Zulu Politics

From James O. Gump's "The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux":

"Despite similarities in the Sioux and Zulu experiences-- civil war, partition, and national disintegration--key differences clearly emerge. Economically, the Sioux were marginalized by their encounter with the United States, made "useless" to the economic growth of the country. A defeated Zululand, on the other hand, transformed itself into a reservoir of cheap labor, a highly desireable commodity to the British and later to South African whites..."

Louis, the SA information is interesting (and some of it new to me) but I don't get a couple of things here.

First, why the comparison of these two peoples? A marxist approach would surely locate such processes of resistance and cooptation within a mode of production and expanded division of labour, as Gump does in this paragraph:

It strikes me that the articulations of modes of production in the SA case (not just with respect to the Zulu, but to most of the indigenous peoples) was a strikingly important process in the advanced-industrial, and indeed often explicitly socialist character of working-class and poor people's resistance to Inkatha and the apartheid regime during the 1970s and 1980s.

That brings me to the second point, which is that the far more important force in Zulu politics during the 1970s was the trade union movement (which in recent SA history was actually born in Durban from Zulu worker militancy in 1973), and during the 1980s the United Democratic Front (an ANC proxy). This was (and to an extent still is) a mass-democratic, non-racial politics, and tens of thousands of Zulu people paid for their more progressive politics with their lives, at the hands of Inkatha and the old regime. It is strange that this gets left out of Gump's concluding chapter, since he touches on Inkatha's post-1975 revival.

The 1990s have seen byzantine twists and turns in intra-Inkatha and intra-ANC politics in KwaZulu-Natal, with a recent threat of a formal election-year (1999) alliance between the two (promoted by Inkatha boss Gatsha Buthelezi and the incoming president, Thabo Mbeki) vetoed by progressive KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders and activists. I should mention that officially, Inkatha controls the province, but under conditions in the 1994 election that were anything but free and fair. They will probably win a plurality in next year's election, but might have trouble stitching together a coherent ruling bloc, given the enormous problems with party discipline and vision over the past five years, and the messianic role Gatsha plays within the party.

Anyhow, the disparagement in Gump's reduction of Zulu politics to ethnic nationalism and hence to opposition to "pan-Africanist" (a term fraught with divergent meanings here) politics, in contrast to the Sioux, doesn't really hold up if the more recent, modern, enlightened politics of the unions, civic associations, women's groups and ANC are factored in. Not that the latter alliance is ideal -- it too is riven with populist, internecine conflicts -- but the existence of this strong strain of progressive activism makes the Sioux comparison even more problematic than what the mode of production disjuncture suggests...

I take it you are searching, Lou, in such study, for a more general way of understanding indigenous political resistance to the neo-colonial situation? A fascinating project. I hope there is something in South Africa's recent past that contributes to your understanding. I strongly recomment Alex Callinicos' treatment of Southern African (Shona-Ndebele and Afrikaans) nationalism in his 1989 book Making History (Cambridge, Polity).

Patrick Bond