Sunday Times - - Humor -

Alot has been said about Zulu king Good­will Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu’s ut­ter­ances at the im­bizo in Ulundi the week be­fore last. He went out of his way to re­as­sure ev­ery­one that he was, in fact, the epit­ome of a peace­ful man. And this is why, he warned, “peo­ple” need to be wary of “pro­vok­ing” him over this In­gonyama Trust busi­ness.

Many po­lit­i­cal pun­dits were quick to point out that His Majesty’s re­marks were, in fact, thinly veiled threats of vi­o­lence if things didn’t go his way. They pointed out that this type of en­gage­ment fol­lows a well-worn path of po­lit­i­cal brinkman­ship, typ­i­cal of that part of the world.

The braver souls on so­cial me­dia have even gone as far as say­ing: “Zu­lus from KZN al­ways re­sort to vi­o­lent talk ev­ery time they don’t get their way.” Sigh. I thought we had put this non­sense to bed 11 years ago when I wrote a chap­ter ti­tled Have you hugged a Zulu lately? in my col­lec­tion of es­says called Some of my best Friends .I pointed out that con­trary to a pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion, my Zulu-speak­ing brethren are not a quar­rel­some lot. We just hap­pen to be par­tic­u­larly ef­fi­cient in the art of open­ing a can of whu­pass on bel­liger­ent per­sons. And of­ten we beat peo­ple up in the in­ter­est of peace.

What folks who are not au fait with the ways of my peo­ple over­look is that they never overtly threaten vi­o­lence. By the time you hear the fate­ful words “Uzoli­mala mawun­galaleli!” (If you don’t obey, you will get hurt), it is usu­ally too late for you. I know these words sound like a prom­ise of some event in the fu­ture. But you are likely to only hear these words from a pros­trate po­si­tion, while spitting out a mix­ture of soil and blood. A tooth or two might be miss­ing. This sce­nario is al­most al­ways fol­lowed by peace de­scend­ing as folks dig into mounds of de­li­cious freshly slaugh­tered meat.

I was in­ducted into my peo­ple’s ways as a seven-year-old in Stan­dard 1 at Esi­hon­qeni Lower Pri­mary. Our class teacher, Miss Al­lie, walked be­tween our benches with a stick she was us­ing as a teach­ing aid to en­cour­age us to get the cor­rect an­swer dur­ing an English les­son. She was drilling the con­cept of ad­jec­tive com­par­a­tives and su­perla­tives. She would yell “large!?”, point at one of us ran­domly, at which point you were meant to yell back, “large, larger, largest!”. This went on un­til she turned to a much older boy named Good­e­nough. He came from a sur­round­ing ru­ral area called Mophela and had only started school circa age 11 on ac­count of be­ing a cat­tle herder. Miss Al­lie goes, “good!?” Good­e­nough in­stinc­tively re­torted ‘good, gooder, good­est’. This brought the house down. As the laugh­ter started to sub­side, I could not help but yell at the top of my voice, “Gooder, good­est!”, slap­ping my thigh in a fit of gig­gles. The laugh­ter started up again. Good­e­nough glared at me and growled: “Khuzeka!”

But my cruel, petu­lant lil’ self was en­joy­ing my new-found role as class racon­teur. An hour later Miss Al­lie is now tak­ing us through our Reli­gious Ed­u­ca­tion paces and asks some­one to ex­plain why the Lord favoured King David so much. I de­cide to pip in: “Be­cause David was gooder and good­est!” That was one chirp too many and Good­e­nough hissed at me: “Uy­ibambe in­simbi ya-af­ter school in­gakhali!” (Make sure the af­ter-school bell doesn’t ring).

For the rest of the day, I walked around with a rab­bit-caught-in-the­head­lights-of-a-truck look in my eyes. It was the long­est two hours of my short life. I knew there was a hole in the fence be­hind the car­rot patch that the Mabaso boys used to avoid get­ting two cuts on the palm for late-com­ing. So af­ter assem­bly I picked up my ruck­sack and tip­toed to­wards the il­licit exit as anony­mously as I could. But Good­e­nough had an­tic­i­pated this. As the vi­cious blows rained upon me, I made a de­ci­sion to never ig­nore the Khuzeka warn­ing. Well, un­til about three years later when I found my­self at Wozanazo Higher Pri­mary School in­spect­ing the school perime­ter fence for holes. I’m happy to an­nounce that this time I did man­age to creep un­der the fence like a lizard and avoid tak­ing my beat­ing like a man.

This is my long-winded way of say­ing that peo­ple should lay off the pres­i­dent for kneel­ing in front of the king. That was an emo­tion­ally ma­ture ges­ture of avoid­ing a Khuzeka sce­nario straight out of Neville Cham­ber­lain’s book. ●

Peo­ple should lay off the pres­i­dent for kneel­ing in front of the king. That was emo­tion­ally ma­ture

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