The 1906 Zulu uprising against British colonial power and white settler rule in Kwazulu-Natal marks an important turning point in the modern history of South Africa. Inspired by the centralising tradition of the Zulu kingship, history and religion, the uprising was essentially “tribal”. It was the last armed uprising in that part of Africa, preconditioning capitalist expansion in colonial Natal and the opening up of Zululand, conquered by the British in 1879. Initially the uprising appeared as a serious threat to white supremacy but was later, in the encounter between assegais and maxim guns, defeated. The uprising had two important results. On the national level, the need for white unity seemed urgent and in 1910 the South African Union was formed. Among blacks, the losses suffered by the armed rebels gave an impetus to a new, more modernist and pan-African nationalism. The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 by representatives of the small, mission educated African Christian middle class élite. In Kwazulu-Natal itself the aftermath of the uprising and the aggressive “mopping-up” operations by colonial troops, brought fundamental restructuring and traumatic change among African communities. The self-sufficiency of the homestead economy was eroded, chiefly power and traditional religious authority weakened and an increasing amount of men forced into labour migration.
The African Christians, some ten per cent of the black population, were often caught in between a hostile non-Christian surrounding, to whom they often were seen as traitors, and the contempt of a white racist society. Most of them were first generation converts living in the rural areas. To many of the Christians the uprising and its consequences became a test of loyalty and resulted in a questioning of the hitherto accepted identity and world view. This was particularly true for the black evangelists, the real pioneers of mission Christianity, caught between the loyalties to their white missionary employers and their followers in the African Christian congregations.
The Zulu evangelists of the Church of Sweden Mission (CSM) prove in this respect an interesting case because of the CSM object of folk Christianisation, i.e. the conversion of entire ethnic groups, and the establishing of folk, or national, churches on the mission field. An ethnic group, with its national identity and distinctive character, was not to be suppressed by the mission. In South Africa this implied an acceptance of polygyny and lobolo (bride wealth). In Kwazulu-Natal, where the CSM had been present since the 1870s, missionaries strongly supported the study of Zulu history and language and encouraged their evangelists in fostering a Zulu national identity among the members of their congregations. In the years around 1906, however, the CSM nationalist agenda for the Zulu became much more problematic in relationships between Zulu evangelists, church members and white missionaries. Increased tensions between black and white before the uprising, the eventual outbreak of violence and the settler government’s suppression of the rebel forces created a social and moral disruption. A number of identity-based conflicts were at hand in CSM congregations, e.g. in regard to attitudes towards African medicine and diviners or herbalists, Zulu historiography and spirit possession. In this respect the Zulu evangelists tried to appear both as leaders and spokesmen of their people and representatives of their employers, the CSM missionaries.
The purpose of this paper is to review the role of CSM African evangelists as mediators between the old and the new in the identity-based conflicts surrounding the 1906 Zulu uprising. Clearly it was among the evangelists that the future leadership of the evolving Zulu church was to be found. Many of the African evangelists, representing a new political consciousness, were furthermore, in due time, to be counted among the local leaders of the future ANC.
Addis Ababa: Addis Ababa University , 2007. 33- p.
IVth Congress of Association of African Historians Addis Ababa, May 23-25, 2007