SA needs unity, not tribalism

King Goodwill Zwelithini.
King Goodwill Zwelithini.

The 4th of July marks a significant and painful anniversary in the anti-colonial struggle in our part of Africa. It was on that day in 1879 that the heroic and anti-imperialist king, Cetshwayo kaMpande, was finally defeated by the invading British army at the Battle of Ulundi.

This battle, which left thousands of warriors dead, was the last of a series of incursions launched by colonial forces in retaliation for the crunching defeat they suffered at the hand of King Cetshwayo and his army at the Battle of Isandlwana on January 22 1879.

The British victory at the Battle of Ulundi did not just mean the exiling of the king and the collapse of the Zulu empire, it was also a heavy blow for the struggle against foreign invasion and land dispossession. That defeat, however, also served as an important lesson to future generations of Africans that victory against colonialism and racial oppression would only be achieved through unity.

It therefore saddened us to see the July 4 anniversary used yesterday to sow division at a time when what South Africa needs the most is the unity of its people.

King Zwelithini, a descendent of the great Cetshwayo, gathered his followers in Ulundi to protest against what he sees as government plans to starve him of the land that falls under his Ingonyama Trust. This includes most of the rural KwaZulu-Natal land that used to fall under the KwaZulu homeland during apartheid.

For now, we are not keen to enter the debate on whether former president Kgalema Motlanthe and the advisory council he led that reviewed existing laws and policies were right in arguing that land under the trust should be given directly to people who live on it, rather than be controlled by the king.

King Zwelithini has every right to object to such a proposal. But what is of great concern to us are inflammatory statements at yesterday's gathering where speakers sought to paint amaZulu as a "hated" group that has "enemies" in government and elsewhere who seek to harm it. Ethnic mobilisation has no place in a democracy, especially not in one that witnessed so much bloodshed as a result of the "ethnic violence" of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Surely, King Zwelithini can ably argue why the Ingonyama Trust works for his area without threatening to unleash warriors.

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