„abaQulusi of ebaQulusini“: Who were they? Who are they?

aBaQulusi eBaQulusini

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

– Landscapes, Names  and Perspectives –

Ben  Khumalo-Seegelken


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

 AbaQulusi.  Who were they?  Who are 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 Hlobani 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 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 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 1899-1902”  abaQulusi  had  –  among other drastic changes  – seen the endured “loss of territory” in grand manner.  Nicholas Hope in his work on 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 “Kafferboerderei”  or – 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 one their own.


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


Ben Khumalo-Seegelken








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