Zulu culture does not dictate king must marry before coronation
REGARDING the headline “Marriage is a cultural must for new king” which appeared on the front page of the Mercury (May 11), I would like to ask that some caution be exercised.
As much as possible we should avoid generic statements that proclaim cultural truths without citing the source or context of such “truth” as fact or knowledge.
The Oxford South African Concise Dictionary describes culture as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively”, and even “the customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group”.
Culture is always fluid and tends to move with the times, borrowing from the old and adapting to the new. The source of cultural knowledge is cultural artefacts, tangible and intangible, as well as performances expressing cultural knowledge.
The performing arts of a people, including poetry, creative engagements, texts in song-dances, orality and language, are all pointers to the evidence of cultural knowledge where all traditions are explicable.
There is a relative of culture, known as tradition. The same dictionary describes tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being so passed on”. A long-established custom gets passed on from one generation to another through tradition. Again, the source of exhibition of such knowledge would be found in the performing arts.
There is no Zulu culture that says a king must be married before he can be recognised (by whom?) as king. There is no evidence of it anywhere in the cultural and artistic expressions that communicate traditional values and customs.
So, where does this thought come from? Let us look at history as an enabler of tradition. The founder of the Zulu nation, King Shaka, was not married. His successor, King Dingane, was not married. In fact, all manners of marriage were deferred to the younger Mpande, who became a transitional king – being generally laid back.
So, there is no knowledge based on Zulu history that says a person must be married before he can be recognised as a king. A king is a king. King Misuzulu kaZwelithini is the current Zulu king on the throne.
Much was made about whether he needs to be married.
So, where does this pressure for him to marry come from? Well, at the height of colonialism, and especially with the establishment of townships for Africans, it was insisted by the colonial and apartheid administrators that an African seeking to occupy a house must be married. This demand was extended to many other requirements for anyone seeking the services of the state (to be credible?).
I have not witnessed texts of songs, dances, praises of kings and other forms of performances that insist that a king must be married before he can be recognised as a king. It is to misunderstand the institution of kingship to say that married men may not take instructions from him. That is tavern lore. And so what is the aim and impact of these statements not founded in Zulu history and traditions?
Obviously, those making these sweeping statements, without much reference to the Zulu Knowledge Systems as embedded in the culture of performance, may be seeking to put one of the many pressures aimed at having the king comply with their narrow view of the world of culture and heritage.
Alternatively, there are remarks aimed at putting doubt of fitness for office over His Majesty’s head. We are witnessing many young people getting married late in life. So, how do we deal with this? We must allow our new king, who is a full king on the throne, to take his decisions according to how he would like to reign over his nation, blending the old and the new.