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Remembering Magema Fuze on the centenary anniversary of the publication of Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala

Published Feb 22, 2022



South African history is replete with the deliberate invisibility and gross marginalisation of black thinkers, leaders, warriors, freedom fighters, and men and women of exemplary fortitude across the ages.

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Despite the best will in the young yet visionary progressive scholarship and political agitations commonly known as decoloniality, Africans and their major contribution in human progress and key moments of our history are largely erased or reduced to inconsequential accidents of their times.

The towering African Christian missionary convert, cultural interpreter, visual artist, teacher, peace emissary, printing manager and writer, Magema Magwaza Fuze’s, is a typical story of the untold injustices and the pernicious results of colonial and racist historiography. How many South Africans today remember, let alone know, Magema kaMagwaza Fuze, who also called himself, Skelemu, (uma ezibongela)?

We raise Fuze’s name today because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of his seminal book, Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona, in 1922. The book was later translated into English in 1979 as Black People And Whence They Came. It was the first book to be published by a Zulu native speaker in South Africa. Fuze first expressed most of the ideas in his book on the pages of Inkanyiso and Ilanga lase Natal.

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Undoubtedly, this text is a piece of important history, and thanks to leading Fuze scholar, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena, and the UKZN Press among others, the book will be republished sometime this year. Also, it is pleasing to know that a team of historians at the University of Cape Town, led by Prof Carolyn Hamilton, are galvanising their peers across the world in honour of the great Magema Fuze, an illustrious son of our province.

Well, a brief history lesson is in order here. Magema Fuze was born around 1844 in the Richmond area in KwaZulu-Natal and died on 20 September 1920. In 1856, at age 12, Fuze joined Bishop John William Colenso (uSobantu) at the missionary’s short-lived school, Ekukhanyeni, and converted to Christianity, waba yikholwa.

While loyal to Christian teachings, Fuze and his fellow convert, William Ngidi, later became polygamists, and by disobeying Colenso’s insistence that every Christian man could only take one wife, they were also affirming their African ancestral practices that colonialism sought to denigrate and destroy. As time went on, Fuze became one of the fierce critiques of colonialism and the suffering it brought on Africans. It is therefore apt that we not only locate him in the realms of kholwa intellectuals but equally important is to salute him as one of the founding fathers of African nationalism.

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To remember the remarkable yet difficult life of Magema Fuze is to return to a rich writing and intellectual heritage of other pioneering figures in the history of black writing, first in the service of Christianity, and secondly, in the quest for the emancipation of Africans, and their overall participation in modernity. Names like William Ngidi, John Tengo Jabavu, Sol Plaatje and John Dube, come to mind.

There are several reasons why Fuze stands out, why he gives us a great deal of pride, why he should inspire all of us, especially the youth, to work even harder in pursuit of their goals no matter the challenges.

Firstly, the people of KwaZulu-Natal, in particular, and all Africans, need to pay tribute to Magema Fuze for his unique, at times difficult and dangerous exemplary role during key moments of 19th-century history, perhaps the harshest days of colonial violence and land plunder against Africans in this province.

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Secondly, it is remarkable that in his lifetime, Fuze saw the reigns of four Zulu kings: Mpande, Cetshwayo, Dinuzulu and Solomon kaBhekuzulu. Following the arrest and banishment of the Hlubi king, Langalibalele, Magema Fuze played a key role as an interpreter and witnessed the brutal destruction of the Hlubi kingdom by the British led by Sir Theophilus Shepstone.

Thirdly, Fuze saw the destruction of the Zulu kingdom that began with the Ncome defeat of the Zulus, King Cetshwayo’s arrest and banishment as part of the bloody Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. This devastation left him deeply scarred and helped sharpen his response to the injustices of the time.

Fourthly, in 1896, he travelled with King Dinuzulu to the island of St Helena as his personal secretary, a time of immense trials and tribulations for Fuze. The trip was made possible by the Colenso’s daughters, Harriette and Angela.

Lastly, we call upon all the people of KwaZulu-Natal to look out for celebrations in honour of the great pioneer, Magema kaMagwaza Fuze, and to be inspired by his life. A tribute to Fuze is inadvertently also a tribute to a great African mind, a resilient spirit, and a formidable man of letters.

The pride we derive from our heroes should always influence our thinking and sharpen us to excel whatever role and responsibility we carry as individuals or collectively.

Sihle Zikalala | KwaZulu- Natal Premier

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