Without Buthelezi, the Zulu Kingdom would have died
Let us recall that after the battle of Ulundi in 1879, Zululand became a British territory and the Zulu kingdom almost ceased to be. That was the first end of the kingdom. Successive kings did not rule Zululand; they were merely cultural symbols to their subjects. The
British Empire would from time to time expect them to keep the natives in check.
It was under Dinuzulu, the ancestor of the last king, that the empire reinvented the Zulu kingdom for the first time, giving back some “control of the natives” and “recognition” to the king. That was Queen Victoria’s deal: the empire worldwide needed “local authority” to control the natives.
And then the Bambatha uprising happened.
The empire was so mad at King Dinuzulu that it decided to make an example of him and put him on trial in Pietermaritzburg for “allowing” the rebellion.
One of Bishop John Colenso’s daughters raised funds for the king’s defence, but he was duly convicted and banished. The Buthelezis are alleged to have testified against the king in that trial.
That was the second end of the Zulu kingdom. The second reinvention of the kingdom happened in 1951 after the Bantu Authorities Act was passed. The National Party needed traditional leadership structures to control the black people.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi did not participate in the Defiance Campaign, but his mother is recorded as having done so, burning her passbook too.
Buthelezi silently left the ANC at this stage, though he would only “formally” do so after 1978, having become chief minister of the KwaZulu bantustan in 1972. He tried to persuade the Nats to give him and other homeland puppets control of Soweto after the uprising in 1976.
This laid the foundation for King Goodwill Zwelithini’s rise, with Buthelezi at the forefront of the reinvention of the kingdom in his own image, fuelled by his party’s impis. In fact he built his party on the back of the monarchy for his own benefit.
We all know what happened at Codesa, a moment that represents the third reinvention. At least two material things were delivered by Buthelezi at the constitutional negotiations to determine the shape of the new SA: the Ingonyama Trust and formal government recognition and material support for the Zulu royal family.
With Buthelezi’s ability to mobilise killing squads, he went to the negotiating table with influence and got the deal he wanted. He even secured a pseudo-federal system — an aspiration shared by him and the right-wingers.
The Zulu kingdom has been reinvented three times since the last free king, Cetshwayo, was defeated by the colonialists. Buthelezi was at the centre of the second and third reinventions. He therefore features as a key historical figure in the making of the modern Zulu monarchy.
Let us give credit where it is due. Without Buthelezi, this monarchy would arguably have long since died out.