Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
I was fifteen years old when I left Impumalanga Primary School in Mahashini, Nongoma, and I had just lost my father. Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi had been the traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Nation and I knew that his desire had been to see me well educated.
At that time, the State did not provide secondary education for black students, so I applied to Adams College, a missionary boarding institution that offered the same curriculum as State schools.
When my uncle, Prince Mshiyeni kaDinuzulu, drove me and two of my cousins, Prince Thandayiphi and Prince Penuel, to Adams College, he was so proud that he first stopped at the home of Dr John Langalibalele Dube to show us off. Dr Dube had been the first President of the ANC.
Throughout my time at Adams College, Dr Edgar Brookes was the Principal. Dr Brookes did not support universal suffrage. He did not believe that choosing one’s government was a right that should be afforded to all citizens, but rather a privilege that should be earned through education. The idea that education gives access to self-determination became entrenched in my mind.
In my matric year, in 1947, some students staged a protest and I was called upon to negotiate on their behalf with the authorities. Before negotiations could be completed, some young hotheads set fire to a hostel and a student was injured. We were all sent home and had to apply for readmission. I saw then the value of negotiations and peaceful resistance, over the path of violence.
Despite this upheaval, I passed matric and my results opened the option of university. My mother, Princess Constance Magogo kaDinuzulu, supported this idea, for she knew it was what my father had wanted.
But very few blacks attended university at that time, and I faced opposition from several quarters.
A white magistrate in Mahlabathini began heckling my paternal uncle, Inkosi Maliyamakhanda, with questions about why I should receive such a good education. Later, when I became involved in politics at university, my uncle became concerned that the nationalist government would refuse to confirm my chieftaincy when the time came.
At the University of Fort Hare, I joined the ANC Youth League and became deeply interested in politics. I already knew Inkosi Albert Luthuli and had befriended Jordan Ngubane, a Zulu journalist who wrote for international English publications. But at Fort Hare I became an activist.
Unfortunately, because of my activism, I was rusticated from Fort Hare and had to complete my degree at the University of Natal. This created some anxiety in my family. My uncle, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, the founder of the ANC, wrote to Professor ZK Mathews to express his concern. I wrote to Dr Edgar Brookes seeking advice.
I was not pursuing education for the sake of doing what was expected of me, nor was I biding my time until my destiny magically unfolded. I worked methodically towards my goal of becoming a lawyer, which, I had discovered, was where my interest lay.
Nevertheless, newly graduated and about to do my articles under Advocate Rowley Arenstein, a different door opened and my future changed. I was asked to return to Mahlabathini to take up my hereditary position as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan. I was hesitant to abandon my legal career after all that work, so I sought the advice of Inkosi Albert Luthuli.
Inkosi Luthuli was a highly educated man. Yet he had given up a lucrative teaching position when the community at Groutville Mission Reserve elected him in 1936. I wanted to know whether he had any regrets.
Inkosi Luthuli sent me a long letter enjoining me to serve my people with selfless dedication and the wholehearted assurance that this was my calling. He had already shown me how a traditional leader could uplift a community both spiritually and materially. He had set an inspiring example, and I set my heart on following it.
Several years later, Inkosi Luthuli and Mr Oliver Tambo sent a message to me through my sister, Princess Morgina Dotwana, urging me not to refuse to lead the Government of KwaZulu which the Apartheid regime was imposing on us, if the people elected me. Thus began my long career in politics and public life.
We each have a story about our school days and those formative years of being educated. As schools, universities and technikons open across South Africa, new stories are unfolding. Some are exciting, but others are marked by tragedy.
In the wake of the dreadful stampede at the University of Johannesburg where hordes of desperate young people sought admission to study, we are left with many questions. Not least is why these young people are so desperate.
The obvious answer is the economy. In a labour market characterized by high unemployment and strong competition for jobs, the higher one’s qualification the better one’s chances. I think a lot of young people believe that if they don’t go to university, they’ll never get a job.
Thus there is both an economic and a social pressure to attend university, because it’s what you do if you want a future.
I think another clue to the desperation is the fact that, according to an admissions official, 80% of those applying for university admission do not know what they want to study. There is a sense of directionless panic about the future.
Even under the best circumstances, having to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life at the age of 18 is a daunting prospect.
To make matters worse, job descriptions have evolved in complexity with the information age. It’s no longer a choice between doctor, lawyer and teacher, but between a myriad of unknown positions, some of which are still being created.
The upside of this fluid marketplace is that you don’t have to choose a specific career and then climb into that box for the rest of your life. But you do need to have a goal, a broad idea of your field of interest and an understanding of your own talents and limitations.
It is almost taboo in our society to tell young people that they have limitations to what they can do and become. But I believe knowing where one doesn’t excel is vital to discovering where one does. There is a school of thought that says focus on your strengths. Don’t spend your life trying to improve the areas in which you are weak. Rather invest your life in excelling where you are strongest.
University is a tool with which to do this, but it can be done without university entrance. I wish to encourage those young South Africans who did not get into university. There are other roads to take. Seek the advice of an older person whom you trust and respect, or talk to someone who has achieved a level of excellence in their own field.
Your destiny is not going to happen suddenly. You are creating it with every decision not to give up.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP