Extract from Racialised Masculinity and the Limits of Settlement: John Dunn and Natal, 1879-1883
“The appointment of Dunn as chief was not seen by all as a legitimate extension of active, masculinised authority in Zululand; a vocal contingent within Natal instead asserted that the war had been unjust and a restored Cetshwayo (with considerable British surveillance and civilizing influence) would be a more appropriate means of ordering the former Zulu kingdom. Writing directly to the Earl of Kimberley at the Colonial Office, Dunn argued vehemently against Cetshwayo’s reinstatement, asserting that the return of the deposed monarch would have immediate implications for British reputation as well as claims to sovereignty over the region:
I beg also to bring to your Lordship’s notice the injury such a step will be to the prestige of all
Englishmen and any English Government in future in this part of Africa, and that it cannot tend to the peace and welfare of the English race, neither of the natives, and will eventually lead to a great deal of bloodshed.
In this letter, Dunn insists that Britain’s colonial future is at stake in the debate over Cetshwayo’s restoration. He argues that if the king returns, imperial agents such as Dunn will be unable to fulfil their duties, namely maintaining order and continuing to mark out space for settlement and control
Responsibilities uniquely suited to the white British male administrator. In Dunn’s estimation, the return of Cetshwayo threatened to of newly claimed spaces of imperial rule as well as the central logic of British intervention in Zululand itself. Dunn asserts that restoring the king would be a surrender of supremacy in the region, both political and symbolic. By threatening bloodshed and ruin, Dunn recalls the rationale of the initial invasion to maintain the safety and order of Natal and British aims in southern Africa. Dunn then turns from the logic of the invasion to more personal reasons for preventing Cetshwayo’s return:
For myself, I can say that I look upon my territory as my home, and have taken steps for the improvement of it and my people, and should Cetywayo return matters will relapse into their former state.
Dunn’s letter emphasises the orientational work of the settler project. Zululand is reconceived as a domestic space to be occupied, it is his home. By reorienting himself as well as the space, Dunn in effect writes himself into the landscape as a chief and father figure
To „his people.‟ consequently, he presents settler masculinity not merely as a set of identities
but rather as an apparatus to be utilized in an attempt to rationalise the often violent occupation of space that belied the colonial project itself. For Dunn, then, race and gender constituted more than an identity: white masculinity was a tool that served to delineate the spaces of British sovereignty. Dunn himself recounted that following the defeat of the Zulus in 1879, a principal
induna, Undhlandaga, announced to the British officers assembled that: Our word is but one we wish no more for a black King we wish to a white one, and the white one we mean is that one (pointing to me) John Dunn. He knows us, and knows our ways and we know him and like him.” The rest of the men then said “our voice is one, we say the same.
In Dunn’s retelling, the Zulus recognize and appropriately value his white masculinity, desiring him as a preferable alternative to a black king. This somewhat self-serving remembrance chooses to emphasise Dunn’s power as a white male settler combined with his authority as a cultural interlocutor. Thus, for Dunn, his claims to sovereignty can be enforced through a mobilization of a racialised masculinity that still accounts for his specialised knowledge due to his professed understanding of Zulu culture. Yet, these claims to racialised masculinity could be equally mobilized
against Dunn. While imprisoned at Oude Molen in the Cape Colony, the deposed King Cetshwayo groused, “I will not say much of John Dunn; he does not know of the doings of the white man, he lives in the Zulu country, and although he is white he is black like the native; the Zulus could only be ruled by white men proper, and not by men like John Dunn Maneuvering to regain his kingdom, Cetshwayo disparaged his former advisor for the same intimate knowledge that I bid Dunn trumpets. In Cetshwayo’s missive, white masculinity itself is still upheld as the ideal and is paradoxically employed as a juridical force by the Zulu king (in order to indirectly assert his claims to kingship under British authority), yet Dunn is no longer white. He instead has become
black through his excessive proximity, and unable to marshal the racialised power that served as the ballast for British sovereign claims over the land and peoples of Zululand. As such, his body is no longer able to pass through the whitened, colonial spaces of the newly conquered. Cetshwayo’s letter argues instead that Dunn, rather than mobilizing his white masculinity, has surrendered it; Dunn’s proximity has led to a blackness that marks him as separate and in marked resistance to the lines of power delineated by a settler state.”