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The origins of the Zuli people are shrouded in the mists of oral tradition. But by using a variety of specialized methods, scholars have been able to penetrate the mists and discover some of the Zulu past. They have concluded that within the last two thousand years there have been a series of migrations of large numbers of people from central Africa into the southern part of the continent. These migrants from the north had a linguistic identity, and they are referred to as Bantu-speaking peoples. This means that although these people spoke many different languages the languages were similar enough in form and structure to deserve a common name, Bantu. Scholars chose the name Bantu because this word, meaning "people;' occurs in a large array of languages spoken by the migrants. These people slowly settled the southeastern area of Africa all the way down to what is now known as the province of Natal in the Republic of South Africa. As they settled the land they began to form special groups. One large group is now known as the Nguni people. The Nguni group consisted of many tribes and clans: the Xhosa, the Fingo, the Tembu, the Pondo, the Swazi, and the Zulu. This process of migration and solidification into special groups, each with a distinct language, was complete by the seventeenth century.
The Zulu at this stage of development were one group of people among many. According to their own traditions, an ancestor named Malandela had two sons named Qwabe and Zulu. These two sons became the chiefs of two clans. Chief Zulu extended his quest for territory until he cameto the Mfolosi Valley, an area north of the Thukela River in the present-day province of Natal. There Chief Zulu settled. His clan remained stable and unremarkable until the renowned Zulu chief Shaka (1787-1828) emerged as a dynamic leader and warrior at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Shaka in a very short time welded many different clans together into one powerful kingdom. He was successful in this endeavor because he developed completely new methods of military conquest, establishing highly disciplined regiments of young men and inventing new ways of deploying them in battle. It is Shaka's prowess as a general that has captivated the imagination of Western novelists and filmmakers. Movies about the Zulu warrior continue to be made to this day.
Today there are about four million Zulu in South Africa. They continue tolive primarily on a small portion of their original land in the northeast sectionof Natal. However, many Zulu can also be found throughout South Africa work-ing in the mines, as domestic servants, and in those positions in the world ofindustry and business not reserved for whites (although this picture is now inthe process of change). Even under such very difficult conditions some Zuluhave been able to attain a high level of education and thus will be found eitherat the segregated universities provided by the South African government or, inspecial cases, at one of the English-speaking universities, such as the Universityof Cape Thwn or Rhodes University. (Recently the picture has changed andpredominantly white universities, including Afrikaans-speaking universities,have a more open admissions policy.)
When the government of South Africa declared a portion of the province ofNatal as the Zulu "homeland;" they named it Kwazulu. Supposedly, within thisarea the Zulu would finally have some political rights. Whether or not thisoccurs, this greatly diminished area has not proved to be self-sufficient. TheZulu therefore have been forced to continue their dependence on white SouthAfrica, with its system of apartheid. Apartheid is a governmental policyintended to keep the various groups of people living in South Africa separatefrom each other. Its practical effect has been to keep all black people in aposition of servitude, without political rights of any kind. The "homeland" is certainly far less in area than the traditional Zulu kingdom. At this moment the Zulu are strongly insisting through two different organizations, the African National Congress and the Inkatha party, on their autonomy and freedom. Zulu leaders have often been some of the most eloquent spokesmen for the rights of all black people in South Africa. In fact, the Zulu chief Albert Luthuli was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 (the first African to be so honored) for his articulate and peaceful presentation of the case for all the oppressed people of South Africa.
While the Zulu people continue in such an oppressed situation it remains impossible to speak of an independent kingdom or nation, despite their possession of the small territory, Kwazulu. Long before this possession, the buffeting that these people had received from both British and Boer had already destroyed their autonomy.
In 1879 the British invaded the Zulu kingdom established by Shaka and maintained by the succeeding chiefs. Cetshwayo was the last of the Zulu kings or great chiefs. After the British invasion of Zululand he was exiled; the invasion and his exile signaled the end of Zulu territorial and political independence. In 1897 Zululand was ceded to the British colony of Natal. Shortly after this cession, the British and the Afrikaaners engaged in a war disastrous for both. This war created a deep enmity between the two white groups. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a state within the British Commonwealth. In 1913 the South African government promulgated the Native Land Act, naming a portion of traditional Zululand as a "native reserve" In fact, by 1906 much of the territory that the Zulu regarded as their own kingdom had already been overrun and was possessed by white Natal settlers of both British and Boer stock. It is the remnants of this native reserve that has now been designated as Kwazulu, the "homeland" of the Zulu people.