A brave history

2012-08-29 00:00

THE fate of Zulu in South Africa, where English has become the dominant language, could be compared with that of Gaelic in Ireland.

This was said by Donal McCracken, senior professor at UKZN’s Centre for Communication, Media and Society and “an Irishman in Africa”, at the official opening of the Zulu Literary Museum last week. The museum, which will be housed in the Centre for African Literary Studies (CALS) on the local campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, was opened at the beginning of the 2012 Midlands Literary Festival.

However, though Zulu speakers and readers could learn from what had happened to Gaelic, McCracken said they could take heart from the fact that “Zulu is still widely spoken. It is spoken in the streets, shebeens and supermarkets ... unlike Gaelic it’s not yet an intellectual experiment.”

McCracken quoted Victorian statesman Benjamin Disraeli “who famously said: ‘A very remarkable people the Zulus: they defeat our generals, they convert our bishops, they have settled the fate of a great European dynasty.’ Now we have this Zulu Literary Museum that will reflect the writings of this truly remarkable people.”

Darryl David, discipline head of Afrikaans at the varsity, and the driving force behind the creation of the museum — and the literary festival — said there were precedents for such a museum in the shape of the National English Museum in Grahamstown and the Afrikaans Museum in Bloemfontein, consequently it made perfect sense to have a national Zulu Literary Museum in Pietermaritzburg. “A literary museum is truly the holy grail in literary circles,” said David.

The museum was made possible through sponsorship from Pietermaritzburg-based publisher Shuter and Shooter — once a sister company of The Witness — and its director, Ray Wela, handed over a cheque for R125 000 at the opening, and made a large donation of books.

Shuter and Shooter is a major publisher of Zulu titles. Wela said the first Zulu title from the company was published in 1905 — Bishop John Colenso’s Zulu-English Dictionary. But it was during the thirties that Shuter and Shooter began publishing books in Zulu on a regular basis.

For most Pietermaritzburg residents, the name Shuter and Shooter is associated with a bookshop in Church Street. However, the bookshop, since closed, was only one branch of a company with a long history of book publishing.

As a publisher, Shuter and Shooter was mainly associated with educational books, but it also published general books. Some of them could be regarded as South African classics, such as The Social System of the Zulus by Eileen Krige and Freshwater Fishes of Natal by R.S. Crass.

The company also published several titles by Ruth Gordon, including the ever-popular Dear Louisa. Other titles of note include Vince van der Bijl’s autobiography Cricket in the Shadows, written with John Bishop, The Witness’s then sports editor, and two books by former Witness feature writer David Robbins, Inside the Last Outpost and his CNA award-winner, The 29th Parallel.


Long-time publisher of Zulu literature

Over the past couple of decades, the publishing focus has shifted to education, but in 2007, the company launched a new trade imprint called, simply, Shuter. It was envisaged that a focus of this new imprint would be indigenous language titles, not that the company was a stranger to such a venture. Shuter and Shooter has long published books in Zulu. One of these, uDingane by Rolfes Reginald Raymond Dhlomo, has not been out of print since its first appearance in 1936, the year that also saw the publication of uShembe, a biography of Isaiah Shembe, founder of the Shembe church, by John Langalibalele Dube, founding member and first president of the African National Congress, who was a friend and neighbour of Shembe.

Although it began publishing in the mid-thirties, the origins of Shuter and Shooter are to be found in one of the earliest businesses in Pietermaritzburg, Vause, Slatter and Company, which was established in 1850 as a printing, stationery and music business. The company was taken over in 1921 by L.G. (Gerald) Shuter and it remained Vause, Slatter and Co until, in 1925, R.A. Shooter arrived in response to a job advertisement. The two men went into partnership and changed the company name to Shuter and Shooter.

According to the 1968 book City of Pietermaritzburg, it was Shooter who was responsible for adding publishing to the firm’s activities and in 1936 Shuter and Shooter published books in Zulu aimed primarily at schools. “This was both a long-sighted and brave undertaking: long-sighted in that the development of the Zulu schoolbook market was foreseen and brave because the firm’s capital was already working overtime without the comparatively long-term investment in publishing ventures.”

According to Dave Ryder, a former managing director of Shuter and Shooter, Shooter was a progressive person for the time. “He was a very liberal thinker, at a time when white people thought blacks could not write, let alone have anything important to say.”

In a 2007 Witness article on the firm, Maureen Nel, the daughter of Shuter, said her father was also supportive of the move. “He always thought this an important milestone both for the firm and for education in this country, and he was very proud of the fact they had done this.”

Although uDingane remains the title longest in print, Shuter and Shooter also published several other titles by Dhlomo, including uShaka, uMpande, uCetshwayo and uDinizulu. Dhlomo, the brother of writer Herbert Dhlomo, was born in Edendale and was also a respected journalist and short-story writer. He was also the first black South African to publish a novel in English, An African Tragedy, published by the Lovedale Press in 1928.

Another important Zulu writer published by Shuter and Shooter was Cyril Nyembezi. After resigning from his post at Fort Hare University in protest against the introduction of apartheid education, Nyembezi joined Shuter and Shooter initially as editor of African languages. As a writer, he is best known for his novel Inkinsela YaseMgungundlovu (The Rich Man of Maritzburg) which was adapted for television and became a popular series on Radio Zulu. In all he wrote over 20 books, including two other novels and several volumes of poetry. He edited several anthologies and translated Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country into Zulu. He also compiled two dictionaries — The Compact Zulu Dictionary and Scholars Zulu Dictionary — with G.R. Dent. In 1992, came his definitive Zulu dictionary Isichazimazwi Sanmuhla Nangomuso.

His colleague, Dent, also translated Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island into Zulu under the title Isisulu Sabaphangi. Other Zulu titles of interest include Isabelo Sikazulu by Petros Lamula, Amasiko Esizulu by T.S. Masondo and Uzwelonke by J.A.W. Nxumalo.

Speaking at last week’s function, Wela said the Zulu History Museum is “important for our children and the future, and for the preservation of our language”.


A rare and ‘quite unique’ collection

CALS provides an ideal home for the museum as it boasts one of the largest repositories of African literature in the world. Opened in 2004, the centre came into being to house the collection of Bernth Lindfors, one of the largest private collections of African literature. It has been described by bibliographer Hans Zell as “a rare and quite unique collection, unparalleled in the world”.

The acting director of CALS, Christine Stilwell, describes CALS as a place “where people can experience and celebrate African identity and achievement”. In addition: “It provides a view of the wider Africa for local students and scholars.

“The launch of the Zulu Literary Museum will provide an opportunity to focus on Zulu literature and begin building a very fine collection that does credit to the literary tradition in our province.”

Stilwell also acknowledged the role of the National Library of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal Provincial and Public Library and Information Service and UKZN libraries for the donation and loan of material in Zulu.

The addition of the Zulu Literary Museum to the city’s cultural bouquet could make Pietermaritzburg a possible candidate for being recognised as a Unesco “city of literature”, according to David, who said the city had a strong literary heritage, not only born out by the writers it has produced, but evidenced by an annual literary festival, an annual arts festival, the presence of publishing companies, plus the oldest daily newspaper in the country, The Witness — “which also runs an annual story competition” — as well as institutions such as the Alan Paton Centre and CALS.

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