Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Traditional leaders are often portrayed as an anachronism in the democratic South Africa: superfluous to requirement and outdated. This is despite the fact that the institution’s support remains strong in traditional communities where they continue to play a major role in dealing with social, economic and health problems, particularly in combating the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Let us not forget that one of our country’s greatest liberation icons, Inkosi Albert Luthuli chose to become a traditional leader. It is not widely known that Inkosi Luthuli was not a hereditary traditional leader, but accepted the privilege in order to champion the cause of his people. But then, Inkosi Luthuli had an eye for history and he knew the struggle for liberation began in the late nineteenth century on the grassy flanks of Isandlwana Mountain.
The Anglo-Zulu War has been a constant source of fascination for people from all over the world. In many minds across the globe, the heroism of that war has come synonymous with the emancipation of the Zulu people and, indeed, Africans at large. Armed with their assegais, their rawhide shields and their courage, the Zulus inflicted upon the British the worst defeat a modern army has ever suffered at the hands of men without guns.
Chief among the legends of the Anglo-Zulu War is the Battle of Isandlwana, which we commemorate today. Its principal heroes, the Zulu Impis, wiped out the British Column consisting mainly of soldiers of the 24th Regiment at Rorke’s Drift where the members of the same Regiment had staved off thousands of attacking Zulu warriors and won eleven Victoria Crosses, Britain’s highest award for military prowess.
The Zulus duped the British commander Lord Chelmsford to split his strength, drawing away his main fighting troops, and then descending on the Isandlwana camp in a "horns of the buffalo" formation, attacking from the front but sending other Zulu troops to cut off any British retreat.
One particular credit that often goes unacknowledged belongs to the traditional leaders who mobilised for and even took part in the battle.
The Zulu Kings, since King Cetshwayo, and amaKhosi fought, side by side, to defend our Kingdom and our freedom. King Cetshwayo was the nephew of the legendary warrior King Shaka, the founder of the Zulu nation. The military tradition, nurtured beyond perfection in King Shaka’s time, survived well into King Cetshwayo’s reign.
The King, a peacemaker by temperament, did all that was humanly possible to avoid the Anglo-Zulu War. He was up against white imperialists, like Sir Bartle Frere, who wanted to "break Zulu power once and for all".
King Cetshwayo tried unsuccessfully to sue for peace, but the British colonialists were intent on conquest. King Cetshwayo was, in the end, drawn into war as a reluctant combatant in defence of the integrity of his Kingdom.
He was humiliatingly held as a prisoner in the Castle in Cape Town before travelling to London to make unsuccessful representations to Queen Victoria in the hope of reclaiming his Kingdom. He was attacked shortly after his return to Ulundi and was to die the lonely death of a fugitive in Eshowe.
The history we are commemorating today is very much alive today. I am the paternal great-grandson of the then Prime Minister of the Kingdom and Commander-in-Chief of all the Zulu forces, Mnyamana Buthelezi, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi’s grandfather, who, in turn, was my father.
Amongst those who fought in the battle of Isandlwana was my grandfather, Mkhandumba ka Mnyamana Buthelezi. His half brother, Mntumengana ka Mnyamana died a hero’s death in that battle. Mkhandumba survived to earn the praise: "unoshwila nsimbi ngamlenze esandlwana" – the one who bent the iron with his legs at Isandlwana. Poignantly Mntumengana was buried by Mkhandumba himself.
Other great warriors such as Ntshingwayo ka Mahole Khoza, Commander of the Regiments at Isandlwana, and King Cetshwayo’s brothers, such as Prince Dabulamanzi ka Mpande, distinguished themselves on that day, too.
Antecedents of many of the amaKhosi living today also fought bravely.
Mvundlana, a son of Inkosi Skosana, like Mntumengana Buthelezi, was killed during that great battle, as were many others too numerous to mention by name.
Unburdened by ancient history, today we are more disposed to empathy with the ‘other side’ when the cause is noble. Empathy for the other, we have learned from history, is the beginning of the truest kind of reconciliation. We reflect anew upon the unbreakable bonds of past between the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Zulu nation, forged on these lonely battlefields faraway over a century ago. Their memory will be with us always.
Our nation is (I broaden the definition to include the entire country), I contend, as much ‘a very remarkable people’ today, as when British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made the remark to a shell-shocked House of Commons after the Battle of Isandlwana. The glory of a nation, like an individual, lies in how we rise each time after whatever challenge and tribulation comes our way. In times past, traditional leaders, among other role models, have shown us that there is no hardship we cannot bear or trial we cannot endure if we remain united.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP