Posted on October 20, 2011
The story that unfolds in the archive is rich and fertile. It is a story of Charles Mpanza, a man who wished well for the native soul. A man who was well respected in his constituency and also really cared for his family. I saw in the archive Mpanza the man, not an object trapped within the contents of the archive, cold, clinical, (or, even worse) conservative, as many have said. I saw a man who holds an overwhelming desire for change, I saw an architect of an entire movement for mobilising critical thinking on cultural matters in the province of Natal, and South Africa at large.

I watch Mpanza rise towards becoming the most powerful black man at the time. He was powerful because of his mind. Clearly he possessed a skill in convincing those who were in power for assistance, and he did so with remarkable success, but there was a cost. Mpanza had to compromise his own ideals, and the ideals of the Society. His ideals are evident in the material he collects in the newspaper clippings, showing a deep interest in prevailing representations of black people at the time, as well as the rising disciplining of the black body. That being said, by collaborating with the state, the Zulu Society found itself in a tricky position. The archival material outlined here unfolds some of the struggles encountered in the public life of the Society and its main architect, Mpanza. The new black radio space fashioned by Mpanza and other members of the collective carries the burden of the 1930s cultural movement.


Before I get to the material I need to place the events that unfolded within their imminent context. For this, I rely on Shula Marks (1978) and Veit Erlmann.

Firstly, 'Natal's policies in the nineteenth century were closest to twentieth-century notions of segregation' in South Africa at large (1978: 174). However, by the time segregation is accepted as a convention for resolving questions of native rule (by the end of the first World War) the policies were being used for very different purposes. Put simply, land was the issue in the 19th century, and labour becomes the issue in the 20th century. (1)

Secondly, the presence of an active national consciousness in many parts of Natal and Zululand in the preceding decades meant that the population could easily be absorbed under collective rule (far more readily than the sparsely populated regions of the Cape, for example) in line with 'pre-colonial structures'(2) . The sedimentation of these different purposes of segregationist policy imposed on black populations of the region stratified black populations even further.

There was the missionary educated class and the chieftaincy class, but often the two were duplicated by the same members. There was the urban working class, and the rural unemployed now residing in overgrazed land; often their interests intersected, as evident in the increasing membership of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) in rural areas; 'thousands of Zulu are joining up. The red ticket of promise is everywhere.' (The Times, October 1929, cited in Marks, 1978: 185)

Thirdly, the formation of the Zulu Society comes at a time when there is an active installation of the Zulu monarchy into the state administration. It is a time when concessions have been made between the white powers and the Zulu royal family. The collaboration of the Zulu monarchy and the state sends mixed messages; as the decision-making, though remaining unchanged, becomes blurred.

Finally, in the realm of culture: the end of the 1920s had seen intensified efforts to regulate cultural practices, culminating in the banning of the ingoma (3) dance in 1929 in Durban. On 17 June 1929, labourers, most of whom were under the Industrial and Commercial Worker's Union (ICU), clashed with police and white vigilantes at the ICU Worker's Hall in Durban. In the protest, ingoma call-and-response tunes were injected with political mobilisations of the times:

Who has taken our country from us?

Who has taken it?
Come out! Let us fight!
The land was ours. Now it is taken.
We have no more freedom left in it.
Come out and fight! (Perham cited in VeitErlmann 260)

Following the outburst, a ban was issued on all ingoma-related dancing and the carrying of sticks within the city (Erlmann, 1989: 260). The banning of ingoma marks a significant shift towards intensified policies of regulating black bodies.

The Black Body in Secular Science:

Articles in this field would include those discussing language in the English newspapers (The Mercury, The Witness). There is a thread of articles that draw a link between Zulu (and other Bantu languages) to Latin, seeking to prove that these are inexplicably similar (Sunday Times, June 19, 1938).

An article titled 'Zulu Spelling' (The Mercury, 12 September, 1940) comments on the spelling used in the newspaper report on the Zulu broadcasts. The writer P. C. Brickhall comments on the use of the figure '6' for 'b', and offers a different way of expressing the same material.

There is an article about a man who was raised by baboons in the Eastern Cape, who then became a subject of interest to those who wish to establish a similarity between the African person and the baboon. The caption at the bottom of the image mentions that Mrs Lewis, who reportedly found the 'Baboon boy', is horrified at the fact that a native woman 'leaving her baby asleep and of a female baboon finding it and caring for it'(Natal Daily News, 26 August, 1939). The implication, it would seem, is that the female baboon is actually more caring than the native mother.

The Black body and custom (dark science)

There is an article on the revival of the tradition of ukuhlolwa (virginity inspection). The article reports that the matter was discussed at the last conference of the Zulu Society. The concern was on the tendency of young women in present days to fall pregnant while still living at home. 'Ukuhlolwa' was proposed at the conference as a tradition worthy of revival in order to curb this tendency (Um-Afrika, 24 February, 1939).
In Ilanga Supplement, 6 June, 1942, a clip explains a set of scenarios outlining Zulu beliefs. It explains why when Zulus go hunting they carry 'home the game with the head pointing backwards', why a Zulu man should never eat while lying down, why Zulus believe one should never jump over a grave. All these reveal a desire to make sense of behaviour of Zulu populations in the changing world. The article seeks to account for the behaviour of the Zulu speakers which cannot be accounted for. Why the need to account for Zulu behaviour at this point?

There is an article by a group called Zulu Zakhe which bemoans the state of ukukipita (man and woman living together without marriage) amongst Zulu speakers.

The thinking black body

There is a piece by H. I. E. Dhlomo called 'Modes of Bantu Thinking'. In this piece the writer outlines a number of mentalities that comprise and inform the Bantu person. These, he contends, are mostly backwards, but they are not incapable of being changed. The Bantu, he writes, 'should not destroy their old customs and beliefs,' but rather should develop 'the old ideas by giving them a new interpretation'. This, he believes, will 'lead the masses from the thralldom of custom into the freedom of intellectual life'. He goes onto say that natives 'are governed less by thought than by feeling'. Theirs is the skill of concealing the mind and its intentions. He concludes: 'Natives have both brain and ability; but a change of attitude is necessary to free them from the tyranny of the traditional and the customary.'


There are articles on heritage (here's an interesting one for Heritage.Inc). These are articles discussing the importance of memorialising Zulu events. (Remember, this is about the same time that plans for building the Shaka monument in Stanger [KwaDukuza] are being proposed.) Also included in this pile are articles highlighting the Society's events, which range from conferences to commemorations. These are generally of a festive character; in almost every event we are informed of the presence of the Native Affairs commissioner/etc. It would seem the presence of the state official authenticates the work of the Society as of national importance. This is evident in the Zulu as well as the English medium newspapers.

War Industry

We learn from the newspapers of the radio War Bulletin delivered by Mpanza himself; these are then repeated in the black newspapers as an article. In the collection, there are also war articles with an emphasis in the activity of Germany; their interest in invading Poland, etc. The English do not seem to feature much in these articles.

The black body as governed, Rule

In the same collection of newspapers there are articles on Prince Mshiyeni and the advice he offers to Zulu-speaking people. There are articles on the policies with the potential to restrict movement. These are articles discussing the 1932 policy, and its impact on how blacks are to be ruled in the Union.

There is an article on the New Native Law Code (Um-Afrika, 21 October, 1932). The article appears as part of an ongoing series of issues discussing the second chapter of the new code as it 'concerns the personal rights of Natives in Natal, Zululand, Transvaal and Orange Free State'. The article quotes important sections of the code in detail. The new code appoints the Governor-General as Supreme Chief of all natives in Natal. The code grants him the power to call 'upon chiefs personally to render military or other service and to supply armed men'¦for the suppression of disorder or rebellion'. Furthermore it grants officers below Supreme Chief to execute the code (Um-Afrika, 21 October, 1932).

Although introduced in 1932, such a law, it would seem, foregrounds the second World War that was soon to follow and its need for a supply of native labour for its war industry. I call it industry because not only did World War II need natives as assistance at the war sites, but the vacuum that is created by the war in the economy, as white men take on military service, creates the need for an increased native labour, particularly in the docks of the Durban harbour. In addition to this, as the harbour becomes the place where British war ships are serviced and cleaned, and the war industry creates the economic boom of Durban as a port.

The vivid elaboration of the code in the newspapers would imply that the possible effects of the implementation of the code were well understood by the readers. The article on the code interlocks with the articles in the collection on Prince Mshiyeni in the mere fact that both types address the issue of chieftaincy.

In Ilanga Lase Natal there is an article titled 'IsimemezeloSikaMshiyeniKaDin'uzulu' (an announcement made by Mshiyeni of Din'uZulu), in which Prince Mshiyeni announces that he will be forming a regiment of Zulu men which is to be trained and given guns by the English. The regiment would then fight for the country in the unfolding war. He calls on the legacy of Tshaka and Dingane to be upheld, as well as the name of King George VI the grandchild of Queen Victoria. He goes on to say: 'Musaniukulalelaamagwalanamavakaalokhuekhulumasengathilikhonaizweelingatholwangaphandlekokulihluphekelanokulifela' (do not listen to cowards who talk as if there is a nation that can be attained without suffering and dying for it). The sentence hints at the growing dissent on the relevance of the World War to black South Africans.

In one article Prince Mshiyeni asks for money from the Zulu people in order to be able to take his children to school. I am not sure who is he referring to when he speaks of his children, is it his personal family or is it Zulu school-going youth?

The Black body as a threat (the new)

There is an article reporting the attack of two nurses by 'a gang of natives in a subway in Johannesburg'. While they were struggling for a handbag 'three other natives' whom they had passed 'came to their assistance'. 'They suddenly attacked us,' one of the nurses said. 'A European,' we are told, 'appeared and the natives ran away.' In the report three groups are mentioned, there is the nurses, the gang of natives and the European. None of these appears gendered in any way, although we do get a sense that the nurses were women and the European was a man (Daily News, 9 May, 1939).


Then there are articles on music; there is one reporting on the commemoration of the death of 19th-century Italian virtuoso violinist, Paganini. There are also articles on the Hugh Tracey 's (4) proposition for an Ingoma dance arena to be built in Durban. The arena would serve as a multipurpose centre for preserving Zulu war dances.

In an article entitled 'Reply to Critics of the Native Dance Arena', Tracey defends the scheme against the criticism leveled by Mr T. J. Chester, the manager of the Durban Municipal Native Affairs Department. The arena to be built was to take the form of what we may now call a 'cultural village' [another one for Heritage Inc.]. It would have an 'exhibition of native huts'. According to the article, the space will be used for dance competition by groups from Durban and surrounding areas. Chester's main concern, it seems, was that the 'village' seemed contrary to the current municipality policy on housing natives in the centre of the city. Tracey responds by pointing out that 'although the exhibition of huts containing native crafts will be open seven days a week, no natives will live there, and the only time they will occupy the arena will be for a few hours a week when dancing is in progress.'

Chester's other concern is that Council had already given three playing fields elsewhere for natives to dance. Tracey contends 'that these facilities will not encourage European interest and support of native dancing as much as would an arena in an area which is readily accessible to tourists, without going through a 'black belt'.' Tracey goes on to point out that the scheme would stimulate the market for native products. Furthermore, the scheme had already been supported by Mr. H. C. Lugg, the Chief Native Commissioner for Natal, who felt that the scheme would be a 'Godsend' to the native communities. Tracey believes that once Durban establishes the arena, other centres in the Union would follow suit (Daily News, 20 February, 1939).

There is a letter to the editor published a few weeks later, in the same newspaper, entitled 'Zulu dances are as dead as the dodo'. The author, writing under the pseudonym "Usingqugu", opposed the proposed dance arena, claiming that traditional Zulu dances are dead, and neither rickshaw boys nor the labourers in the sugar plantations know anything about it. The author goes on to question the desirability of using natives for the 'purpose of stimulating the tourist traffic to this country, for the Zulu to be gazed upon by the tourist with eyes of curiosity mingled with pity'. He concludes 'It is employment, not dancing, that the natives need.' (Daily News, 23 March, 1939)

Usingququ's letter touches on two vital undertones, firstly it is the growing retribalisation attempt that was happening at the time. By dismissing the authenticity of Zulu dancing, he exposes the implicit fabrication of these dances as traditional. Veit Erlmann suggests that the establishment of the native dance arena 'is the story of a remarkable transformation, of the domestication of ingoma dancing from a militant, oppositional and suppressed form of popular culture to a tourist attraction' (1989:260). It marked a move in the co-opting of ingoma and its practitioners into the city fabric, and firmly naturalised ingoma within the public life of the port city.

A response to Usingqunqu's letter appears in a later issue of the Daily News. The author of the response asserts that although the dancing would not give the natives employment 'it would nevertheless be helping substantially to give them that recreation essential to produce the sound mind and sound body'. 'The Zulu war dance was a psychological dance with an object, and through a prolonged period of peace it has naturally gone out of fashion, just as the minuet has gone out of fashion in European dancing.' (Daily News, 1939) That the so-called Zulu war dance is compared to the minuet, a courtly dance with elegant steps, in itself establishes the need to control the black mind and body towards it being 'sound'.

One can assume in the comparison that the Zulu war dance and the minuet are each the highest calibre of dancing in the cultures they belong to. If the war dance is the only dance capable of being redeemed, against an order of knowledge where the minuet is concerned, then the need to salvage the black/mind is of more significance. If the showcasing of the war dance may too demonstrate the extent to which the training/controlling of the black mind and body has been accomplished, then perhaps the dance arena is the most important deed the European can do.

In this response we see the theme of the reconfiguring/disciplining of the black body. Implied in the response is that improving the black body is by far the most important gift whites can give the black person. This is despite the fact that at the time there was a growing population of unemployed black urban dwellers. It is significant that the form under discussion is dance, an artistic expression which places the body at the centre; that this expression is to take place under the gaze of white tourists.

Culture and performance were becoming used as a derailing tactic; derailing from the real conditions of exploitation and the growing war industry. Overtly missing in Usingququ's and others responses is the race question, which was unsayable within dominant media, particularly the white press. It is in the realm of the unsayable that the Zulu Society tried to operate. By partnering with the state they were to gain funds and visibility, even on radio. But this came at a cost, as race became cemented in the realm of the unsayable. Culture, heritage, preservation, along with their opposites (the body), development (or 'developing old ideas' as Dhlomo puts it or 'sound mind and the sound body' as the 'Native Dancing Scheme' article), attitudes, to mention a few, become key signifiers of that absence of race: the native question.

The war dance taking place within an arena, coupled with a European gaze, against the prevailing World War becomes a form of escape that naturalises the black body within the European world simply as 'entertainment'. The disunity between this scheme and Mshiyeni's call for a Zulu regiment in the World War displays a sense of arbitrariness of relations across the different sections of society, which characterises the public culture of the time. In addition to this, the disunity invites meditation on the ambiguity of the black male body'”at once a site for dance pleasure and of imposed violence. If the black female body was severely constrained within the domestic boundaries, then the black male body became the site that needed to be constrained in public life. In both cases, the black body emerges as site for demands to be made, physical and violent.

Radio Broadcasts

On the report on the Zulu broadcast from 27 October to 1 November, we are told that Charles Mpanza will present a talk on the 'Zulu Society and Zulu Culture and Heritage' and another will be an interview with A. W.Dlamini (the chair of Soceity) on the 'Aims and Origins of the Zulu Society'. The mainstreaming of the Zulu Society and its initiatives in the early broadcasts is clearly demonstrated here. The society's programmes were central to the broadcasts.

On the music side, music to be presented during this period includes the music of African indigenous instruments, in particular the 'Zulu makhweyana (musical bow) the ChopiTimbila' and the 'Zulu herd boy flutes'. On other days music from the Durban Choral Society will be played, as well as a visiting choir from Johannesburg. Here we are given two different types of music styles played on the service. The one is the 'pure' traditional music (music of the past), and the other 'choral type' or concert music, (music of the present/modern).

What is the Zulu Society?

In the collection, there is an article on the annual meeting of the Zulu Society, entitled 'IqholoNgobuzwe' (pride of the nation) (14 January, 1939). The article reminds readers of the success of the gathering held in the previous year, that amazed a great number of people:

Ukuthiluhleluniloluolukhangeabantubantsondoukubabahambeibangaelingakabeyakudlalona? (What kind of initiative is this which attracted black people from great distances to come attend?)
The writer admits that they too do not know the reason for its success, and speculates that it may be because of the presence of the king. There must be something in a person 'ukuntontozaigaziemithanjeni' (which moves the blood in the body), that inspires interest in a gathering where his/her origin and good/bad cultures are to be discussed. We need to be wary of any attempt to feed ourselves, the writer continues, the notion that we need to return to 'Egypt', by re-adopting cultures which are senseless and 'nangahleasehlisesiphindelaemuva 'eGibidi' laphosaphumakhona' (pose the danger of taking us taking us back to 'Egypt' where we originated). However, let us not look down on our origins. The colour of our skins is not a curse from God, His intention was not to give us away to those who do not like us, on its basis, make us slaves. Our defeat by whites is not because we are black, as we may remember from Genesis that the first conqueror was Nimrod from Africa. He then mentions a couple in West Africa (now Namibia) who decided to marry not under Christian custom, but in the German folk tradition. This is a sign, he concludes, that it is not only black people who have 'umcabango' (thinking) of looking back to old ways. After all, our past reveals that we too knew of 'uMdaliuThong'elikhulu' (the Creator, the Great Ancestor).

The article maps out the interest of the Zulu Society's initiative of re-examining the black past. It also gets to the essence of some of the deep-rooted entanglements of the society.

Meditations on the archive: So what is the fuss about all these newspaper clippings, which I have summarised here?

The need for new standards in viewing the black past is evident: how does one grapple with the nature of white rule, and at the same time, benefit from the inherited symbols of progress? The general agenda of white rule was to parade progress as its biggest contribution to black populations; it thus becomes difficult to separate white rule and progress. The intellectual struggle unfolding here lacked historical antecedents to look at in order to understand the unfolding scenario. The endorsement of the work of Zulu Society by the segregated state: (1) established a relationship of interdependency between progress and whiteness (in other words, it rendered the potential for an autonomous/self-sustaining progressive black agenda an impossibility( 5) , and (2) it trivialised the work of the Society in general against the prevailing socio-political conditions.

Put simply, by collaborating with the state, the Zulu Society conformed to colonial standards (inseparable from segregation, exploitation, conquest) and therefore could awaken no opposition. It could not retain its purity as a movement with emancipatory intentions for black tradition. The emergent black radio space is loaded with all this contradiction.

The existence of the collection of newspaper articles in the archive of Zulu Society point us to another life in the field of public culture, and it opens up interesting doorways towards early traces of our contemporary public culture in South Africa. In relation to my project on the early broadcasts, the collection offers insight into the different entanglements that bind people into the public life that allows for the early broadcasts to take place. One detects in the collection a very conscious effort of archive making. And yet, the varying range of material discussed resists our temptation to ascribe a unifying strain in its contents (in other words, the material exists simply because it is there). Viewed differently, the Zulu Society becomes so in tune with its practice that it even invents its own history. (Historical future, future as history.) A voice of prophesy that anticipates the future (which is now), unlike the preservation archive of Hugh Tracey or James Stuart for example, this is not an archive of 'loss' (although some of its contents may hint at this theme) but it is quite contemporary, a glimpse into things as they happen, so to speak. But what it does show is the issues that mattered in the conversations that were taking place within the Zulu Society itself and across the different intellectual communities that intersected in making 'modern' Zulu subjects.

In taking these articles as a collection, the current study seems to point me in the direction that is best summed up as a black culture and performance rather than in radio studies or music per se. In this sense, it extends on the work begun by Veit Erlmann(6) in his study of South African black popular culture and performance.

Thokozani Mhlambi is an Archival Platform Correspondent. This thought piece was first presented at an Archives and Public Culture Workshop at the University of Cape Town.


(1) 'segregation ([in the 20th century)] was a set of policies specifically designed to cope with the strains of a society in the throes of industrialization' (Marks 1978: 173 drawing on Legassick).

(2) I place 'pre-colonial' in inverted commas as I am aware that there was by no means an even distribution of colonial rule, and that various groups responded differently to the white invasions, and therefore cannot be blanketed under one term

(3) The term ingoma (literally meaning 'a song') covers a diverse range of male song-dance, including isicathulo, isiBhaca, isishameni, to mention a few. The use of the term captures the inseparability of dance from song within Zulu traditional performance. Ingoma is not, however, a traditional form:, it emerges through the convergence of disparate regional forms in Durban during the First World War (Erlmann 1989: 259)

(4) Hugh Tracey wais the head of the Durban Studios of the SABC at the time. He becameomes the initiator of the early radio broadcasts, on behalf of the SABC.

(5) In this instance I recall the work of James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time. He writes: 'the white man is himself in sore need of new standards; which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of his own being' (342).

(6) Culminating in his seminal text: African Stars: Studies in Black South African Performance (1991), Chicago Press.