|dc.description.abstract||The title of the thesis, ‘The King and the Honeybirds’, is not only chosen for its poetic qualities. In the following chapters, I will show that there were two ‘honeybirds’ guiding Cyprian towards the support a Zulu bantustan: the apartheid government, which alternately tried to tempt, convince and threaten him to accept its policies; and the legacy of his father, which compelled him to strive for a self-governed Zululand and the resurrection of the Zulu monarchy. Above all, however, it is an account of the previous Zulu king and his struggles to meet the demands of both the state and his people at the dawn of apartheid – and as such, it is the first of its kind.
Cyprian Nyangayezizwe Bhekuzulu ka Solomon, the Ingonyama – Lion – of the Zulu, was heading the Zulu nation during some of the most crucial years of South African history. He began his reign in the year the Nationalist government introduced the apartheid system, and died as the plans for a KwaZulu bantustan were being made. He was friendly with – even related to – some of the most prominent members of the African National Congress (ANC) of the time. His cousin and chief advisor, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, built his claim to the premiership in the later KwaZulu bantustan on the position he held during Cyprian’s regency. It seems only natural that Cyprian’s life should have been subject to numerous studies of South African and Zulu history, the way the lives of his ancestors, his contemporaries and even his son have been.
It has not. Indeed, it is rare to find his name in any book about Zulu history, and when he is mentioned, it is normally briefly and in derogatory terms, as a figurehead ‘reduced by alcohol’ and ‘intellectually dull’. It is certainly not possible to avoid the fact that Cyprian was an alcoholic: it eventually killed him. Yet history has repeatedly shown (for instance in the case of Winston Churchill, who happened to be a great admirer of Cyprian’s grandfather, Dinuzulu) that an inappropriate affection for alcohol is no excuse for bad statesmanship. Moreover, such characterizations do not match the accounts of those who knew Cyprian, who have described him as intelligent, modest and patriotic.
Why, then, has Cyprian been all but forgotten by the academic world? One writer, at least, has pointed at a general lack of interest in history among young South African intellectuals and professionals, suggesting that they may be ‘regarding it as a dead weight at the present that is best discarded’. More importantly, I believe, is it that those who are interested in the early history of the apartheid period, generally and strongly sympathize with the opposition movements. As much as I share this view, it seems to me that it has created a blind zone that obscures the interest in and understanding of some of the most central historical actors of the time. Those opposed to the bantustan policy labelled the chiefs who supported it ‘government stooges’, and the official model of chieftaincy arising in the early apartheid years was seen as ‘a creation of, and creature of, the state’. Certainly, in the climate created by the growing popular opposition to the South African state from the 1950s onwards, a Paramount Chief’s support to the state’s segregationist policy represented a threat to the pan-African unity necessary to defeat it. Perhaps it has simply been more convenient to dismiss such a chief as someone of so little significance, so drunk and so much a puppet in the hands of the apartheid state, than to explore other possible motives for his political stance.
Nevertheless, as Geoffrey Barraclough has stated, ‘contemporary history begins when the problems which are actual today first take visible shape’. The roots of the so-called ‘faction fights’ in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1990s – particularly the Zulu nationalism that was evoked by representatives from both sides – can be found in the political developments in KwaZulu during Cyprian’s rule. They reflect his political aims, as well as those of his peers and of his ancestors. Cyprian was all but inconsequential in his time, and an understanding of the background and possible motives for his actions is necessary for a broader understanding of more recent Zulu history.
Since the fall of the Zulu kingdom, Cyprian’s predecessors had fought relentlessly to rebuild Zulu unity and win governmental recognition for the Zulu royal house. Is it unlikely that Cyprian had inherited his forefathers’ ambitions? Is it not possible that, in the early days of Africa’s decolonization and surrounded by a growing fear of communism, gradual self-government through the Bantu Authorities System appeared to be a plausible and peaceful path to Zulu independence? According to the historian William Beinard, ‘segregation was in some senses a route which followed the line of least resistance. For it seemed to promise a limited local autonomy to Africans.’ For a king brought up with the ‘lessons of Bambatha’ and obviously aware of the ongoing independence wars further north on the continent, the concept of ‘least resistance’ may well have seemed like the wisest choice when confronted with an infinitely superior state.||nor