TO Molefe
TO Molefe

Beware the boy who cries ‘Zulufication’

In Aesop’s fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a shepherd boy alone on a hillside tending to sheep called on people in a nearby village to help him chase away a wolf that was attacking his flock. There was no wolf of course. He was just doing what bored shepherd boys are tempted to do for kicks when bored. When the villagers arrived, pitchforks at the ready, the boy yelled, “Psyche, y’all just got punk’d!” Or something like that.

He did that a couple of more times until eventually a real wolf did come for the flock. By then, of course, having grown wise to the trick, nobody believed him and no one came to his aid, leaving the wolf, a big, insatiable wolf from the sounds of it, to gobble up the entire flock.

The fable is a cautionary tale told to little kids to teach them about the dangers of lying. What’s taken for granted in the story that the wolf is the second baddie, second to the act of lying. The story’s internal logic holds that the wolf was obviously a terrible danger to the sheep — dangerous enough that people from the village would and should come running to ward it off.

However, a philosopher might argue that the shepherd boy and the villagers were an equal danger to the sheep and should have been shooed away too. Sheep are part of the human diet after all. So too an environmentalist might say that human activities had encroached on the wolf’s natural habitat and that the sheep had driven away the wolf’s natural prey by taking over the best grazing spots.

The story then is not so clear cut. But this is how words, language and narratives operate. They corral people’s perspectives in subtle and invisible ways, which is why you ought to question the assumptions underlying whatever cautionary tale anyone tries to draw you into, including the one that follows.

In the realm of public commentary of late, there have emerged a group of boys crying wolf. Correction: They’ve been crying “Zulufication”. They warn, as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba did last week while accepting a pat on the back of some sort from the Free Market Foundation, that this so-called Zulufication of South Africa could cause a genocide like the one in Rwanda in 1994. Not only that, Makgoba said we should all rise up against it.

Centre for Politics and Research chairman Prince Mashele this week cried Zulufication too. He wrote in the Sunday Independent that the University of KwaZulu-Natal would be “Zulu-ising” the country by making proficiency in isiZulu a requirement for graduation for all students enrolled from next year onwards. Mashele also warned us not to sit idly by in the face of this apparent Zulu cultural invasion on account of the supposed invaders being African this time.

I’ve said out elsewhere why Mashele and others seeing UKZN’s language policy as evidence of a “Zulu cultural invasion” is the product of a colonised imagination and an awfully embarrassing misread of the situation. The policy has real and practical issues of implementation worth debating, so someone saying it is “Zulu-ising” South Africa would be laughable were that claim not part of a bigger trend.

“Zulufication” as a phrase and a concept as it’s used presently was born from the fractious battle between Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki for the ANC presidency in Polokwane in 2007. But it appears to have been popularised among otherwise seemingly intelligent people by William Gumede, academic and author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.

Writing in the New Statesman in January 2009 on the formation of the Congress of the People by the ANC splinter group disillusioned with the results of the 2007 ANC leadership contest, Gumede said, “If anything, Zuma’s election may represent the tribalisation of the ANC: it has been said that he is Zulufying the party after a period in which it was led by Xhosa elite such as Mbeki and Mandela.”

Who exactly has been saying these things Gumede left to the reader’s imagination.

In the Sowetan in May 2012, Gumede wrote, “Recently, some people have whispered about the ‘Zulufication’ of appointments because of the perception that the president is mostly appointing individuals in key posts, especially those in the security service, from KwaZulu-Natal.”

Again the whispers remained disembodied.

Last December, writing in Pambazuka shortly before the 2012 ANC leadership vote, Gumede added some much-needed nuance and omitted the formless whispers of Zulufication. He said, “Jacob Zuma’s election as ANC President at the party’s 2007 Polokwane conference and his possible re-election at Mangaung signifies the triumph of the conservative wing of Zulu nationalism, and the retreat of the progressives. Yet, narrow Zulu nationalism is dangerous to both the ANC and South Africa, as it may unleash ‘the demon of tribalism’ as the ANC’s first general secretary Sol Plaatje, put it, and may undermine efforts to cobble together a common South Africanness.”

Along the way others have picked up the phrase and run with it unthinkingly. The Times ran an editorial in 2011 saying Zuma’s “Zulufication” of South Africa has shaken his support base. Political analysts like Anthony Butler and Susan Booysens have bandied the term about loosely, so too have members of the public.

As with the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, we ought to be asking ourselves what assumptions are at play here, because all is not as clear cut as the narrative we’re being fed. Is South Africa Zulufied, as the Times editorial claimed? Has the ANC also been Zulufied, as Booysens stated as a matter of fact, and have the country’s security agencies suffered the same fate, as Butler said?

Are we really in the midst of an attempted Zulu cultural invasion, as Mashele warned? And do we need to stand up to it, as Makgoba urged us to do?

The answer is no to all of the above. What’s happened is that a specific concern about how a compromised politician used his ethnicity and culture to mobilise support to oust a rival and fob off a rape charge has now become an unqualified, all-pervading warning of the “Zulu gevaar“, where even the UKZN’s commendable step to develop isiZulu is analysed myopically with that narrative.

Within the Zulufication narrative, it does not matter that Zuma inherited Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa from Kgalema Motlanthe’s Cabinet during his brief stint as president. What matters is that they are Zulu. To boot, the narrative says, Motlanthe was just Zuma’s puppet president and seat warmer anyway.

It does not matter either that Zuma sacked his friend and fellow Zulu “tribesman” Bheki Cele, albeit under duress, and appointed Riah Phiyega, who is Pedi, not Zulu.

The narrative holds that many Zulu people in a single location or organisation mean that location or organisation has been Zulufied. This must make being anywhere really awkward for the one-fifth of the population who are Zulu and are concerned about being seen to be contributing to Zulufication.

This isn’t to say there aren’t concerns over how Zuma deploys his ethnicity for political gain. But those concerns revolve around the actions of one man within a constitutional democracy and a legal framework that supports and protects multilingualism and multiculturalism. Using that one man’s actions to malign a groundbreaking language policy, warn of a Zulu cultural invasion where none exists and tell us to resist the said invasion is to practice the very thing it seems Gumede is concerned about: tribalism.

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    • Ouch

      Love the part that that the sheep get eaten by everyone anyway. Politicians all want their (mutton) gravy and all compete for the same flocks. Swart-gevaar appeals to the fear of white sheep; wit-gevaar to the fear of black sheep; rooi-gevaar to the fear of boer-goats; en….. geel-gevaar maak almal bang!

    • AsYetUnknown

      The aim is to make Africans forever divided. IsiZulu is an African language, as is isiXhosa, Pedi and the many other languages we recognise in this country. The problem is some want the ‘recognition’ to only exist in theory and never be taken seriously; remain ‘unwritten’, so to speak.

      The main lesson that needs to be taken from Zuma’s undeniable pride as a Zulu man, and UKZN’s putting into practice what has somewhat remained in theory (the use of African languages), is that Africans need to be proud of themselves. The two issues should lead to having Venda taught at VUT, isiXhosa at Walter Sisulu university, and so fourth. If I am not mistaken, UP has for a long time offered some modules in Afrikaans- and there is nothing wrong with that.

      Zulu pride is not the problem, lack of African pride is. The only thing that needs to be guarded against is that Zulu’s do not end up seeing themselves as superior to others- superiority must be left as an issue for Europeans (mainly in the form of English speakers) to battle with- should they ever recognise that it is actually a problem.

      The goal must be African pride. A South Africa where a Shangaan can be as proud of his language and beliefs as a Tswana an issue.

    • Tofolux

      @To, Frantz Fanon theorized about the task of the ”revolutionary intellectual” and once again it seems that some ‘wretched intellectuals” believe their only responsibility to our national task must be a version of a most petrified theory. A poem boldly written about these wretched souls declares that: these people know nothing of the cost of Freedom, for they have never fought for it, From time to time, they have fought for liberty and justice, but these have always been white justice or white liberty”. What is SA new epoch? Clearly there has been one. And why is it that we have been saddled with alarmists instead of sobre theorists who can or are able to identity and measure our progress? Surely some analysis must be given as to how far we have moved from a state of ”backwardness” to modernity. Hence the need and intervention of a revolutionary intellectual who will give us clear indication of our revolutionary momentum. As has been said before “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. So can it be said that all the fear-mongering by some is a sympton of increased fear of our success as a nation? Could it be that by theorizing our task of national unity and our state of nationhood invokes the inauthencity of certain individuals?

    • Lennon

      Odd narrative this. I remember the 100% Zuluboy saga when Zuma was running for president, but it never occurred to me to connect this with UKZN’s requirement that isiZulu be a spoken language. I just figured that, being a province where the majority of people speak isiZulu, it would just make sense even though it could serve to deny prospective students with top marks the opportunity to study there since they have less than a year to become proficient in the language which could lead to protests akin to a certain riot which took place as a result of another language being imposed on students back then….


    • ian shaw

      Two mistakes: 1. To start studying a difficult language like isiZulu at tertiary level, especially in fields like physics and engineering where no indigenous words exist for important technical concepts, is an impossible task. It can lead to learning a few homey everyday expressions spoken with a bad accent. Such language instruction should start much earlier, even in elementary school, while experts would have to create technical dictionaries of isiZuklu vs English.
      2. The teeching of indigenous languages should not be restricted to isiZulu. The question is, where will the masses of trained language teachers come from?

    • Momma Cyndi

      The humour in your writing always catches me off guard. Probably because of the very serious young man in the photo. It is greatly appreciated though.

      Mandatory Zulu at university level is silly. Zulu in KZN at a primary or secondary school level is a brilliant idea. The older the dog, the harder it is to learn the tricks and varsity has more than enough time/memory challenges as it is.

      Gumede has his own skeletons. I agree that Zuma’s unfortunate stance on ancient tribal custom leaves me uneasy but it is what the people wanted so I must embrace it – warts and all.

      Of course the Zulus don’t help themselves in all this. Being told to ‘speak like a human’ when greeted in a different language can raise a few hackles

    • nzs

      The author’s long, winded piece can be summed up in one sentence:

      “This isn’t to say there aren’t concerns over how Zuma deploys his ethnicity for political gain.”

      How wonderful it would have been if he had focused on the concerns he makes concessions on!

    • Ian

      University is for learning skills that will help you compete in a global economy. Learning Zulu is a waste of time. Afrikaans et al the same.

      Whilst we are busy learning regional languages, the rest of the world are leaping ahead in maths, science, and computing.

    • Themba

      I jus love Ouch’s response

    • bernpm

      How interesting is this Zulu debate in a country where wisdom has decided to accept 11 different languages as acceptable language currency.
      As “learning a language is learning a culture” I have the option to live my life according to a choice out 11 different cultures. One for every month of the year.
      Once I have mastered these 11 languages, I can -by law- refuse to talk to any body who does not speak the language I choose for the conversation.
      Stupidity reins.
      The Belgium country has been battling with the choice between French (in the East) and Flemish (Dutch related) in the West since independence in the 1830’s (almost 200 years). They are now discussing to split the country in two to solve the problem.And that is only between two languages. (100 year per language)

      The Canadians suffer from a similar divide although less prominent than the Belgians.

      Why should SA not learn the lesson and split the country in 11 different countries, not waiting and bickering for another 200 years? Or would 11 languages take 1100 years?????

    • Brian B

      Why are South Africans so intent on focusing on what divides us and not what unites us.

      Its a form of delusion .

      Instead of building we are destroying.

      The evils of apartheid taught us nothing except to aspire to the spoils of the privileged at the expense of the downtrodden .

      Some interesting stats

    • Dudu Mkhize

      I just like your writing style. I like the humour and its wit. However, I think your argument also falls in the same category as those of the people you aim rebut. Maybe you can help me understand the significance of the message on the ANC supporters just before and at the Polokwane Conference that read (in support of Zuma) “100% Zuluboy”.

    • Sipho

      I am interested to know if there’s anyone who has amaZulu neighbours and/or friends who have moved up in lifestyle as a result of Jacob Zuma ascending to the presidency. What other form is the Zulufication of South Africa supposed to manifest itself if not economically?

    • Sipho

      It would be interesting to find out what Archbishop Makgoba is doing to stand up to the amaZulu invasion of the Anglican Church, and the country. I have always thought that amaZulu who happen to be Anglicans have the same chance as anyone to rise through the ranks of the church.
      Is the Archbishop saying it was pure coincidence that Archbishop Tutu was succeeded by Archbishop Ndungane – and Dr Pityana threw his hat into the ring to succeed Ndungane.
      Is there any example of this so called Zulufication in any province? The sad reality about this Zulufication rant is that it undermines the legitimacy of our political settlement. If this mindless ranting continues no one will ever have a legitimate claim to the presidency. The nation might be forced to do what we’ve trying to avoid all along.

    • KD. Arthur

      @G. Lightman, really!?!? shows how much you know. You need isiZulu lessons for sure.