I am Zulu. There, I said it.
I’m not quite sure why it’s such a socially awkward thing to talk about, being Zulu. But every so often, in a social situation, after I confess to being Zulu the almost expected comments that follow are: “Zulus are so violent” or “Zulus are so rude”. On one occasion somebody said to me: “So, if you’re Zulu, where is your spear and shield?” That last one had my neck in a spasm for several seconds after jerking my head back sharply in utter bewilderment.
Yes, I’ve heard all the clichés about how uneducated and loud Zulu people are. How uncompromising and stubborn we are. Yes, I’ve also been asked why Zulu men feel the need to flood Jo’burg’s taxi ranks. Oh, how Jo’burg loathes obnoxious *Zulu taxi drivers.
I grew up in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal and didn’t really have any exposure to other ethnic groups until I moved to Jo’burg for my first year at Wits. I couldn’t really understand much Tswana/Sotho other than the little I had learned from the soapie Generations.
For the first time in my life I couldn’t just speak Zulu without someone saying how “Zulu” my accent was or, as they would say, “that deep Zulu”. At first I would say: “Well that’s a really stupid thing to say, seeing as how KZN is where the language originated from.” Since I was the original, how could I possibly have an “accent”. Preposterous.
In defending my position I would become agitated and defensive, slurring my words between swigs of alcohol (because this is when most of the conversations would occur). I’m Zulu and I speak the correct Zulu, Jozi Zulu is diluted. Jozi people have hacked our beloved language into something unrecognisable, I would say.
Ahh there she is. The stubborn and uncompromising Zulu in me finally reared its head.
Even my close friends giggle and mimic me when I talk in Zulu. “‘Hawema!’ ” they say, mimicking me. “You’re going all native on us now.”
There are more famous Zulu natives who are better known than I am. They also provoke reactions from people. Recently the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made international news after he requested R12-million from the provincial legislature to build his sixth wife a palace.
President Jacob Zuma, possibly the most famous Zulu of all at the moment, is nothing short of controversial. His statements on gays, women and minorities feed the chatterers with regular fodder.
I’m not going to make sweeping statements about how Zulu people want to be represented but I will say I have a distaste for stereotypes, as I’m sure most people have. “English people are snooty”, “Christians are judgemental” and “redheads have no souls” are just a few stupid stereotypes that come to mind.
AmaZulu means “people of heaven”. Consider that the next time you expect to see me barefoot with a shield and spear singing the Shaka Zulu soundtrack and thank your lucky stars I’m no avenging angel.