Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Last Saturday’s unveiling of a statue to my maternal grandfather, King Dinuzulu, highlighted, I believe, a glaring lacuna in the story of our liberation struggle. I have been concerned for quite some time about the manner in which we are doing ourselves a great disservice when we confine the memories of our struggle to what we did only in the latter part of the last century.
Indeed, as we survey the country, we see that entire chunks of the story of our liberation struggle – the story of the indigenous peoples of South Africa – are missing. In the long twilight struggle for freedom there were personalities, heroes and heroines – the dramatis personae of their time – who have not been given the historical recognition that they deserve.
Let us go east first, dear reader, and recall the contribution of the amaXhosa struggle heroines and heroes in the so-called "Kaffir Wars" of the Eastern Cape.
The first frontier war broke out in 1780 and marked the beginning of the Xhosa struggle to preserve their traditional customs and way of life. It was a struggle that was to increase in intensity when the British arrived on the scene.
Today their names are hardly mentioned and their brave deeds are not honoured. I think of King Sekhukhuni of the Pedi who displayed the courage of a lion in putting up a resistance. The story of King Sekhukhuni’s resistance even reached the ears of King Cetshwayo who, in turn, sent King Sekhukhuni a message of encouragement and some gold sovereigns.
King Hintsa ka Phalo was a gallant nineteenth century ruler of South Africa’s Xhosa Tribe. He died a gruesome death at the hands of the British Army in 1835. He was shot dead by British troops reportedly after surrendering to them. His death marked the sixth out of the nine bloody frontier wars that amaXhosa waged fiercely against the brooding British troops.
The courageous struggle of the Khoisan people is yet another example of a largely ignored history.
Today Robben Island, a World Heritage Site, serves as one of the iconoclastic monuments of our liberation struggle. It is synonymous with the name Nelson Mandela. Yet there are heroes who were incarcerated there even in the 19th century, such as Inkosi Siyolo of the Ndlambe people and Inkosi Maqoma. How many of our young people know these names?
The point that I am making is that the struggle for our liberation is both long and distinguished. By not giving sufficient credit to the heroes and heroines of the previous centuries, we, ironically, diminish the titanic struggle which our people waged over so many generations.
I fear we are doing ourselves a grave injustice when we confine the heroism of the struggle to the men and women who contributed so remarkably only in the latter years. One could consider the struggle that the Afrikaners waged against British colonialism. The memory of its heroes stretches back to its very beginnings.
In the past, the great monarchs of the Zulu nation led our people through both tragic and glorious moments in our history. They were the progenitors of our struggle for liberation which began with the Act of Union in 1910 and they served to inspire the establishment and character of many of our struggle organisations.
I recount this because I am concerned that many South Africans and, particularly, young people, do not grasp the historical roots of our liberation struggle which hark back to previous centuries.
We rightly venerate the struggle heroines and heroes of the twentieth century like Bishop Alphaeus Zulu, Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Reverend James Calata, Dr Wilson Zamindlela Conco, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, Dr John Langalibalele Dube, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Professor ZK Mathews, Ruth First, Helen Joseph and Helen Suzman, to name just a few.
Inkosi Luthuli beautifully summed up the aim of the struggle by describing it as being for neither black nor white supremacy, but rather for a common South African multi-racial society, based on friendship, equality of rights and mutual respect.
I, as some of my readers will know, prefer the analogy of the new South Africa as a delectable salad of delicious but different ingredients, rather than the more famous Rainbow Nation vision. This equally applies to the rich and textured narrative of our liberation struggle.
To return to my own heritage, the Zulu nation fought for its inalienable right to our God-given land and for freedom and liberty. Thirty one years after the Battle of Blood River, my great-grandfather King Cetshwayo was defeated by the British colonial powers who then proceeded to divide our Kingdom into kinglets in a cynical exercise of "divide and rule".
After Blood River, with great suffering and endurance, the Zulu nation and its kings walked a long journey. This epic story is marked, among other events, by the Bambatha Rebellion, the imprisonment and exile of King Cetshwayo and King Dinuzulu, the manipulation of our traditional leadership and our laws and traditions, the stealing of our land and the exploitation of our labour.
We also remember that after Blood River an Afrikaner nation rose with the pride of a people fulfilling their destiny as a newly-born indigenous African population. They too began a long journey which was filled with anguish and untold suffering. In the following decade they would become embroiled in a three-year war against the British. They only surrendered because of the deaths of twenty-six thousand of their women and children in British concentration camps and the cowardly destruction of thirty-thousand of their farms. Here, the name of Japie Fourie for example, stands out as one of those who struggled against colonialism.
Needless to say, the conflicts of our most recent past have seeped into our collective consciousness leaving pain, fear, reprisals and sorrow. We are, slowly, overcoming this legacy and finding each other in a common South Africa which belongs to all her peoples. We cannot, however, complete the circle – to use a present day term that is now in vogue – unless we truly grasp how the struggle began.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 5557144