Episode 12: Zulu Izibongo and the Literature of Mzansi

Goodnight Azania

23-03-2021 • 54 mins

The past episodes of formal history have proven to us that the approach of social history is sometimes not able to go beyond its broad categories, to reach down to what I can call the human heart. I suppose this could be partly because there would be so many human hearts to consider such that the task would simply become impossible because people die with their thoughts and words, that is the nature of life.

Every generation of humanity however has their fair share of artists, however, people who dare to raise a giant mirror to the society in which they find themselves, to depict it for what it is, not how it wishes to see itself.

We have looked, in the past few weeks, at the artistic practices who identified themselves as Khoekhoe and San, amaXhosa and baSotho. While the picture that emerged was certainly fragmentary at best, they allowed renewed and refreshed accessed to a period that we have explored before with formal historians. The discerning listener would have noted that in this exploration we were guided by the route followed by the book in the development of 19th century South African life. From the Cape of Good Hope, towards the Eastern boundaries of the frontier. Today’s episode will be continuation of that journey, in that case. We will look at the izibongo of isiZulu-speaking communities in 19th century South Africa and how these evolved over time.

To help us unpack all these questions we are joined by Mbongiseni Buthelezi.

Mbongiseni is the Executive Director at the Public Affairs Research Institute. He holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, New York, where he also obtained a Master of Philosophy in English and Comparative Literature. A dedicated scholar, he graduated cum laude from both the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Natal, earning a Master of Arts in English Studies and an Honours degree in English and Drama, respectively. Working in various academic and activist capacities, Mbongiseni has been interested in how the state interfaces with citizens in areas that include land restitution, the role of traditional leaders in governance, heritage and public archives.

With various collaborators he has researched and written on the state’s constructions of the identities of citizens in KwaZulu-Natal through heritage discourse and commemorative events. He has also written on land and citizenship rights in rural areas and the role of traditional leaders in the realisation of these rights, as well as the dire state of public archives and its implications for accountable government.