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Qwabe and Zulu - True Story or Crafted Myth?

Posted on June 14, 2012
Imbongi James Mbhele and Busi Deyi. Photo credit: Val AdamsonThere have always been questions surrounding the truthfulness of the story about Malandela's sons. Many have called it a myth while some still vow it is a true story that bears evidence of the origins of Nguni people. Still on a quest to probe issues around Nguni identity, I wanted to find out more about the ancient story of Malandela's sons, Qwabe and Zulu, from the perspective of some of the members of Ubumbano lwamaQwabe. My intention was twofold: to follow the work done by the organisation and to collect as much information as I would need to put together my new stage production, "uZulu noQwabe". I asked several people about their knowledge of the dispute between Qwabe and Zulu: the Mayor of Mzumbe, Mr Israel Gumede of Umthwalume who is the Chairperson of Ubumbano; I. M. Gumede of Mthandeni as well as Chief Makhosini Wellington Qwabe of Mthandeni. The following is what was common from their responses.

History identifies Nguni people as having originated in the North of Africa. They then later descended from the North down the navel of the continent to find better pastures in the southern part of Africa. Malandela, the fourth King of the Nguni reigned. He had married Nozidiya (otherwise known as Nozinja) who gave birth to all-male offspring. Qwabe was the firstborn and Zulu the last. When Malandela passed on, Nozidiya took charge of the family. She was very skillful. She made reed mats and bartered them in exchange for stock, which led to her ownership of a rare breed of pure white Nguni cows. One day Qwabe came home, after he had departed following a family dispute, to a cattle enclosure full of Nozidiya's special cows.

On Qwabe's enquiring to whom they belonged, she stated that they belonged to his younger brother Zulu. He argued against this as he believed that as the heir he was entitled to all the inheritance. That then sparked a dispute between Qwabe and Zulu with Nozidiya on Zulu's side. To prevent the dispute from escalating into a physical fight, Nozidiya then took Zulu and their stock and relocated towards Mthonjaneni where she built her own house. Qwabe then remained behind, looking after his father's homestead and further expanding the family - thus the separation of Qwabe and Zulu.

Asked how he came about this information, Chief Makhosini Wellington Qwabe said, "Our elders are mostly the sources of our information which goes as far back as the story of Qwabe and Zulu's dispute. We then check this according to the elders of the different regions. On finding similarities in the oral records through our elders we then also check for some of the oldest writings that we have pulled from the "foreign' archives and libraries through technology..."

If, as previously noted, King Zwelithini's Royal house acknowledges both Qwabe and Zulu ancestors, does this not hint the need for a closer and more in-depth investigation of the relationship between these groups? Is our current identity as the isiZulu-speaking people a correct reflection and recollection of our ancestral history? Does it correctly tell of our cultural inheritance and our identity as a whole? These are some of the questions that are raised by the work of the 'Ubumbano LwakaQwabe'. 'uZulu noQwabe' comes out of these questions.

'uZULU noQWABE' - The 2nd dance theatre work in the Nguni Trilogy
On entering the theatre the audience is welcomed by recorded sounds of Amahubo (traditional hymns). The stage is striped naked into a black box. On either side of the stage is a screen projecting video footage of Nguni cows grazing. On the far corner of the Loft Theatre is a cattle enclosure framed around the staircase that goes down into the lower ground floor. In front of it is a man seated on the rocking chair dressed in an interpretation of what could be seen as traditional clothing. In front of him is a young fellow in black and white sketching in stick animation something that could be a family tree.

The man on the chair walks to the centre of the stage where there lies a mat while two young men in black and white emerge from behind the cattle enclosure - each carrying and cradling a rooster on their arms. He starts reciting an introduction in praise style of Qwabe and Zulu followed by Malandela and Nozidiya. Imbongi James narrates the story while Wesley Maherry's lighting design supports the accompanying video footage to add to the narrative nature of the piece.

On the videos Chief Makhosini Qwabe and Israel Gumede ask questions on the following points:
- the origins of Nguni identity and what it means to be Nguni,
- the hierarchy of Malandela's family acknowledges Qwabe as the heir which means he should be honoured as such,
- When questioning our identity we also cannot ignore issues around land ownership and the respect Qwabe has been deprived of as the heir of Malandela,
- Doesn't naming the province KwaZulu imply the continuation of the way the European colonizers used to make decisions for the Africans?
- Doesn't the name kwaZulu perhaps imply that only Zulu has a say about the land and its ruling?
- If King Shaka Airport was erected on the same spot where Chief Meseni had his homestead why were the Qwabe people not consulted as the owners of the land?
- Did the constructors not find any skeletons when they were digging to construct the airport?
- What did they do with the bones? Whatever they did - was digging and erecting an airport on the graves of the Qwabe a respectful act?
- Isn't naming an airport erected on top of the land of the Qwabe 'King Shaka Airport' the continuation of disrespect?
- Who is "Dube' who supposedly owns the 'Dube tradeport' - a politician? A businessman? A chief of some sort or just a name?
- Is the Zulu identity that the Nguni people have been tagged with a true reflection of the Nguni history or perhaps a continuation if not a reinvented form of cultural colonisation?
- Why is the Qwabe family not included or fully acknowledged in the telling of the history of amaNguni as they are the rightful heirs whose reign and kinship still continues?

Through a fusion of movement, physical theatre, dance, video, text, spoken word, singing and narration the piece stimulates discussion and introspection on issues of our socio-political history and our identity by asking the above questions. The piece is brought to a reconciling ending with both sides of the family crossing the centre parting line - while Chairperson Gumede states on video, "On confirming that our origin does indeed associate us with Zulu, we then arranged for a meeting with the Zulu royal house. We have had discussions with Prince Reggie, Prince Gideon and Prince Mbonisi on behalf of King Zwelithini. While this might seem as a continuation of the dispute, we should note that the Zulu royal house has been very welcoming to us. The dispute might have happened between Qwabe and Zulu but there is no rivalry. When Zulu built his house he built his family not the nation that is now seen as the Zulu nation. And even when Shaka was developing the Zulu nation, as they say he did, he never attached the Qwabe house because he respected us. We've always been there and we are all amaNguni (not amaZulu). We accept each other as blood affirmed siblings".

"uZulu noQwabe' premiered at the New Stages Programme at the Playhouse Loft on the 25th of May 2012 where it was performed to full houses comprising of schools audiences as well the general public. Among others, Inkosi Makhosini Wellignton Qwabe and his family were also present and provided numerous interviews to the members of the press alongside the Chairperson Mr. I. M. Gumede. Other Qwabe chiefs that were present included Inkosi S. Gumede of Mthwalume as well as Inkosi D.Z. Gumede of Nkanini. The Zulu Royal house had been invited and sent apologies for their inability to attend. They also sent their good wishes.

Mr. Themba Hadebe - an SABC radio journalist conducted interviews with audience members on their perspective of the show. Some of these interviews were then aired on the 26th and the 27th of May on "Ezangempelasonto', a programme hosted by Bongani Mavuso of Ukhozi FM. These were also aired on SA FM as well as other local community radio stations on their arts and culture programmes. It became clear that our audience found the work stimulating.

An example of the feedback we received is this Facebook message: "Thank you for researching and telling our history the way you did - with respect, honesty and without being apologetic"¦I so wish to see this show in two years time from now" - Mlondi Zondi, performing artist and academic.

Musa Hlatshwayo is an Archival Platform correspondent.