Mondli Makhanya

The dangers of Zulu nationalism

2018-02-18 06:09
Mondli Makhanya

Mondli Makhanya

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A dark secret I have harboured for some time is how I nodded in approval when Spanish police brutalised Catalan secessionist protesters last year.

This was partly due to my disdain for Barcelona FC, the team that has become the symbol of Catalan independence and which lends political support to this cause. But the main reason was that the quest for the independence of Catalonia reminded me of similar backward campaigns here at home.

I’ve told this story before, but it is worth repeating in these perilous times. Back in the day, schools which fell under the KwaZulu Bantustan had on their syllabus a non-examinable subject called ubuntu-botho. This was ostensibly about values.

In a 1987 article Praisely Mdluli explained the origins of ubuntu-botho. He says the syllabus was drawn up by the Inkatha-affiliated Natal Africa Teachers Union in conjunction with the Inkatha-affiliated School Inspectors’ Association of KwaZulu and Inkatha-leaning academics from the University of Zululand. It was adopted by 1 500 Inkatha-supporting educationalists at an Inkatha-sponsored summit.

He quotes one of the subject books explicitly stating that the purpose was to indoctrinate young minds into Inkatha’s ideology.

“Today Inkatha has a youth section. Even at schools we are now taught about Inkatha. If we have respect, and we are clean, picking up papers at school, dedicated to our lessons, having good relationships among ourselves, and not telling lies about each other, we will then be good and honest Inkatha members,” the passage reads.

I remember how, in lower primary school, we looked forward to these Inkatha lessons because they would always end with our marching around the schoolyard, singing praises to Inkatha and its leader. We loved this because it involved singing and time out of the classroom.

The best cadres in an age group would be sent to Emandleni-Matleng camp in Ulundi for advanced coaching. They would invariably land up in leadership positions in the Inkatha Youth Brigade. That camp, by the way, is where death squads were trained.

Besides the undesirability of filling young minds with political poison, the other danger was the raw brand of Zulu nationalism that was inculcated in those lessons. We were taught to live our lives in pursuance of the noble dream of the restoration of the glory of the old Zulu kingdom. Inkatha would be the vehicle for this solemn mission and its leader our never-faltering guide. Anyone who opposed the party and its leader was the enemy.

Fortunately, campaigning by progressive student and teacher organisations put paid to this syllabus in most urban areas by the mid-1980s. It continued in rural areas, the fiefdoms of traditional leaders who ruled with iron fists. Zombies were bred in those classes and they became part of the armies that terrorised communities countrywide. Told that they were fighting for king and kingdom, they were in fact a vital part of the apartheid regime’s killing machine.

With the demise of Inkatha in the democratic era and the supposed “persecution” of a son of the kingdom by powerful people in the ANC, the raw brand of Zulu nationalism returned in the early 2000s. When faced with the might of the law, he resorted to ethnic mobilisation. The ranks of the ANC were flooded with ethnic nationalists from Inkatha who wanted to defend kith and kin.

For the first time in its history, a senior leader of an organisation that had the death of the “demon of tribalism” as one of its founding principles was openly embracing it. Once he was at the helm of the party and the country, he used the ethnic card to maximum effect, unashamedly making sure that his province always had his back. His re-election as head of the ANC in 2012 was largely on the back of the swelling of numbers in KwaZulu-Natal by those proud to have one of their own at the top.

Whenever the man faced challenges, he would show up in KwaZulu-Natal and rally the troops. He played this dangerous and cynical game well. He had been playing it in recent months and weeks. He stopped just short of threatening to press the engage button.

We know the man is dangerous and cares not a jot about the country and its people. We know he will not hesitate to pull the Zulu nationalism trigger as the cantankerous chief from that province loved to do. We should prepare for that eventuality once his fraud and corruption trial begins and the state capture commission implicates him in more criminal activities.

A greater worry is the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal embracing these barbaric tendencies. The party’s interim provincial leadership is planning a “welcome back” celebration for “this son of the soil” who has been “a victim of political persecution” and “was attacked from several fronts”.

Which begs the questions: welcome back from where? The South Africa he was running? Son of which soil, when South Africa is a unitary state? Politically persecuted by whom, when he was the most powerful person in the land for nearly a decade? How was he “attacked” when all his opponents did was use democratic space to hold him to account?

Sihle Zikalala and his fellow provincial lords know they are playing a deadly game. They know full well they are stirring the fires of Zulu nationalism. This is a fire that will not be easily put out and that may even consume those who lit and fanned it.

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