The king’s speech: a different view

2012-01-26 00:00

I WAS present on Sunday when King Zwelithini delivered his address at Sandlwana. To fully understand that speech one must give a brief historical background. The speech was delivered at the battlefield site where 133 years ago on January 22, 1879, the Zulu warriors of King Cetshwayo, armed with spears and shields, defeated the British army armed with the most modern weapons of those days, killing 580 of them plus hundreds of Zulu traitors from the Natal colony.

Before going to the battlefield at Sandlwana the Zulu regiments were united having vomited into one hole and that being prepared and mixed with medicines by the Zulu war doctors for them to be bound together and fight the invaders united, i.e, with one purpose and love of their country. Those regiments comprised all able-bodied men irrespective of their sexual orientation since discrimination based on sexual orientation was strictly prohibited in the Zulu kingdom. For this people must read oral history evidence on Zulu history at the Killie Campbell Africana Library and Pietermaritzburg Archive depot.

Having in mind the foregoing history, King Zwelithini warned the audience about ukuhlukumezana versus ukuthandana, i.e abusing each other as opposed to loving one another. He elaborated fully on how in the olden days in the Zulu kingdom boys and girls were brought up properly as opposed to today where there is rape and people abuse each other irrespective of sexual orientation. He focused most of his address on moral behaviour among his subjects and the love of one another, even mentioning passages in the Holy Bible.

From the beginning to the end of his speech, King Zwelithini never mentioned gays and lesbians. The Zulu word for gays and lesbians is ongqingili; the singular is ungqingili. This term has been used among the Zulu people from the time immemorial. Later on ongqingili were referred to as i zitabane plural and isitabane singular. A third term has lately been added, namely izinkonkoni, singular inkonkoni. King Zwelithini never used a single one of these words. In short, he never mentioned gays and lesbians in his speech. He could have easily done so if he wanted to speak about them, but his speech was directed at the moral behavior of the nation.

In scrutinising the documents on Zulu Oral History at the Killie Campbell Africana Library one finds that all the Zulu kings never made an issue about ongqingili. They never even called meetings where gays and lesbians were to be treated differently from other Zulu people or mistreated in any way. It is true that in some parts of the Zulu kingdom gays and lesbians were harassed, but nobody could have dared kill them because the death penalty was the prerogative of the kings and nobody else. People were to be treated equally, all conscripted into the Zulu army to fight wars when called upon to do so. Thus, ongqingili were also part of the Zulu army which defended the Zulu kingdom from foreign invaders.

In conclusion, it has been suggested in the media that the allegation that King Zwelithini’s so-called slur against gays and lesbians was probably caused by ignorance of the Zulu language and correct translation of Zulu into the English language. I differ from that view. The gays and lesbians issue was brought about by people who look down upon King Zwelithini, and or who have grudges about what happened at Sandlwana 133 years ago. It was brought to the fore to tarnish his image worldwide.

• Jabulani Maphalala is a retired professor of history at the University of Zululand and is is currently a commissioner looking into disputes and claims by traditional leaders.

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