Members of the Zulu Royal Family; Amakhosi of the Zulu Nation; Amabutho and Izinduna; Representatives of Government; distinguished guests.

Within the court of King Senzangakhona ka Jama, the royal children were tutored by Inkosi Nqengelele Buthelezi. So it was that my great great grandfather met Prince Sgidi, born to Queen Nandi Ndlovukazi ka Bhebhe. With the passing of King Senzangakhona in 1816, a new chapter opened in the history of the Zulu people. Prince Sgidi ascended to the throne as King Shaka ka Senzangakhona.

Over the next twelve years, King Shaka transformed the Zulu kingdom. He began, through military prowess, to conquer and incorporate fragmented groups into one unified nation. As an astute social engineer, he used marriage, ritual, negotiation, language, propaganda and patronage just as effectively as military attack. By the time of his death, King Shaka ruled over 250 000 people, all of whom identified themselves as members of the Zulu nation.

Under his reign our nation developed a complex, and very effective, social framework which attributed to everyone – man, woman and child – a role, a stake and a responsibility in the good of the whole. Every member of our nation understood where they fit into the system of society, and each individual was valued.

More than 200 years later, the Zulu nation remains, and it remains unified and strong.

The society that King Shaka constructed was built to last, because it was predicated on the ideals of unity, discipline and shared responsibility. It is these ideals that still give strength to our nation. The principle of ubuntu/botho was built into our very foundations. We are, therefore, a people with deep respect for unity, social wellbeing and personal contribution. This makes us great patriots and valuable citizens.

When we celebrate King Shaka, we are celebrating our identity and our inheritance. It is therefore right that this celebration has weight and significance in the calendar of our nation. Under the father of our present King, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu Nyangayezizwe ka Solomon, we first elected to hold an annual three days’ commemoration at the grave of King Shaka.

When I became Chief Minister of the former KwaZulu Government, I consulted with His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, and we proclaimed the 24 th of September as an official public holiday in KwaZulu to commemorate our nation’s founder. Every year, on that day, the Government of KwaZulu held an event to pay tribute to the life and legacy of King Shaka ka Senzangakhona.

But Prince Gideon Layukona ka Mnyayiza ka Ndabuko, the brother of King Cetshwayo, believed that Amakhosi should hold our own event as well, paid for from our own pockets.

This second event would be held after the celebration at KwaDukuza and would be moved from district to district each year, to enable those who could not travel to KwaDukuza to nevertheless honour King Shaka. Thus, 46 years ago, we began this tradition of a second celebration.

We do this as Amakhosi to signify the importance we attach to remembering our heritage.

We, the Amakhosi of the Zulu nation, are the repository of the rich traditions, heritage and culture that were birthed through King Shaka kaSenzangakhona. When each of us accepted leadership within our communities, we shouldered the responsibility of protecting, preserving and honouring his legacy. It has therefore been our duty, for more than 200 years, to fight every threat and harness every opportunity, for the benefit of our people.

We have assumed the responsibility that was carried by our ancestors; a responsibility that we will pass on to the next generation.

King Shaka strategically placed the institution of traditional leadership at the core of good governance. The responsibility of leadership and good governance therefore rests on our shoulders – on the shoulders of Amakhosi – even under a democratic government.

The governance of our people has not been removed from traditional leaders, despite the present government curtailing our role, powers and functions through legislation. Even though they limit our participation in local governance, even though they bar us from voting in municipal councils, traditional leaders still carry the fundamental responsibility for our people.

This is not something a democratic government has bestowed. And it’s not something they can take away. They may be able to tie our hands in terms of resources and legislation, but they can’t change the fact of our authority.

We know the value of traditional leadership. We know the capacity of traditional social structures to protect families from hunger, to unite communities in development
projects, and to create consensus that paves the way for social justice.

The institution of traditional leadership is not a relic of the past. If anyone believes it is, I challenge them to examine the past and consider the unity, peace, prosperity and strength built on the backs of Amakhosi. Then tell me that this is no longer needed in a democratic South Africa.

What do we have today that so efficiently replaces the very effective role of traditional leadership? Have local government structures been able to create food security? Have they eradicated poverty and need? Have they united our people under a common vision? Have they created a sense of ownership, empowerment and participation among our people?

I am not denigrating the role of local governance in serving our people. Many of you know that I am a federalist at heart. I believe in governance from the ground up. My greatest desire for governance in our country is to see local government become more efficient, effective and empowered. But I am aware that one of the greatest tools to achieving that is a genuine partnership between local government and traditional leadership.

It is essential that traditional leaders retain our role. I think for instance of the threat that arose over the land of the Ingonyama Trust when two high level panels recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act be repealed. If that were done, the land that belongs to our people would be taken away and given to the Government. We would be at the mercy of government officials.

Land is a fundamental part of our nation’s identity and wellbeing. The land of the Zulu Kingdom is held in Trust, under the trusteeship of His Majesty the King. We, as the King’s Amakhosi, administer this land on His Majesty’s behalf, ensuring that all our people have enough land to live on, raise families, produce food and run businesses. Communal land provides one of the most fundamental social safety nets, particularly in these times of deep economic distress.

When voices rise against the Ingonyama Trust we need to challenge them. Would it be better for our people to live in sprawling squatter camps, wholly dependent on welfare grants and handouts, vulnerable to both corruption and crime?

It is in those conditions that violence festers, for people live too closely together in poverty and despair. It is there that women and children are most vulnerable.

The crisis of violence against women and children has gripped South Africa. It has reached a tipping point where suddenly we are confronted with the full brutality of our society. The question being asked by experts, politicians and ordinary people is the same: why is this happening? How did our society become so violent?

The answer is complex, but a prominent factor is obvious to us all. South Africans are living under sustained distress and anxiety. This is not a normal way to live. When you need to worry about where your next meal will come from, or how you will feed your children, or send them to school, there is no room for the things that transform a society; things like philosophy, science and innovation. We cannot focus on higher pursuits when our base needs go unmet.

More than that, when our base needs go unmet, day after day, something grows that is ugly and destructive. Hatred of other people, fear of the future and a distorted view of justice. I am not saying that our people who live in poverty have no hope. They have shown us, again and again, that they are capable of extraordinary humanity, selflessness and courage. But if there is no end to the war, the sustained attack will eventually decimate our people.

Our role as Amakhosi is to lead our people, not only in this time of distress, but out of it. When we speak to our people about the legacy of King Shaka we must speak to them about their role in the society that he designed. Let us remember how every individual had a part to play and how everyone was valued. We need to encourageand empower our people to make their contribution, reminding them that the strength of our nation is dependent on us all.

Our fight against poverty demands that we all work, whether we are paid for doing so or not. Much of the work that is done in our families, by mothers, grandmothers and wives, is done without receiving a single cent in compensation. But it is work that sees our children fed, our fields productive and our homes maintained. We need to honour those who labour for the sake of their families and for the sake of our communities.

And we need to learn from their example. Our country is in dire straits. The economy cannot sustain us. There are no jobs to be had. Yet there is work to be done. There are fences to mend. There are houses to build. There are fields to prepare. We cannot sit with idle hands waiting for government to supply. We need to build and grow and assist ourselves; and the only way we can do it is together.

This is the lesson of King Shaka. Unity, social cohesion and shared responsibility. The heritage we have received from King Shaka can secure our future.

I am honoured now to introduce our nation’s King, His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu. May his reign continue in strength.