In what the U.K Telegraph called an ‘unlikely alliance’ Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has backed an Afrikaner lobby group ‘to fight the South African government’s plans to take land from white owners without compensation.’1
The U.K Times reported that King Zwelithini’s ‘motivation in working with “the Boers” was their shared concern for the country’s food security, which he feared would be threatened if President Ramaphosa (of the longer ruling ANC) pressed ahead with his controversial expropriation plans.’2
Zulus are a Nguni people. They make up 22% of the 45 million people who live in South Africa. They are part of the southern Bantu ethnic group.3 The majority of Zulu’s are Christians. Others hold to a syncretistic version of Christianity; where old world tribal customs and beliefs are fused with Biblical Christianity.
Zulus (people of the sky) have played a key role in South African history. Under Shaka Zulu they nationalized and became ‘one of the mightiest empires the African continent has ever known’.4 The Zulu kingdom lasted for ‘about 60 years’.5
The majority of Zulus are not wealthy, but they are fiercely independent.6 According to Political Science professor, Jungug Choi, part of Zulu identity is its warrior tradition. Fused with Zulu nationalism this ‘not only allows political activists to employ violence as a means of overcoming their political obstacles but also legitimizes violent political actions in the name of the Zulu nation’.7
The Zulus fought against the British and the Boers and later made up a large part of the South African workforce, creating some of the first worker unions.8
In 1908, they initiated an uprising known as the Bambatha Rebellion against unfair taxation by the then colonial government.
Political violence carried out by the Zulus during the 1994 transition, which saw South Africa free itself from fifty years of apartheid, was a reminder of the political power of the Zulus. Their opposition was based on concerns about social instability and a worsening of economic conditions that the transition might bring with it.9
The ‘unlikely alliance’ between Zulus and Afrikaans puzzles onlookers because to them such an alliance is incomprehensible. It was Anglo Europeans who divided the Zulus and ‘waged the biggest war against them’.10 Common sense dictates that it should be Zulus supporting other Black groups, not Zulus supporting White Afrikaners.
In addition, Zulus don’t appear to be the kind of people who would ignore injustice without a fight, or forgive injustice without having a good reason to do so.
There are explanations for the unlikely alliance. Despite the clashes, Zulus and Afrikaans seemed to enjoy a fractured, yet somewhat mutually beneficial relationship. Zulus enjoyed ‘limited autonomy under apartheid.’11 This, according to Choi, gives reasons for why the Zulu leadership and the “White” government worked together. They were ‘driven by some common interests, particularly in confronting the ANC12 as an enemy13 over concerns about regional autonomy’.14
As Choi explains, any move towards a majority rule Democracy meant a possible change to heredity rule within the Zulu nation. Post-apartheid ANC policies were a potential challenge to Zulu land and identity.
As nationalists, Zulus are proud of their land and history and they are not afraid to defend it. This is primarily why Zulu leaders defiantly protested against centralization, in 1995. They clashed with Nelson Mandela and ‘threatened to abandon the GNU’.15
The news that King Goodwill Zwelithini is backing Afrikaner farmers is an encouraging sign and he isn’t alone. In April this year, Zimbabwean Paramount Chief Felix Nhlanhla Ndiweni spoke out against the planned eviction of Brian and Carol Davies, from land where they operate a photographic safari and farm, which employs and houses 2,000 people. Chief Ndiweni criticized the plan as inhumane saying:
I’m not talking about the high level of morality for the land reform programme, we are talking about base corruption […]16 a good administration would never in a million years proceed with such an eviction, which is a disaster for the family concerned and the local people. It is an eviction that will never be accepted and will continuously be challenged on the ground, locally, regionally and internationally.’17
The Davies had been granted permission to build on Ntabazinduna Hill, as well as being made custodians of the historical site, by Chief Ndiweni’s father. In response the family promised to preserve it.18
Zimbabwe is now notorious for its economic collapse after kicking 4,000 white farmers off the land. It’s safe to assume that the Zulu leadership does not want to see the same thing happen in South Africa.
Social problems already exist and drastically destabilizing the country’s food production for the sake of politics, would only add to them. According to an ABC report from Jonathan Holmes in late 2018, the rise in violence against white farmers is attributed to both ‘undocumented migrants’ (illegal immigration) and racial politics. However, violence attributed to ‘undocumented migrants’ (illegal immigration) from the North is also affecting Black South Africans, not just White farmers. Holmes states that this is because of an inability to police shanty towns on the edge of Johannesburg or process the influx of ‘undocumented migrants’ (illegal immigrants).19
Violence against White farmers is on the rise, but it’s obvious that not everyone in the South African nation backs the policy of eviction which sees Afrikaan farmers kicked off the lands they were raised on. What’s more to the point, some highly respected traditional landholders see land grabs by the state as disastrous to their own communities.
All of the above tells us that food and social instability isn’t the only concern the Zulus have about the A.N.C kicking White farmers off their lands. For the Zulu leaders, if land expropriation becomes law, it’s not a matter of if the Zulus will be next; it’s a matter of when.
- Flanagan, J. 2018. Zulu King Backs Afrikaners in fight against Cyril Ramaphosa’s land grab, The Times, U.K. sourced 19th June 2019
- Ibid, 2018
- South African History, 2011 Zulu sourced 19th June 2019 from https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/zulu
- Ibid, 2011
- Choi, J. 2008. The Political Origins of Zulu Violence during the 1994 Democratic Transition of South Africa, Journal of International and Area Studies Vol. 15, No. 2 (December 2008), pp. 41-54 (14 pages)
- Choi, J. 2008 (p.44)
- Choi, J. 2008 (p.47)
- Britannica, Zululand
- Choi, 2008. (p.47)
- Ibid, 2008. (p.48)
- Ibid, 2008 (p.49)
- African National Congress, Nelson Mandela. Also South Africa’s ruling party since the end of Apartheid.
- Choi, 2008. (p.48)
- Ibid, 2008. (p.48)
- Inkartha Freedom Party (IFP) Sourced from South African History Online 20th June 2019
- Zimlive. 12th May 2019. Sourced 20th June 2019
- Ben Freeth, 2019. Eviction of white photographic safari operator and farmer angers local chief, The Zimbabwean 23rd April, 2019. Sourced, 20th June 2019. See also Moses Mudzwiti’s IOL article dated 23rd April 2019
- ibid, 2019
- Holmes, J. South African Farm Murders The ABC, 19th September 2018. Sourced 20th June 2019.