A convert encounters a King

Colenso had reason to begin by pointing to the hyperbole and sensationalism that were then pervading the reports about the reigning Zulu king. Importantly, he was also commenting on the reports that Cetshwayo was killing Christian converts and therefore causing missionaries and converts to flee the Zulu country (Zululand).

Colenso was therefore writing to quell the hysteria as well as introduce to the English-reading public an unknown voice, that of his convert, printer and amanuensis, Fuze. The essay is also about re-encounters, since Fuze, Colenso and other Bishopstowe converts had travelled to the Zulu country in 1859 to meet with the then reigning king, Mpande.

In the latter account, the young converts met Cetshwayo, who was then an aspiring and ambitious prince evidently impatient with his father’s rule and itching to become king. By 1877 when Fuze visits again as an adult, Cetshwayo was an exasperated monarch who not only had to deal with his subjects fleeing Zululand, crossing the Tugela (uThukela) and residing among the ‘white people’ (the colony of Natal), he also had todeal with pressure from his subjects to execute Christian converts who were seen as exercising a certain amount of ‘occult’ power by worshipping a foreign god.

More importantly, his every action was being reported to the Natal colonial government and by implication also to Queen Victoria in England. These then are the anxieties that Fuze finds animating Zululand, since every step he took towards the Zulu king was also a step towards his possible execution.

Colenso’s preface was however not concerned with these intrigues, rather he wrote to reassure the English audience of Fuze’s credentials – he is the manager of Colenso’s printing office (and therefore a responsible and hardworking man); he is a ‘Natalnative’ (and therefore thoroughly Anglicised and loyal to British ideals) and he is literate (and therefore able to transcribe verbatim the Zuluking’s words).

In other words, Colenso was at pains to inform the readers that ‘such exaggerated accounts’ can and should be discarded in favour of the account of a Zulu-speaking witness who had travelled to the Zulu king to make enquiries about the supposed killing of converts.

The road leading to Mayizekanye (written as Maïzekanye) – Cetshwayo’s military residence –was not a straight line. Fuze made many detours and observed much protocol about visiting chiefs,commoners and relatives on his way to the king.This then makes his report an account of Zulu etiquette – home-cooked meals being prepared for travellers, cool beer offered to ‘wet the lips’, and gifts of goats, calves and heifers being offered to an esteemed guest of the king. In fact, there is so much detail of the manners and habits of the Zulu country that it is even tempting to call Fuze’s essay an ethnography.

The problem is, he was an outsider – a Christian convert from Natal, who played the harmonium and carried a watch. He was also busily scribbling on pieces of paper to the amusement of Zulu girls who were watching him talk to the king.

He was therefore the object of people’s curiosity and suspicion (plus he was riding a horse). Thus, when he met with Cetshwayo it was an encounter between two incommensurable worlds. Yet, the two found common ground – first, in the personality of Colenso who had by that time proved himself a necessary and useful ally of uSuthu (the Zulu royal house) and the exiled amaHlubi chief Langalibalele, who was by then a prisoner of the British in exile in Cape Town. These two personalities framed the conversation between Cetshwayo and Fuze, since the matter of the converts was expeditiously dealt with by Cetshwayo’s denials that he had ordered the execution of converts.

The conversation between the two exceeded the crisis that had precipitated Fuze’s visit: in the essay Fuze recounted how he told the king that conversion didn’t mean ukuhlubuka (deserting one’s ruler); that he told him that the Zulu people should allow ‘Natal natives’ to return to Zululand and educate and enlighten the Zulus; that the king should follow the footsteps of his uncle, Shaka, and execute izanusi (diviners) since it was these practitioners who were continually accusing converts of diabolic deeds; that he discussed with the king the attempts being made by Colenso and others to appeal the arbitrary judgement made against Langalibalele. All these dialogues were neatly compacted into a few minutes of conversation since the Zulu king didn’t have time to waste.

Thus, what we hear in Fuze’s ‘A visit to King Ketshwayo’ is a multi-vocal conversation about culture, politics,
imperialism and what Fuze aptly summed up as ‘how matters stand with black people, and how the black chiefs are attacked with accusations’. The article is therefore littered with prognostications of what eventually occurred in 1879 when the Zulu kingdom was destroyed, and Cetshwayo exiled and sent to Cape Town, there to begin his own unique relationship with the English monarch, Queen Victoria, and with British imperialism.


• Garb, Tamar (ed). 2013. African Photography from the Walther Collection: Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive. Göttingen: Steidl.

• Guy, Jeff. 1994. The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom: The Civil War in Zululand, 1879–1884.Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press. Original edition, 1979.

• Mahoney, Michael R. 2012. The Other Zulus: The Spread of Zulu Ethnicity in Colonial South Africa. Durham& London: Duke University Press.

• Mokoena, Hlonipha. 2011. Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

• Parsons, Neil. 2003. ‘No longer rare birds in London’: Zulu, Ndebele, Gaza and Swazi envoys to England, 1882–1894’ in Gretchen Holbrook Gertzina (ed), Black Victorians/Black Victoriana. New Brunswick:
Rutgers University Press.

• Webb, Colin de B. & John. B. Wright, 1987. A Zulu King Speaks: Statements Made by Cetshwayo kaMpande
on the History and Customs of his People. Pietermaritzburg & Durban: University of Natal Press & Killie
Campbell Africana Library.

A Visit to King Ketshwayo

Magema Magwaza Fuze, Macmillan’s Magazine (UK), 1878

Well! On the day when we left my father’s kraal, we went and crossed the Buffalo into Zululand, and went on to Njuba’s, which was reached at midday, and we got to Esigedhleni, a kraal of Matshana’s, in the evening. I sent a man to report me to Matshana, and was given a hut for myself and party; and shortly there arrived a leg of beef uncooked, which we grilled and ate, and slept. In the morning, Matshana sent for me, and I went to him, into a hut of his isigodhlo. I asked him about the killing of people, saying, ‘I am very much surprised to hear the stories about killing in Zululand. But I should very much wish to hear clearly from you, sir, if it is really true that I too shall be likely to be killed …’ Said Matshana, ‘I know nothing about any such matter here in Zululand. No one is killed, if he has not done wrong’ …

…When we had gone outside the hut I saw two converts, young men. Well! We sat down with those two converts under the shade of a tree under a kraal, and I began to ask about the evil things I had heard as to the killing of converts. They told me that two converts had been killed and this is the account which they gave me: There was a man of Gaozi’s who had been a convert for two years. When Gaozi first heard that this man wished to become a convert he tried to prevent it, and collected his council to inquire closely about the conversion of that man. But as the man would not abandon his conversion, the Induna Gaozi let him alone … but he ordered that the king should not be told about the matter. So things remained until a whole year had passed.

But afterwards, when the second year was nearly at an end, the missionary Mondi (Mr Oftebro) went and told the king about that man’s conversion … The king was astonished to hear that it had been hidden from him by Gaozi, and sent a man to hear the truth about it from Gaozi. When Gaozi heard that, he was alarmed thinking that the missionary had gone to inform against him to the king … and he sent an impi to kill the man at once,before Ketshwayo had sent a word of reply to him …

… July 23: Since I have reached this (king’s) kraal, I have not seen the king till this day. This morning at 8am,
we went into the Chief Induna Mnyamana, I and Mfunzi, and Nkisimane, and Mboza, and he gave us some beer. As we came out from the Chief Induna, we saw the king standing at the top of the kraal speaking with his people, who were seated in great numbers; he was standing at the entrance to the cattle kraal. On seeing him we went up to pay our respects. Ketshwayo is a black ikehla (headringed man), resembling his father (the late Mpande), and firm in flesh. He is large, but his body is firm, not flabby, like bodies of other large men among the Zulus.

His face does not look so well as it did formerly. He had on today a spotted blanket. After paying our respects, we went down to the bottom of the kraal.When the people went away from before him, the king sent to call us, he still standing at the same place. We came to him and sat down, I spoke with him as follows:

Magema: Ndabezita, I have come here with the desire to see you … I wish to know about that which is said by people, viz. that you are killing people continually, without having tried their cause, and although the man may not be worthy of death. For you see, sir, those reports last year very much grieved Sobantu, till at last he sent to you, and wrote letters to go to the chiefs over the sea on the words which were spoken in your name by Mfunzi and Nkisimane. Those words plainly showed that these reports were false, and so they were silenced who spread those evil reports about you. And now it will be a joyful thing for me to hear from my lord, the King Gumede, that truly such is the case…

Ketshwayo: Well! I am glad to hear what you say. You see Sobantu there is a father to me, he is not like other white men; his words are different from theirs, they are pleasant. And yet I do not know why he cares for me; he has not seen me from the time when he saw me quite a boy … I hope that Sobantu will always have a care for me, for those white men are talking – talking – talking, and they want to come down with might upon me. But for my part, as I have done no wrong, I will not runaway … As for me, look you, I don’t approve of killing a man. But the Zulu people are bad; it is they who wish to kill one another, whereas I do not allow it. Here, you see, are Mfunzi and Nkisimane still alive, whom people have been after continually, seeking that they should be killed. Well! How is it
that they are still alive? And in the time to come you will find them still here.

Magema: Ndabezita, I should wish to hear also about those stories of converts whom it is said you are killing.For, when I was there at home, it was reported that three converts had come to inform Mr John (Shepstone) about them. And moreover, this very day, I find the missionaries and converts already gone, running away from you. I wish to know the meaning of this. Ketshwayo: Au! They are liars! Do you hear what he says? I too don’t understand the meaning of that. I only see that all the missionaries have gone away, without my knowing why they are gone away, without their having said a word to me, whereas I had treated them very kindly …