„abaQulusi of eBaQulusini“:

re-defining identities

Who are they? Who were they?

Nation- and State-building in pre-colonial South-Eastern Africa

Ben Khumalo-Seegelken

 AbaQulusi are and were the people of the region lying roughly between the uKhahlamba mountain-range [Drakensberge] to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east, between the rivers oPhongolo, uMzinyathi and iMfolozi – the region, eBaQulusini [place of the abaQulusi], part of which was once renamed “Nieuwe Republiek” [1884-1888], “Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek”, the “Transvaal”, declared part of the then British colony (then renamed “Northern Natal”) and since 1994 part of the Province of “KwaZulu-Natal” with the towns Vryheid, Utrecht, eDumbe (=”Paulpietersburg”) and eNgotshe/eNgoje (=“Louwsburg”) as points of orientation.

AbaQulusi. Who are they? Who were they?

Linguists and orators name them: “Inqaba kutholwa!

                                                              Isidindi somtshiki!”

What would – more or less – mean:  “Erheblich schwer aufzuspüren!

                                                                       Büschel von gewöhnlichem Gras!”

                                                              „Extremely difficult to track down!

                                                                Tuft of common grass!”

The verb “ukuqulusa” means “remaining exposed whilst believing oneself to be under cover”; thence the praise-poem on the abaQulusi:

                                                 “Bathi bacashile;

                                                           kanti baqulusile!”

                                             “Sie wähnen sich im sicheren Versteck;

                                               dabei liegen sie völlig in Sicht!“

                                                           „They believe themselves under cover;

                                                           they actually are but wholly exposed!” 

“Ostriches! Izintshe!” was the opinion of a researcher on South African history on hearing of this description. The quest for being out of reach by invaders is accurately expressed in the comparison to that peculiar bird of Southern Africa – the ostrich.

In his outstanding record, “The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom”, Jeff Guy gives a concise account on the origin and conception of the socio-political system in ebaQulusini in the pre- and post-colonial era:

In the region around Hlobane a recruiting point and a royal centre of influence for the then still developing Zulu Kingdom had to be established round about 1820. King Shaka kaSenzangakhona kaJama wakwaZulu sent Nhlaka wakwaMdlalose to ascertain that the venture were underway.

This “ikhanda” (as such royal centres of influence were called) was named ebaQulusini. It was placed in the charge of a senior female member of the Zulu lineage, Mnkabayi kaJama wakwaZulu, daughter of King Shaka’s grandfather, Jama kaNdaba wakwaZulu.

AbaQulusi, the people – of different clan origins – who were attached to this royal homestead as officers tended in time to establish their private homesteads in the vicinity, and others were sent by the king to settle in this area. By the time King Cetshwayo kaMpande kaSenzangakhona wakwaZulu came to the Zulu throne in 1872 they numbered thousands.

AbaQulusi were not drafted into the conventional regiments (“amabutho”) but fought as a royal section, and they were not represented in the king’s council by any sort of “umnumzane”, because they represented the power of the Zulu royal house, not just a `pre-Shakan clan´. AbaQulusi were in charge of “izinduna”, the leading ones being persons of high esteem and good reputation within the kingdom, including Mahubulwana and the legendary Sikhobobo wakwaSibiya.

Mkhosana kaZangwana wakwaZungu, the adviser who had accompanied King Cetshwayo in detention 1879, to London 1882 and in exile and returned to the Kingdom as his emissary, had established homesteads of remarkable size and prestige – “KwaBamb’elentulo”, “eMeveni”, “KwaMngani”, to mention but a few – in the landscape of eMakhwabi, kwaMthashana and KwaNgenetsheni.

By the outbreak of the military conflict today known as the “Anglo-Boer South-African War 1899-1902abaQulusi had – among other drastic changes – seen the endured “loss of territory” in grand manner. Nicholas Hope in his work King Solomon kaDinizulu wakwaZulu, “To Bind the Nation”, recalls:

“Large tracts (of land) had fallen into the hands of absentee landlords”. (These engaged in what became known as Kafferboerdereior – as the abaQulusi themselves called it – “ukukhonza eBhunwini”, “ukungena/ukusebenza iplazi”, “ukushada neBhunu” = to concede to life-long servitude to a Boer-landlord). “Squatters” and “labour tenants” had become the only status of residence abaQulusi could have or acquire in the region that was once their own.

                                                    …  on-going research.


Jeff GUY: “The Destruction of the ZULU Kingdom. The Civil War in Zululand, 1879-1884”, Ravan Press 1979

Nicholas COPE: “To Bind the Nation. Solomon kaDinuzulu and Zulu Nationalism 1913-1933”

Ben KHUMALO-SEEGELKEN: „Umlando“, Notes on Oral History, on-going research.


Dr. Ben Khumalo-Seegelken






7 Kommentare zu diesem Artikel bisher »

Kommentare zu »„abaQulusi of eBaQulusini“:«

  1. Sir,

    On what evidence?

    I am just back from a conference in Cape Town involving the work of Carolyn Hamilton, John Wright, Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Gavin Whitelaw, Simon Hall, Maanda Mulaudzi, and many others. Precisely this kind of identification, that everybody has an originary tribe/group with a long history of precolonial self perpetuation, was seriously challenged!!

    Best wishes,
    Paul S. Landau

  2. Dear Paul Landau,

    I thank you for your quick response.

    Exactly: Every person in every part of the world has an individual lifespan with an individual ancestry which is interconnected with others stretching over generations into the past. Ours is to consult attainable sources and focus especially on aspects that – on obvious reasons – have hitherto been simply ignored or systematically distorted. Jeff Guy and Nicholas Hope are two of the not so many scholars of recent history that have made tangible contributions in this respect. The on-going project I am engaged with is still but at its very beginnings. I shall gladly embark on an exchange of perceptions and opinions in due course.

    Kind regards
    Ben Khumalo-Seegelken.

  3. Mntungwa,

    Umsebenzi omuhle uyancomeka, we as the descendants of abaQulusi can add that prior to the domination of emaNgweni people by the Zulu, ebaQulusini existed. It was one of King Mangethes homesteads. Hence when Nhlaka Mdlalose attacked Ntshosho son of Mangethe one of imizi that moved to emzinyathi and emnambithi was called was called ebaQulusini.

    among izinduna was Mcwayo kaMangethe, Mkhothiso kaMcwayo, Mhlahlo kaKhondlo, Malandela kaMangethe these were descendants of emaNgweni Kings before Zulu domination. Sikhobobo kaMabhabhakazane, Mahubulwana kaDumisela and Siwangu Mthethwa all came when Mangethe ruled amaNgwe.

    OkaMzimba ozidele kubafokazana

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