Some might be offended by the way I talk about myself, and some might even go so far as to say it’s impossible for someone to be White and a Zulu at the same time. So, this is a blog to explain what I mean by the name ‘White Zulu’.
If you don’t know anything about the amaZulu, then there’s a lot of explaining to do. If you do, skip to the next paragraph. The amaZulu are a people traditionally living in the south-eastern portion of South Africa, between the Indian Ocean to the East and the Drakensberg mountains to the West, and between the Ubombo mountains in the North and (arbitrarily) the umTamvuna River in the South. The boundaries of their traditional homeland have shifted over time, whether because of the colonial expansion of European empires, the wars between them and other groups of people, or the arbitrary boundaries drawn up first by white and then by black governments. When colonists from England and other European nations first came to this part of Africa, the amaZulu were organised under the paramount chieftainship of uShaka kaSenzangakhona, an inkosi of the Zulu household. They were pastoralists, herding cattle and engaging in agriculture. As a result of the various forces already mentioned, the amaZulu way of life has changed dramatically over the 180 years since the first contact between them and the European colonists. Some of this change will become apparent over the course of this blog and my other blogs.
The language of the amaZulu is isiZulu. It belongs to the isiNguni language sub-family, along with isiXhosa, seSwati, and isiNdebele (which is a fairly recent dialectical derivation of isiZulu compared to the other two). More broadly, it is part of the Bantu language family, spoken in one form or another in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The features of this language are very different from the Indo-European language family, to which English, French, Hindi, Greek and Russian (to name a few) belong. These differences will also become apparent over the course of this blog and my other blogs.
So, knowing all this, how do I have a right to call myself a ‘White Zulu’?
My father was raised speaking isiZulu, and learnt to speak English when he went to school. He has always been more comfortable in isiZulu than in English, using it in every facet of his life – making speeches in parliament, mediating land disputes and other conflict situations, farming, telling stories and making jokes in isiZulu. He is uMashinashina, Inkunzi ‘kayihleli, uSinqunte, uMasikisikisind’isilo sakhe. He raised me in isiZulu, growing up on a farm in eNtumeni, near eShowe in Zululand.
My mother grew up in Johannesburg, and as a young woman became very involved in Women for Peace and the struggle against Apartheid. For driving medical supplies and other necessities into Soweto during the 1976 riots, she was given the name uKhanyisile (the one who brought the light). She met my father at the 1979 centenary of the Anglo-Zulu war at Ondini, the royal kraal of the Zulu household. She had already begun to learn isiZulu in Johannesburg, and this was accelerated by her marriage to my father. When she was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1999, she preached and conducted services in isiZulu.
When I was born, I was taken home and presented to the people living with us on our farm, and the induna (village headman or foreman) gave me the name uMabhengwane, the wood owl. I grew up in a house where isiZulu was as common (and sometimes more common) than English. I traveled to political meetings and traditional events with my parents from when I was very little, and drank in the culture of the people around me.
When the choice came for me at school, between isiZulu or Afrikaans, I immediately chose it. We were part of the first group given the opportunity to take isiZulu to Matric, and our ‘guinea-pig’ class was a wonderful place filled with the freedom of learning a language that had previously not been offered.
When I left school, I began doing freelance translation work, both from isiZulu to English and from English to isiZulu, while studying Latin and Greek at University. My bilingual upbringing made my mind very receptive to new languages.
So that’s the short answer as to why I’m calling this blog ‘White Zulu’ – you’ll have to read the rest to find out more.