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The Colenso's a family of activists
Posts : 116
Join date : 2011-06-17
|Subject: The Colenso's a family of activists Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:51 pm|| |
< Go Back
In defence of an ‘unimportant’ inkosi
28 Sep 2011
BISHOP John Colenso along with his family are well known for their campaigns on behalf of Chief Langalibalele of the Hlubi and the Zulu kings Cetshwayo kaMpande and Dinizulu kaCetshwayo, but British historian Gwilym Colenso has uncovered their campaign on behalf of a minor inkosi known only as Beje while researching the Colenso campaign network that stretched between two continents.
As his surname suggests Gwilym Colenso is related to the Colensos. “But not directly,” he says. “The bishop was a cousin of my great-great-grandfather, Richard Colenso.”
Colenso has published several papers on the Colensos as well as contributing to The Eye of the Storm: Bishop John William Colenso and the Crisis of Biblical Inspiration edited by Jonathan Draper.
Exploring the Colenso legacy found Colenso first visiting South Africa in 1999 when he rounded off a visit to the sites associated with the Colenso family in and around Pietermaritzburg with a reading of Jeff Guy’s bio-graphy The Heretic. “It was a real eye-opener,” says Colenso.
“A lot of work has been done on the South African side of the family of Bishop Colenso,” says Colenso, citing not only Guy (who also wrote The View Across the River dealing with Harriette Colenso’s campaigns on behalf of the Zulus) but historians such as Shula Marks, Ruth Edgecombe and Brenda Nicholls. “I decided to concentrate on the British connection. Frank Colenso was the most active campaigner there and, after he died, his widow, Sophie.
“During the period when the Colensos were campaigning, attitudes hardened towards indigenous people and British imperial expansion became more and more aggressive,” says Colenso. “Humanitarians protesting about its destructive effects on colonised people became more isolated in the white community and faced increasing hostility from colonial officials and whites settlers alike.
“However, the Colenso family were able, via their family connections, to maintain what has been called an ‘extensive chain of influence’ linking a beleaguered and relatively powerless humanitarian minority in Natal to the source of imperial power at the heart of the British Empire.”
By the time of the Langalibalele trial in 1874, Bishop Colenso had been in the colony for two decades and his children were in their late 20s or early 30s. “His two sons were in England having finished their university education and his three daughters remained in the family home at Bishopstowe in Natal,” says Colenso.
The Langalibalele affair marked the beginning of a lifelong campaign by the bishop and his family for justice for the Zulu people. “But it set the Colenso family at odds with the Natal authorities,” says Colenso. “And it also brought the Colenso family into conflict with the majority of the settler community of Natal.”
Their campaign for Langalibalele also saw the beginning of a close relationship between the Colenso family and the Aborigine’s Protection Society in Britain, especially with its secretary Frederick Chesson.
“With the aid of Frank as their British connection, the Colenso’s campaigning work had the effect of enabling the Zulu voice to be heard not only in Natal but also in England at a time when black Africans were yet to harness the full power of the written word.”
Caption: Gwilym Colenso
Gwilym has returned to South Africa for research trips in 2001, 2009, and again this year when he presented a paper at the 23rd Biennial conference of the Southern African Historical Society in Durban dealing with his work on the British connection in the Colenso family’s work with the Zulu.
A key focus of the paper is the Colenso campaign on the behalf of Beje which Colenso first came across when researching at Rhodes House, Oxford university. Further archival research in Britain and South Africa unearthed the details.
“The Beje case is just one of very many cases taken up or championed by the Colensos over a 35-year period of intense campaigning,” says Colenso. “It is not in itself more dramatic than many others but I think it is important because, in political terms, Beje was unimportant.”
A Natal Zulu chief, Beje, with over 20 of his followers, was tried in 1880 in the Native High Court of Natal in Pietermaritzburg on a charge of high treason for crossing into Zululand during the Anglo-Zulu war the previous year.
When they were found guilty and sentenced to terms of imprisonment with hard labour in Pietermaritzburg Prison the Colenso campaign swung into action: the bishop and daughter Harriette collecting evidence, writing letters, and compiling reports in Natal which son Frank, together with Chesson in London, used to lobby the British public and the Colonial Office.
The Colensos argued for the release of Beje and his men on the grounds that there had been a miscarriage of justice and because of the unhealthy conditions in the Pietermaritzburg prison — two of Beje’s followers died of a mysterious “gaol sickness”.
The Colenso’s tenacious inquiries revealed not only the dire conditions in the prison but also evidence that Beje and his men had crossed into Zululand from Natal fully two months before the war began.
The parallels with the trial of Langalibelele did not escape either the Colensos or the Colonial Office where one official dug out the documents on the earlier case. “Since the Langalibelele case had been accepted as a gross miscarriage of justice and the Colonial Office had ruled that the verdict be overturned, one wonders why similar action could not be taken in the case of Beje,” says Colenso whose research demonstrates that the Colonial Office was reluctant “up to its highest level to go against the ‘state of feeling (of the white settlers) in Natal’.”
The efforts of the Colensos and Chesson proved successful. In November 1881, Bishop Colenso reported to Chesson, “to our great joy, came Beje and 15 others who had been released yesterday, through an order ... from the Secretary of State.”
The Colensos joy at Beje’s release was tempered by the fact that two of his followers had died in prison, while a third was so ill he did not survive the journey out to the bishop’s home Bishopstowe. All those who survived were sick as a result of their stay in prison.
After the bishop died in 1883, his eldest daughter, Harriette, took the lead in continuing his campaigning work in Natal in partnership with her brother, Frank, in England.
“In the later years of their campaigning, the Colensos in Natal, particularly Harriette, were in contact with and gave encouragement and advice to many of the growing numbers of largely mission-educated, literate, and politically active Africans who were beginning to set up newspapers and organisations directly representing the interests of black Africans in Natal and Zululand and elsewhere in South Africa.”
Such initiatives, which included the formation, in 1912, of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which became the ANC, and which received the support of the Colensos, were eventually to place the leadership of the struggle fully in the hands of black people.
In the early decades of the 20th century, representatives of the SANNC went to Britain to make direct representations directly to the British government and some were shown hospitality there by Frank’s widow, Sophie.
“The Colenso family home in England became a place of rest and respite for delegates from South Africa, such as Sol Plaatje and John Dube when visiting England,” says Colenso.
“Even after Frank’s death in 1910, the British connection of the Colenso family continued to be of significance in facilitating representations being made in Britain in defence of the rights of the black population of South Africa.”
Posts : 116
Join date : 2011-06-17
|Subject: Re: The Colenso's a family of activists Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:55 pm|| |
< Go Back
Finding a forgotten pioneer
22 Jul 2011
MAGEMA Fuze is best known as the inhabitant of footnotes: his 1922 book Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona (The Black People and Whence They Came) is more referenced than read. But now a new book, Magema Fuze — The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual by Hlonipha Mokoena, has freed Fuze from footnote obscurity, placing him on the front cover of a biography that positions him as a key figure in the intellectual life of this country.
Born around 1840, Fuze was enrolled as a young teenager at Ekukhanyeni School in Bishopstowe, founded by Bishop John W. Colenso. Baptised as a Christian in 1859, Fuze went on to become Colenso’s printer and assistant. In later life he was a prolific contributor — of letters and articles — to newspapers. In his eighties, he published Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona, later translated into English and published in 1979 as The Black People and Whence They Came.
Fuze spent most of his life living either in or around Pietermaritzburg, dying in what is now Hollingwood in 1922. The whereabouts of his grave is unknown; lost to living memory, his single book was, until now, his only memorial. Even his biographer came across her subject by chance. “It was accidental,” says Mokoena, speaking shortly after her book was launched at the recent 23rd biennial conference of the Southern African Historical Society in Durban last month.
Mokoena recalls first encountering Fuze in a book by the historian André du Toit. “He quoted sections from Abantu Abamnyama and I was puzzled because Du Toit described Fuze as a Zulu speaker and the first writer in Zulu, yet I had never heard of him. This despite there being plenty of Zulu books at home when I was growing up and having aunts who were teachers — but even they had never heard of him.”
Her curiosity aroused, Mokoena began researching Fuze, first for an honours degree then a Masters, subsequently upgraded to a doctorate. She is now an assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York.
Knowing of her interest, other academics who had encountered aspects of Fuze in their research brought the material to her attention. Gradually it became clear that there was a lot more to Fuze than Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona.
“Fuze was also part of a network that exchanged letters and manuscripts,” she says. “And there is a whole body of journalism which appeared in many newspapers, mainly in Ilanga lase Natal, Inkanyiso and Ipepa Lo Hlanga, as well as other forms of print.”
Fuze was fortuitously related to John Dube, first president of the ANC and the founding editor of Ilanga. “Dube was Fuze’s conduit into print,” says Mokoena.
But although Mokoena was able to unearth Fuze’s published material, there was little that provided access to the man behind the writing. Much of Fuze’s material was destroyed in the fire at Bishopstowe in 1884 and all that remains from his time there appear to be some schoolboy drawings in the Grey Manuscript Collection at the National Library in Cape Town.
There are a few letters extant, says Mokoena. “But they are ‘laundry list’ letters, very practical, they say nothing about who he was.”
One item that has survived is Fuze’s will. “That tells us more,” says Mokoena. “It tells us that he’d thought about his last days. He was the family patriarch and he was concerned about what would happen to his property.”
Given such biographical gaps, perhaps it’s not surprising Mokoena eschews a conventional cradle-to-grave approach but essays instead a series of explorations around aspects of Fuze’s life and its key elements — his relationship with the Colensos, his interactions with the Zulu royal family, his role as a cultural critic and, of course, the creation of his book.
Fuze was both Christian and educated, a member of the amakholwa. “Being an ikholwa was a political and social, rather than just a religious identity,” observes Mokoena in the book.
“I am wary of the kholwa label,” she says. “Especially given a legacy of thought that sees them as either sell-outs or unhappily caught between two worlds.”
“I am uncomfortable with the idea that Fuze was caught between two worlds. That makes him both an inauthentic Christian and an inauthentic African. Fuze was searching for a different kind of authenticity: that of a writer and an intellectual. Christianity and Zuluness were part of his being, but he was moving beyond these labels. His life was not a contest between two things.”
Mokoena says her book tells the story of someone who was a writer. “It is about what it is to be a writer, the commitment to being a writer, the intellectual history of a writer. People must decide if I’m justified in calling Fuze an intellectual.”
Mokoena gradually uncovered Fuze the intellectual by leafing through old newspapers. “The paper is often so fragile in those old newspapers — I thought ‘how am I going to page through this?’ It was a physically challenging process. Going through hundreds of newspapers. Searching with my eyes. Looking for Fuze’s name to pop up on the page.”
Many of Fuze’s articles — often in series form — as well as letters, dealt with aspects of Zulu history, which raised the question: which came first, the articles or the book? “There is a feeling that the book pre-existed in some form,” says Mokoena. “And he was expanding on the ideas contained in the book in the press.”
“The book is something of an anti-climax after the journalism. There is a certain self-censorship when it comes to the book. This is not the same voice as in the Ilanga pieces, for example. Fuze is much more aggressive in newsprint. And writing in newspapers was a more interactive process; readers could agree and disagree with him, they could respond in the newspaper.”
To some extent, Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona competes with the key book for the amakholwa, the Bible. “The kholwa were so fixated with the Bible as though it was the only text,” says Mokoena. “In some respects, Fuze was writing a competing text. He was writing the story of a people and in that regard Abantu Abamnyama mimicked the Old Testament, mirroring the story of the children of Israel, the story of a chosen people.”
Fuze published his book at a time when the authorities were busy defining what would be taught in schools. He would have been aware of this and out to counter colonial orthodoxies. “Fuze’s is not a history that would fit in neatly with that absorbed from missionaries and travellers,” says Mokoena. “His book is more speculative; it’s not a textbook.”
After her book’s publication, Mokoena came across a contemporary prospectus for Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona in English. “This says the book is about the destruction of the Zulu kingdom by the British. The prospectus conveys the idea that the book is more judgmental, and it says more about the political intent of the book.”
Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona was translated into English by H.C. Lugg, a former Chief Native Commissioner of Natal, and edited by A. T. Cope. It was published in 1979 as The Black People and Whence They Came. “Lugg translated it very well and made it very readable for English speakers,” says Mokoena. “But they did Fuze a disservice in rearranging and separating out material.”
Comparisons of the Zulu original with the English version demonstrate the differing approaches to telling a story on the part of the original writer and his later translator and editor. A rather heavy editorial hand also cut some key references, such as mention of the linguist and ethnographer Wilhelm Bleek. “As a result, although Fuze refers to other texts, because he doesn’t name the authors, you are left with the impression that he made them up. But the clues to what he was reading are there in the Zulu version.” Mokoena says her book demonstrates that people have been writing and thinking in Zulu for over a century. “It’s nothing new for people to write in their mother tongue. And you find brilliant writing, writing that can’t be compared to anything else, writing that is unique in the world.” Writing like Fuze’s.
• Magema Fuze — The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual by Hlonipha Mokoena is published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
Posts : 116
Join date : 2011-06-17
|Subject: Re: The Colenso's a family of activists Thu Sep 29, 2011 6:58 pm|| |
I just think these two articles from the Natal Witness may be of interest to those who enjoy the socio-political side of this fascinating conflict.
The Colenso's a family of activists
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