Zulus give SA an edge in cultural tourism

2010-06-08 07:56

Spear-wielding warriors pour over the hilltops to attack a startled

red-coat army in a battlefield re-enactment that hopes to lure World Cup fans

away from the stadiums between matches.

South Africa’s 19th-century battlefields gave birth to the Zulu

nation, as military genius King Shaka brought together a large swath of the

country under his rule, only to clash with the British colonisers.

Zulus are now South Africa’s largest ethnic group, at 24% of the

population, and their history and culture are being turned into a tourist


Anglo-Zulu battlefields, and Shaka’s grave and birthplace, now

anchor a tourism trade in eastern KwaZulu-Natal that aims to give foreigners a

slice of history and rural South African life.

The province is the most popular vacation destination for South

Africans, but struggles to lure foreign visitors away from Cape Town and the

winelands on the western coast. Zulu culture has become a key attraction, say

tourist officials.

“Cultural tourism has seen a steady rise over the past eight years.

We are hoping that the World Cup will expose us to new markets and clients,”

said William Adams, a tour guide for Springbok Atlas Tours.

On the Isandlwana Anglo-Zulu war fields, spear-wielding warriors

battle red coats in battle re-enactments that show how the British were

overpowered in 1879 in one of their worst colonial defeats.

Visitors can try stick-fighting, drink home-brewed sorghum beer,

and eat bull’s head meat and intestines.

“Offering something off the beaten track is our major advantage. We

are up against all sorts of competitors, so we need to stand out,” said Leo

Kroone, owner of Phezulu Village and Safari Lodge. “The Zulu culture is a known


Marketing Zulu culture is one way of drawing tourists to the

tropical coast, where winter temperatures in June and July remain balmy while

much of South Africa is cold, say tourist officials.

Phezulu, which means “high” in Zulu, sits on a hilltop 35km outside

Durban, which will host seven World Cup matches.

At Phezulu, also known as the Valley of a Thousand Hills, guests

sleep in modernised thatched cottages, similar to old-style Zulu huts – except

for the giant television screen set up on the grounds so fans can watch


Some fear that selling an outdated image of Zulus borders on

stereotyping, and ignores the dynamic reality of South Africa’s increasingly

urban culture.

President Jacob Zuma, modern South Africa’s first Zulu leader,

practises polygamy and wears traditional leopard skins at his weddings.

“Some of these commercial places do not have the interest of

culture at heart.

They want to come and show the gullible tourists about how the

other sides live,” says Sihawu Ngubane, a professor of Zulu language and culture

at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“In some cases, historic facts are twisted in a bid to tell the

most compelling story. That is exploitation,” he says.

But KwaZulu tourism chief Ndabo Khoza says the increase in cultural

tourism is simply meeting the demand from tourists who increasingly express an

interest in local life.

“Foreign visitors are intrigued by the rich history of the Zulus,

particularly the colonial wars and traditions,” says Khoza.

“The site is popular with British tourists, but locals also come

here to marvel at the Zulu prowess,” says Khoza.

“We are hoping to build on the success of the World Cup to increase

the number of future foreign visitors.

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