From Shaka Day to Heritage Day


Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini (C) leads hundreds of traditionally clad Zulus at the launch of " Zulu 200 ",a countdown programme towards 2016 when the Zulu Nation will celebrate 200 years since it's formation by Zulu King Shaka, Saturday 29 September 2012

Growing up in KwaZulu Natal, the 24th of September was called Shaka’s Day, in honour of the man who used his spear to embroider together a diverse collection of tribes and clans into one mighty cultural quilt.

During this day, we would eat, dance and be merry, proud of the legacy, such as it was, that had been bestowed upon us by Shaka. Admittedly, we were materially poor, thanks to apartheid which had robbed all black South Africans of their land and the resources that came with it.

But Shaka, and King Cetshwayo after him, had gifted us with one thing that you can’t take away from a people: a sense of history, a sense of dignity.

I must state upfront, that the Khumalos, who are part of that great river of humanity called the Zulus, were a small, albeit autonomous chiefdom before the rise of Shaka.

When it became clear to the Khumalos that the all-consuming flame that was King Shaka’s army might just reduce them into a bundle of ashes, the head of the Khumalos, Mzilikazi kaMashobane, took a pre-emptive strike, so to speak. Bearing gifts and women, he went to genuflect before King Shaka: “Oh, great Shaka, we are now your subjects and servants.”

That’s how the Khumalos, like many other small clans and tribes, became part of the Zulu nation. As history will show, Mzilikazi was later appointed as one of King Shaka’s top generals – thanks to his diplomatic skills and strategic thinking.

Fast-forward the early 1990s when the government of national unity set about hammering out the country’s future constitution and the attendant cultural underpinnings, the IFP insisted that King Shaka’s Day, which was hitherto a provincial holiday in KwaZulu Natal, be incorporated and recognized in the new democratic dispensation.

The delicious irony is that it took Inkatha, which campaigned on myopic Zulu nationalism, to bless this nation with a new holiday that would be used to open a dialogue between the various peoples who form part of this great nation.

When the parties that formed the Government of National Unity were debating the modalities of new constitution, Inkatha fought tooth and nail for the retention of September 24 as a holiday, with some cultural undertones.

And so it was agreed that the new holiday be called Heritage Day, instead of Shaka Day which would have alienated non-Zulus.

While we take pride in our cultural diversity, and we treasure our different languages and histories, we are first and foremost South African. Finish and klaar. Post-1994 we committed ourselves to that ideal – to fashion an inclusive, multicultural nation that will be a shining beacon of progress on the continent.

As Samora Machel aptly observed: “For the nation to live, a tribe must die.” 

And the celebration of September 24 under the unifying banner of Heritage Day must give us inspiration to soldier on, united as one nation with one destiny.

What was also poignant for my wife and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. It was a deliberate move, on our part, to have our nuptials on this day – she being of Xhosa stock, and me being Zulu. We decided to give Heritage Day a whole new meaning which, we hoped, would remind our children and their children’s children where we come from as people who are now proudly, and jealously South African.

On a lighter note, our local football authorities should in future stop fielding matches on this day – especially if the clubs involved are Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. These are national assets. If you pit them against each other on this august day, you are tearing at the fabric of national unity.

Look what happened yesterday. Kaizer Chiefs were beaten… by Pirates. Not that I am complaining. I am Pirates man. Now why go and spoil Heritage Day for Chiefs by pitting them against us on such an important day on our calendar? It’s not fair. It’s unpatriotic.

When Orlando Pirates beat Al Ahly, the Egyptian giants, it so happened that the two teams clashed during the Muslim fasting period. Kaizer Chiefs fans, who do not derive any joy from a Pirates win, averred that the Buccaneers had taken advantage of Muslims who were fasting.

When the Buccaneers repeated the feat by beating Zamalek, another Egyptian team over-run with Muslims, the same excuse was advanced that we had beaten people who were hungry.

But when Orlando Pirates beat Chiefs yesterday (2 – 1 aggregate from the first leg of the MTN Top 8), one was left wondering if the Phefeni Glamour Boys had found Allah, and were fasting in His honour.

Well, in South Africa we are a melting pot of cultures – so I won’t be surprised if Kaizer Chiefs players were hungry, having mistaken Heritage Day for a day of fasting.

On the other hand, Pirates always alert and on the ball, acted in keeping with the meat-eating tradition of Heritage Day – they had themselves some succulent Kaizer Chiefs steak.

Yes, we celebrated our diversity in style.


Follow me on twitter, @FredKhumalo