Vol. 6 of Stuart Archives released

2014-11-03 00:00

THE archive left by former Natal civil servant James Stuart has proved a gold mine for historians and, more recently, lawyers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Stuart collected oral evidence from around 200 people. The resulting archive has been described as “one of the richest sources available” on the language, “literature and the history of the African peoples of Natal, Zululand and Swaziland”.

Now the sixth volume of The James Stuart Archive, edited by Colin Webb and John Wright, has been published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. Though not the final volume, it brings to an end the evidence published in alphabetical name order.

Volume Six is notable for containing evidence from Socwatsha ka Papu, which accounts for just over 200 of the book’s 450 pages, and said Wright was “Stuart’s main informant, and his first, from 1897 until 1922”.

“He was a government man rather than the resister,” said Wright adding that Socwatsha was a member of resident commissioner in Zululand Melmoth Osborn’s staff in Zululand in the 1880s and later with the Native Affairs Department in Pietermaritzburg.

“But he was an alert and critical government man.”

Wright said Socwatsha’s testimony is particularly valuable for his information on the rise of the Zulu Royal House in the 19th century. “It’s a view from the side as it were.”

The first volume of the archive was published in 1976, part of a project begun under the impetus of Webb, assisted by Wright, to bring material in the Stuart archive held in the UKZN’s Campbell Collections to publication.

After Webb died in 1992, the task was continued by Wright, now a retired history lecturer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, known for his work on pre-colonial southern Africa and who holds research posts at UKZN and the universities of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town

The Stuart archive has been much in demand over the last decade or so by lawyers and land claimants because of the information they contain. “I’ve been involved in a couple of cases and given workshops in KwaZulu-Natal,” said Wright. “Suddenly pre-colonial historians are in demand. Nobody has noticed us for some time.”

There is still a further published volume to follow, containing the praise songs omitted from the previous six.

“The praises range from the late 18th century and the time of King Senzangakhona to 1910 and the praises of King Dinuzulu.”

Wright said there could be further volumes. “It’s not the end of the historical material.”

• The James Stuart Archive Volume 6, edited and translated by C. de B. Webb and J.B. Wright, is published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press and Killie Campbell Africana Library.

• Stephen.Coan@witness.co.za

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