Dr John Dube and the amaKholwa

Dr. John Langalibalele Dube

Dr. John Langalibalele Dube

Many a Durbanite would have sat on the small stone wall that runs along the promenade on Addington Beach, completely unaware of its historical significance. The wall was built by Zulu prisoners captured during the Bambatha Rebellion that took place in 1906. The war that broke out between Zulu speakers and the Natal government in the early 1900s was a result of the encroachment of white settlers on land owned by black Africans, as well as a new hut tax which would force men to leave their rural homesteads in search of work in order to be able to pay the tax. We’ve reported on the rebellion previously on Amandla, but an interesting angle to the story not discussed before involves the first president of the ANC, Dr John Langalibalele Dube, and the African amaKholwa, or ‘believers’.

Musician Griffiths Motsieloa advertises C to C cigarettes, Ilanga lase Natal, March 18th 1950

Musician Griffiths Motsieloa advertises C to C cigarettes, Ilanga lase Natal, March 18th 1950

amaKholwa were Zulu men and women who followed the Christian faith, with many of them having been educated by missionaries, as in the case of John Dube. Aside from the religious element there was also an aspirational aspect to the amaKholwa, and a desire for parity with the Europeans. So while Dube opposed the hut tax, particularly as the amaKholwa had not been consulted on the issue, and recognised the financial strain that it would put on his people, he did not support the rebellion. He wanted to avoid violence at all costs and for the government to realise that the amaKholwa would remain loyal to the government. Through the newspaper that he headed up, Ilanga Lase Natal, Dube made it known that the amaKholwa still identified with the values of the white man.

But with a foot in both worlds Dube found himself torn. He bitterly opposed the arrest and trial of King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo in connection with the rebellion, and actively assisted in raising funds for his defence. Dinizulu was a the symbol of the Zulus’ former independence and their pride as a people. Dube understood the significance of Dinizulu and publicised his arrest in Ilanga, while at the same time trying to convince the Zulu chiefs not to violently oppose the government.

Rebel chiefs, Bambatha Rebellion

Rebel chiefs, Bambatha Rebellion

Dube had no desire to end British rule and the spread of Christianity, and Bhambatha kaMancinza, leader of the amaZondi clan of the Zulu people, represented what many saw as a heathen way of life, something that Dube had no desire to return to. He was also concerned with the political and economic status of the amaKholwa, and the risk that the rebellion posed to their advancement. His programme of self improvement relied on the presumption that educated amaKholwa would be able to purchase land, land that was at risk of being grabbed by the whites during the rebellion. As a result many of the influential amaKholwa openly endorsed the war and actively participated in the suppression of the rebels.

Ultimately Bambatha and his followers were defeated, and the tax of 14 shillings per hut remained in force. Dr John Dube was eventually ousted from his role of President of the ANC in 1917, with members of the congress believing that Dube had made one too many compromises.

Images courtesy of www.sahistory.org.za and www.researchgate.net

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