of South Africa was born and Botha became its first prime minister. One of his first acts was to release the king from prison, sending him into exile in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, where he died on April, 1913, at the age of 45.

The African National Congress recognised Dinuzulu at its formation in 1912 by electing him, in absentia, as an honorary life president of the movement, in recognition of the role he had played in the struggle for liberation. This statue is part of the continuous recognition of traditional leadership by the democratic government in general, and in particular, for a king who experienced it all, but kept on fighting for the dignity of his people, their land and the royal house.

• Sibusiso Ndebele is the premier of KwaZulu-Natal.

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