King Zwelithini stokes fires of Zulu nationalism

One has never been so relieved to see the sight of Lillian Dube and Desmond Dube.

At the end of a marathon day of Zulu nationalists spewing bile and threatening fire and brimstone, the ubiquitous TV funeral policy adverts featuring the duo were a great life relief.

It was almost a reminder that we still live in the real world and not in the world of ethnic fantasists.

So thank you Lillian and Desmond, but that’ll be the first and last time you ever get gratitude from this end.

Let’s rewind a little. On Wednesday King Goodwill Zwelithini hosted an “imbizo of the Zulu nation” in Ulundi, a show of strength against the national government, the ANC and political parties.

The pretext for the imbizo was to mobilise resistance to proposals that the Ingonyama Trust Act be revisited in order to ensure it does not infringe on the rights of those citizens who live in area under its jurisdiction.

Without going into the merits or otherwise of such an intervention it is worth recording that the Ingonyama Trust – which was birthed by a corrupt deal between the National Party and its surrogate Inkatha Freedom Party when apartheid was on its deathbed – deprives South Africans living in its lands of rights enjoyed by other citizens of the republic.

The real beneficiaries of this deal are corrupt traditional leaders, the inner clique that runs the trust, businesspeople who use their connections to access the mineral rights on trust land, and of course King Goodwill Zwelithini the Great himself.

But the thing that should concern South Africans is the sinister mobilisation around the Ingonyama Trust debate.

The whole saga is being used as the fulcrum for King Zwelithini’s quest for modern-day relevance and his insatiable quest for power and self-aggrandisement.

And how best to do that: stoke the potent fires of Zulu nationalism.

Like the cantankerous chief from Mahlabathini and Duduzane Zuma’s morally bereft father, Zwelithini is tapping into the well of nationalistic pride that unfortunately still courses through the blood of the people of the coastal province.

The choice of date and venue for the fire-stoking imbizo was most significant.

Wednesday was the 139th anniversary of the destruction of King Cetshwayo’s capital by the British empire, an emotive and painful event in Zulu history.

The total erasure by fire of Ulundi by Lord Chelmsford’s forces in 1879 marked the end of the Zulu kingdom and the beginning of the subjugation and humiliation of Zulus by the colonists, who divided KwaZulu into mini kingdoms.

The tragic story of that occasion is passed on from generation to generation in those tones that every defeated people tell children so they “never forget”.

But it has never been given prominence of place in Zulu commemorations until the arbitrary number of 139 came around.

Symbolically and hyperbolically for Zwelithini and his fellow travellers, the Zulu kingdom faces the same catastrophe in 2018 as it did in 1879.

The evil forces are massed at the gates of the capital. Except that this time they are not red-clad soldiers armed with heavy artillery but democrats armed with the Constitution and the laws that it underpins.

These democrats – these damn constitutionalists – are the new Queen Victorias and the Lord Chelmsfords of this era.

And Zwelithini, the monarch who is pampered to the tune of R66 million annually by the South African state that apparently hates him so much, is the modern-day version of the valiant King Cetshwayo.

If you listened to the speeches delivered on Wednesday – and in previous speeches by Zwelithini and others who back his agenda – the Constitution and democracy are the worst things that have happened to the people of this good republic.

The gathering in Ulundi resembled one of those Jacob Zuma courthouse rallies. Crooks and crackpots took turns denouncing the democratic order.

Even Carl Niehaus, who increasingly looks like he was among those AWB kommandos who survived the Bophuthatswana rout in 1993, turned up to offer comic relief for all gathered and those watching at home.

Does the man not realise how clownish he looks? Surely someone has to love him enough to tell him.

Actually the whole thing in Uundi would just be very funny if it wasn’t so potentially deadly.

There was the one guy who impressed himself with his lecture about how Zulu was the biggest language in Africa after Swahili and, by extension, the biggest when its proximity to other Nguni languages was taken into account.

By virtue of this, the Zulu king should take over as head of state in 2019 and the elections should be about choosing a prime minister.

Another one said all land in KwaZulu-Natal – from Ingwavuma to Port Shepstone – should be handed over to the king and he pledged support for funeral undertakers who were kicking other races out of townships because only “Zulus must bury Zulus”.

We heard that the Zulu king is God’s representative on earth and if he says it must rain the clouds will start gathering within five minutes. If only the Cape Town water planners knew.

There was even a suggestion of secession, not a strategic thing to say on the eve of the Durban July when the province’s blessees welcome loaded blessers from the rest of this united South Africa.

However, no condemnation of the constitutional republic is complete without the regurgitation of the assaults on the worst evils of the democratic order: abortion (the result of loose girls who don’t value their virginity); social grants (related to the former) and of course men marrying men (let the heavens fall).

Crazy is crazy but crazy is also ominous. Some of the worst figures in human history were considered loonies until they convinced a significant number of people to help them do enormous harm.

In Ulundi there were strong undertones of “don’t push us too far or else”.

Almost every speaker spoke about a commitment to peace and no intention to turn this defence of Ingonyama Trust into a violent struggle; statements which themselves spoke volumes.

The underlying theme was that the Zulu king and the Zulu nation were under siege and should be defended with the courage of the soldiers who built and defended the old Zulu kingdom until that tragic day in July 1879.

There was an enemy, or enemies, of the Zulu people out there who wanted to seize the kingdom just like the British did.

The Zulu people trusted the 1994 settlement, believing it would benefit everyone but were now finding out they were duped.

Do not provoke us. Do not provoke us. Do not provoke us.

Subliminal war talk was very much on the lips of the two main speakers. The cantankerous chief, who knows a thing or two about mass violence, went to lengths to explain what a peaceful man the king was and how peaceful his subjects were.

The king’s uncle told us that his nephew had ruled for 46 of the last 50 years of humankind.

In all these 46 years he had not once summoned his troops to war. The warriors had never had to have their wounds washed during his reign.

Grateful we all are to His Majesty.

Anyone who knows the cantankerous chief’s modus operandi and language knows what he means when he waxes about his aversion to violence and his love of peace. We’ll just leave it at that.

Then came the craziest address of the day, the speech by Mr Party himself – or “Us’ngaye”, as they say in the mother tongue.

King Zwelithini’s speech was a monologue of victimhood. This lowly newspaperman won’t bore you with the sad, tear-jerking details but it was a lament about what a raw deal post-1994 South Africa had been for Zulus, who had experienced hatred and from time to time been treated “like animals”.

Statements like “they have never loved us”, “tell us if Zulus are still needed in this country”, “are we a nuisance”, “are our customs a disturbance”, “is our pride a disturbance” peppered his sorry speech.

“What have we done as Zulus?” asked the selfless leader, challenging the foe “to face me directly and leave the Zulu people alone”.

The king will now be going around the country urging his subjects to stand up for the kingdom.

He has urged all sectors to rise including taxi drivers, women, traditional leaders, security force members, journalists and analysts, taxi drivers and truckers (abashayeli bamaloli).

Zwelithini, who spoke glowingly about the glorious battles of the Zulu armies, gave a clarion call on this symbolic day telling the government, political parties and anyone who hadn’t quite got the message: “Listen to what the Zulu people have to say. This is the day that the Zulus took their power back.”

With that Zwelithini – who does not believe his position should be subservient to an elected president and have his affairs governed by a legislature, who believes Ingonyama Trust board members should not be interrogated by Parliament and who believes he is grossly underfunded – sent a warning to South Africa’s constitutional order and to the unitary republic.

He does not recognise it and plans to chart a different path for the people he claims as his own.

How will the constitutional order respond? How does unitary South Africa respond?

This article first appeared in the City Press on 5 July 2018.

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