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Archive for the ‘isiZulu’ Category

Three book discussions to attend at the Hilton Arts Festival

Emperor Shaka the Great: A Zulu Epic
Mazisi Kunene

Mazisi Kunene is the much-celebrated author of epics, such as Emperor Shaka the Great (UNodumehlezi KaMenzi) and Anthem of the Decades (Inhlokomo Yeminyaka), as well as numerous poems, short stories, nursery rhymes and proverbs that amount to a collection of more than 10 000 works.

He was born in aMahlongwa in 1930, a small rural village on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Notwithstanding his cultural duties as a young man born into Zulu tradition, his calling as an imbongi was taken very seriously by his father and grandfather who encouraged him to write. Professor Kunene described this ‘calling’ to write as ‘something [that] is not me, it is the power that rides me like a horse’.

Kunene lectured widely and was Professor in African Literature at Stanford University and in African Literature and Languages at the University of California, Los Angeles. On his return to South Africa, he was Professor in African Languages at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

He went into exile in the 1960s for more than 34 years, during which time he established and managed the African National Congress office in London and later moved to Los Angeles with his family to pursue his academic career. In UNodumehlezi KaMenzi (Emperor Shaka the Great), which he wrote during this exile period, he positions Shaka as a legendary thinker, who had great skill as a strategic and military genius.

This vision acknowledges and re-imagines Shaka as a unifying cultural and political force that defined the cohesive Zulu nation. Kunene projects Shaka into the mythical ancestral universe that affirms the deep cultural lineage of the African world view.

This reprinted English edition is published with the isiZulu edition on the tenth anniversary of his death, embracing Kunene’s original dream to have his work published as intended in the original isiZulu form.

The symbolic and cultural significance of these publications begins a process of re-evaluating and recontextualising Kunene’s writing oeuvre.

Follow Page_11 from Hilton Fest Programme Low Res for more on Kunene’s session.

Isishweshwe: A History of the Indigenisation of Blueprint in South Africa
Juliette Leeb-du Toit

The cross-cultural usage of a particular cloth type – blueprint – is central to South African cultural history.

Known locally as seshoeshoe or isishweshwe, among many other localised names, South African blueprint originated in the Far East and East Asia.

Adapted and absorbed by the West, blueprint in Africa was originally associated with trade, coercion, colonisation, Westernisation, religious conversion and even slavery, but residing within its hues and patterns was a resonance that endured.

The cloth came to reflect histories of hardship, courage and survival, but it also conveyed the taste and aesthetic predilections of its users, preferences often shared across racial and cultural divides.

In its indigenisation, isishweshwe has subverted its former history and alien origins and has come to reflect the authority of its users and their culture, conveying resilience, innovation and adaptation and above all a distinctive South Africanness.

In this beautifully illustrated book Juliette Leeb-du Toit traces the origins of the cloth, its early usage and cultural adaptations, and its emerging regional, cultural and aesthetic significance.

In examining its usage and current national significance, she highlights some of the salient features associated with histories of indigenisation.

An art historian who has a particular interest in African and South African art, Juliette Leeb-du Toit has also had a lifelong interest in design and textiles. She is currently engaged in the recovery of modernisms in design history, the impact of German modernism in South Africa and the impact of China on the arts in South Africa.

Follow Page 12 from Hilton Fest Programme Low Res-3 for more information.

Untitled: Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa
Edited by Donna Hornby, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston, Ben Cousins

A title deed = tenure security. Or does it?

This book challenges this simple equation and its apparently self-evident assumptions. It argues that two very different property paradigms characterise South Africa.

The first is the dominant paradigm of private property, referred to as an ‘edifice’, against which all other property regimes are measured and ranked. However, the majority of South Africans gain access to land and housing through very different processes, which this book calls social or off-register tenures. These tenures are poorly understood, a gap Untitled aims to address.

The book reveals that ‘informal’ and customary property systems can be well organised, often providing substantial tenure security, but lack official recognition and support. This makes them difficult to service and vulnerable to elite capture.

Policy interventions usually aim to formalise these arrangements by issuing title deeds. The case studies in this book, which span both rural and urban contexts in South Africa, examine these interventions and the unintended consequences they often give rise to. Interventions based on an understanding of locally embedded property relations are more likely to succeed than those that attempt to transform them into registered tenures. However, emerging practices hit intractable obstacles associated with the ‘edifice’, which only a substantial transformation of the legal paradigms can overcome.

Donna Hornby is an independent critical researcher for non-governmental organisations on rural land, tenure and agricultural issues.
Rosalie Kingwill is an independent policy and academic researcher specialising in land tenure and property rights.
Lauren Royston is a development planner and researcher who works on tenure security in southern Africa with a range of organisations.
Ben Cousins holds a DST/NRF chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.

Follow Page 13 from Hilton Fest Programme Low Res-2 for the details on their conversation.

Emperor Shaka the Great

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  • Untitled: Securing Land Tenure in Urban and Rural South Africa edited by Donna Hornby, Rosalie Kingwill, Lauren Royston, Ben Cousins
    EAN: 9781869143503
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The Illustrated Glossary of Southern African Architectural Terms an insightful look at the culture of southern Africa’s rural builders

Since 1994 South Africa has undergone a steady erosion of its indigenous built environment, with a concomitant loss of indigenous building technology and its specialised terminology.

This glossary is based on the premise that you cannot understand the culture of a people unless you have a grasp of the nuances and hidden meanings of their language and brings together in one single volume the terminologies that are used by southern Africa’s rural builders. It covers the terminology used by indigenous builders as well as subsequent colonial white settlers including buildings of the so-called Cape Dutch, English Georgian, Victorian and Indian Traditions.

The text is set out in alphabetical order. It comprises each term in its original language, its translation where appropriate into isiZulu, and its definition in English and isiZulu. One of the strengths of this book is its visual component of accompanying sketches that expertly illustrate the terms.

This book is designed not only to assist in the teaching of architecture, but also to aid others who are interested in the field. Researchers and practitioners in disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, culture studies and building science will find it a valuable addition to their libraries.

Franco Frescura was Professor and Chair of Architecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has published widely in the fields of indigenous architecture, colonial settlement and culture conservation. He has lectured in Europe, North America and South-East Asia. In 2010–2011 he was appointed Erasmus Mundus Scholar at the Technische Universität Darmstadt.

Joyce Myeza was a Fulbright Scholar at Simmons College, Boston. She is currently the Director of Libraries and Special Collections at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her current research interests include indigenous knowledge systems and enterprise architecture.

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Mandla Maphumulo recipient of the PanSALB Award for Inhlamvu Yelanga

Mandla Abednego Maphumulo has won the PanSALB Award (2016-2017) in the Language and Literature Category (isiZulu) for his book Inhlamvu Yelanga, a collection of short stories in isiZulu.

This PanSALB Award recognises both the written and the oral modes of linguistic and/or literary expression. It is for individuals/writers who have contributed to the promotion and preservation of all the official South African languages i.e. Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu, Khoi, Nama, San, as well as sign language.

Congratulations, Mandla!

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UKZN Press reveal covers for new books!

With subject matters as diverse as Zulu short stories, reference books on Southern African architectural terms, and the role of NGOs in bringing about social justice, UKZN Press has a vast array of exciting new titles which are now available. Read all about the featured books here.

Book details

  • The Art of Life in South Africa by Daniel R. MagazinerThe Art of Life in South Africa
    EAN: 9780821422519
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    • Inhlamvu Yelanga edited by Mandla MaphumuloInhlamvu Yelanga

    EAN: 9781869143275
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!


  • Living Together, Living Apart?: Social Cohesion in a Future South Africa by Christopher Ballantine, Kira Erwin, Gerhard MareLiving Together, Living Apart?
    EAN: 9781869143329
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!






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University of KwaZulu-Natal Press at the 2016 Hilton Arts Festival



University of KwaZulu-Natal Press will be strongly represented at the Hilton Arts Festival this year.

The Hilton Arts Festival takes place from 16-18 September at Hilton College in KwaZulu-Natal.

Cash only tickets can be purchased at the venue door from 30 minutes before each performance.

For more information visit!

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Zulu Plant Names by Adrian Koopman

17 SEPTEMBER • 12 noon – 1pm • CFI Lecture Theatre

Zulu Plant NamesIn this book Adrian Koopman details the complex relationship between plants, the Zulu language and Zulu culture. Zulu plant names do not just identify plants, they tell us a lot more about the plant, or how it is perceived or used in Zulu culture. For example, the plant name umhlulambazo (what defeats the axe’ tells us that this is a tree with hard, dense wood, and that usondelangange (come closer so I can embrace you) is a tree with large thorns that snag the passer-by. In a similar vein, both umakuphole (let it cool down) and icishamlilo (put out the fire) refer to plants that are used medicinally to treat fevers and inflammations. Plants used as the base of love-charms have names that are particularly colourful, such as unginakile (she has noticed me), uvelabahleke (appear and they smile) and the wonderfully named ungcingci-wafika-umntakwethu (how happy I am that you have arrived, my sweetheart!). And then there are those plant names that are just plain intriguing, if not mystifying: umakhandakansele (the heads of Mr Ratel), isandlasonwabu (hand of a chameleon), intombikayibhinci (the girl does not wear clothes) and ukhuningomile (piece of firewood, I am thirsty).

Adrian Koopman is an Emeritus Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He retired as Professor of isiZulu Studies after 37 years of teaching Zulu language and literature.

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Writing Home: Lewis Nkosi on South African Writing edited by Lindy Stiebel and Michael Chapman

17 SEPTEMBER • 1.30pm – 2.30pm • CFI Lecture Theatre

Writing HomeLewis Nkosi’s insights into South African literature, culture and society first appeared in the 1950s, when the ‘new’ urban African in Sophiatown and on Drum magazine mockingly opposed then Prime Minister HF Verwoerd’s Bantu retribalisation policies. Before his death in 2010, Nkosi focused on the literary-cultural challenges of post-Mandela times. Having lived for 40 years in exile, he returned to South Africa, intermittently, after the unbannings of 1990. His critical eye, however, never for long left the home scene. Hence, the title of this selection of his articles, essays and reviews, Writing Home. Combining the journalist’s penchant for the human-interest story with astute analysis, Nkosi’s ideas, observations and insights are as fresh today as when he began his 60-year career as a writer and critic.

Lindy Stiebel is a professor of English Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Michael Chapman is affiliated as a senior researcher to the Durban University of Technology. He is also an emeritus professor and fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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Diaspora and Identity in South African Fiction by JU Jacobs

17 SEPTEMBER • 3pm – 4pm • CFI Lecture Theatre

Diaspora and Identity in South African FictionSouth African identities, as they are represented in the contemporary South African novel, are not homogeneous but fractured and often conflicted: African, Afrikaner, ‘coloured’, English, and Indian – none can be regarded as rooted or pure, whatever essentialist claims members of these various ethnic and cultural communities might want to make for them.All of them, this book argues, are deeply divided and have arisen, directly or indirectly, out of the experience of diasporic displacement, migration and relocation, from the colonial, African and Indian diasporas to present-day migrations into and out of South Africa and diasporic dislocations within Africa. This study of twenty works by twelve contemporary South African novelists – Breyten Breytenbach, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Aziz Hassim, Michiel Heyns, Elsa Joubert, Zakes Mda, Njabulo S. Ndebele, Karel Schoeman, Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Ivan Vladislaviç and Zoë Wicomb – shows how diaspora is a dominant theme in contemporary South African fiction, and the diasporic subject its most recognisable figure.

JU Jacobs is Emeritus Professor of English, Senior Research Associate and Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. He has published extensively on South African and postcolonial fiction and autobiography.

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Find out more about Impundulu, the Lightning Bird

Zulu Plant NamesRead an excerpt from Adrian Koopman’s paper “Lightning Birds and Thunder Trees” exploring the Impundulu of Zulu culture.

Koopman is the author of Zulu Plant Names, published late last year by UKZN Press.

This paper was published in Natalia in 2011, and is available to download for free.

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Read an excerpt:

The “lightning bird”, in Zulu both impundulu and inyoni yezulu (“bird of the heavens”) appears to manifest in two distinct ways in Nguni culture. On the one hand, it manifests specifically as a bird associated with lightning; on the other hand as the familiar of a female witch, in which case it may change its shape frequently (often to that of a handsome young man), and is associated with evil and malice rather than lightning.

Let us look first at the association of the impundulu with lightning. Callaway (1970:119) presents us with some interesting detail:

“The bird of heaven” is a bird which is said to descend from the sky when it thunders, and to be found in the neighbourhood of the place where the lightning has struck. The heavendoctors place a large vessel of amasi mixed with various medicines near a pool such as is frequently met with at the top of hills; this is done to attract the lightning, that it might strike in that place. The doctor remains at hand watching, and when the lightning strikes the bird descends, and he rushes forward and kills it. It is said to have a red bill, red legs, and a short red tail like fire; its feathers are bright and dazzling, and it is very fat. The bird is boiled for the sake of the fat, which is mixed with other medicines and used by the heaven-doctors to puff on their bodies (pepeta) and to anoint their lightning rods, that they be able to act on the heavens without injury to themselves. The body is used for other purposes as medicine. A few years ago some peacocks’ feathers were sold at a great price among the natives of Natal, being supposed to be the feathers of this bird.

We have already seen earlier in this article that the fat of a lightning bird is an essential element in making the medicinal mixture used to doctor pegs used for lightning protection. Of interest is the symbolism of the pot of amasi (sour milk) used to attract the lightning to a distant hill-top, presumably well away from human habitation. This would of course appear to work very well, given that lightning is naturally attracted to high hill-tops. Hammond-Tooke points out (1962:273) that in the homestead itself calabashes of amasi and milk must be hidden.

Berglund (1976:39) tells of a young man who was present when lightning came into a hut and killed an old woman and two children. His perceptions of the strike were as follows:

Looking, I saw the thing. It was fearful to see and moved very quickly. But I saw it clearly. It was a bird. The feathers were white, burning. The beak and the legs were red with fire, and the tail was something else, like burning green or the colour of the sky. It ran quickly, saying nothing, simply snatching those whom it took. Then it touched the grass with fire.

According to a number of Berglund’s heaven-herd sources, the lightning-bird is sent by the “Lord-of-the-Sky” when he “wishes to have a human” (op.cit., 40). His sources go on to say that there is no mourning for someone killed by lightning, as this would be regarded “as an arrogant act of rebellion against the Lord-of-the-Sky”. Nor, apparently, is there an ukubuyisa ritual for one struck by lightning.

The “lightning-strike-as-bird” metaphor is continued in the belief that when lightning strikes, the bird is alighting to lay its eggs. This idea has an extra spin to it in the Bhaca belief

… that electricity is the excreta of the lightning bird and that White people chase the bird until it excretes an oillike fat. This is electricity. The excreta is very fluid and everything it touches is burnt. (Hammond-Tooke, 1960:282fn)

Hammond-Tooke agrees that for the Xhosa and Bhaca the lightning-bird (impundulu) is associated with lightning (1960:382):

The spectacular and dangerous properties of lightning have formed the basis of another Bhaca belief, that in the intsaka yetulu, 13 the “bird of heaven”, called in Xhosa, impundulu. The impundulu is identified with the lightning; thunder is the beating of its wings, while the flash indicates the laying of its eggs that will hatch the following summer.

He goes a little further, though, on the relationship between lightning and evil, saying that the flicking of “muthi” around the borders of the homestead is “to drive away imishologu (evil influences, including the lightning) that encompass the kraal” (1960:272). This apparent relationship between lightning and evil leads us to the second manifestation of the lightning-bird, as a familiar, and Bhaca beliefs here clearly go way beyond what Berglund records about the impundulu in Zulu society. Hammond-Tooke begins (op. cit., 279) by saying that “no one knows for certain who is a witch” and that “the submissive young bride, outwardly demure and obedient, might be the possessor of the dreaded lightning bird, whose kick can cause sickness and death.” He continues
(op.cit., 282-283):

The bird may also be possessed by women as a familiar … [It] comes to its mistress in the form of a beautiful young man, often white and dressed in a grey suit, who has sexual connexion with her.

Clearly members of the Bhaca society must be very careful about how they deal with people even if they are “outwardly demure and obedient” for

The intsaka yetulu appears to a person in the form of a young man in a grey suit who asks why he is annoying its owner. There and then it turns into that old bird and kicks him until he dies.

It is worth noting that an intsaka yetulu may be sent to someone by letter. If you should open that letter, soon you will be visited by the same young man in a grey suit who will turn into a bird and kick you until you die.

Although there is no indication in the anthropological literature on the Zulus of this Protean bird which shifts easily between the personable young man in the grey suit and the bird with a fatal kick, it is worth noting that Doke and Vilakazi (1957:513) say for the entry impundulu that this is a “bird supposed to be used by women in witchcraft”.

They do not mention the link with lightning strikes. Bryant’s 1906 dictionary does not record the word impundulu, which makes me wonder if this is not a comparatively late adoptive into Zulu from Xhosa. There is a possible link between the word impundulu and the similar word impundu in Zulu. Doke and Vilakazi (1957:677) give three meaning for this word: “1) gate-post; 2) smaller lobe of beast’s liver; 3) species of plant, Gasteria glabra, whose bulbous roots are placed at the kraal-entrance to cause forgetfulness in would-be evil-doers”, and say it is derived from the verb phundula (“lead astray, mislead, puzzle, confuse, frustrate”). Bryant (1906:516) says the same, but in more detail:

impundu: one of the posts standing on either side of the entrance to the isibaya (not kraal); the smaller lobe of a beast’s liver, said to make a man forgetful if he eats it, therefore the perquisite of the old women; a certain plant whose bulbous root is stuck at the entrance to kraals in order to make the abatakati forgetful of their evil practices.

Both Hutchings (1996:35) and Pooley (1998:342,430) recognise impundu as a Zulu name for various species of Gasteria, with Hutchings saying of Gasteria croucheri that the leaf infusions are used as protective sprinkling charms and that the plant is cultivated on hut roofs as protective charms against lightning.

Before we move on to the “thunder tree”, it is interesting to note other bird species linked to lightning and other forms of weather. Hammond-Tooke (1960:288) tells us that

… if the uthekwane [Hamerkop] or indlazanyoni [Speckled Mousebird] flies over a kraal or alights on it, it is said that lightning will strike the homestead, but if the bird is killed or driven away the evil will be averted

and that

The owl (isikhova) is also considered a bird of ill-omen, for if it hoots round a kraal someone will become sick, or lightning will strike the stock.

Krige (1950:315) tells us that

The commonest fat used as an ingredient in this [anti-lightning] pegmedicine is that of the Ngqungqulu bird (Helotarsus ecaudatus) [Bateleur Eagle] which, when flying quickly, makes a noise like thunder, and to this is sometime added fat of a “peacock” which is said to cry and ruffle its feathers before thunder.

Krige also associates the Bateleur Eagle, as well as the Ground Hornbill, with rain (op.cit., 321):

The insingizi bird [Ground Hornbill] is closely associated with heaven and the rain, for if many izinsingizi walk in the open country and cry, it is an omen that it will rain. Another heaven-bird, for the death of which the heavens will mourn, is the iNgqungqulu [Bateleur] … it, too, is killed for rain. If this bird cries while flying it foretells rain.

Woodward and Woodward (1899:97) noted much earlier of the Ground Hornbill, “It is generally heard crying before rain, from which the natives think it has the power of bringing rain …”, and although they do not mention it, Burchell’s Coucal (Z. ufukwe) is also known by the colloquial name “the Rain Bird”.

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Image: Kat Houseman

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Find out more about influential isiZulu author Nakanjani G Sibiya, editor of Amagalelo

AmagaleloNakanjani G Sibiya is the author and editor of a number of isiZulu books across various genres.

He has published five volumes of short stories, four dramas and is the editor or co-author of seven anthologies of short stories.

Sibiya’s debut collection of short stories, Ikusasa Eliqhakazile, won the JL Dube Award for Prose, and in 2003 he was awarded the M-Net Book Prize for his debut novel Kuxolelwa Abanjani?

In 2004 Kuxolelwa Abanjani? also received the BW Vilakazi Prize, the most prestigious award for isiZulu literature.

Sibiya holds a PhD from the University of Zululand and works as an editor and lecturer. His most recent book is Amagalelo.

Manie Groenewald’s article “Theme, plot and narration in the novels of NG Sibiya”, published in the South African Journal of African Languages, examines Sibiya’s impact on isiZulu literature:

Nakanjani G Sibiya has made a considerable contribution to isiZulu literature. In this article his two novels, Kuxolelwa abanjani? and Bengithi lizokuna, which can be typified as moral stories, are analysed according to selected aspects of narratology. The moral story seeks to expose immoral deeds and to show that these deeds have dire consequences for individuals, families and the community. Although Sibiya creates multiple story lines – this is especially true of Kuxolelwa abanjani? – he manages to link them in order to unify the story. The author’s use of analepses (‘flashbacks’) and postponement of the answer avoid monotonous chronological narration and serve to complete the story. While ironic situations and coincidences are meant to emphasise the consequences of immoral deeds, they too add interest to the reading experience. The author also employs various narrative techniques to enhance the reading experience. Although instances of unreliability occur in the two novels, Sibiya has enriched isiZulu literature with these two novels; this is mainly due to his ability to write narrative prose that captivates the reader. He has also captivated the reader with the novel topic of homosexuality and transsexuality in Bengithi lizokuna.

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“Moaning is One of the Most Boring Art Forms”: Gcina Mhlophe Recommends Sharing Stories Instead

Umcelo Nezindaba Zase-AfrikaUmcelo Neentsomi Zase-AfrikaStories of AfricaHave You Seen Zandile?
Love ChildOur Story MagicHi Zoleka!Haai Zoleka!

Gcina Mhlophe, actress and storyteller, was recently featured on Thabiso Sikwane’s lunchtime radio show on Power FM to speak about the new Oral History Museum, which is opening in Durban.

The Oral History Museum, which also goes by the Story House, has been a dream of Mhlophe’s for a long time. Transferring knowledge to younger generations is an important means of culture.

Before discussing the museum, Sikwane and Mhlophe speak about the Fees Must Fall movement. Mhlophe’s emphasises the importance of education, saying “I’m right behind you, babies”.

Just as the student movements this year have allowed young people to make themselves heard, the Story House is a space for South Africans to tell their stories. For Mhlophe, this has been a long time coming: “It’s been 20 years of wishing and longing and praying for an oral history museum to be opened in this country, where ordinary South Africans can tell their stories.”

Mhlophe hopes that people will take this opportunity to tell their stories instead of complaining what a poor job the rest of the world is doing representing them. “Let’s just do it,” she says “moaning is one of the most boring art forms”.

Listen to the podcast:


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Adrian Koopman Shares His Light-bulb Moments of Discovery at the Launch of Zulu Plant Names

What started out as a chapter for his book Zulu Names, published by the University of Natal Press (now UKZN Press) in 2002, soon became a project in and of itself and finally culminated in the publication of Zulu Plant Names earlier this year.

Zulu Plant NamesThese were the words of Adrian Koopman at the launch of Zulu Plant Names, which was held at his house in Lincoln Meade, Pietermaritzburg, earlier this year.

Koopman invited friends, academics and family to his home where many of the plants explored in the book can be found in his indigenous garden. To illustrate the complex relationship between plants, the Zulu language and Zulu culture, Koopman shared some of his “serendipitous moments” during the research of this book.

In Zulu Plant Names, Koopman not only teaches the reader how to identify plants but tells us more about Zulu plants and how they perceived or used in Zulu culture.

At the launch, the author first thanked all the people who helped him put the book together, and shared interesting anecdotes about his discovery of the clear links between plant, language and culture.

Read Koopman’s speech from the launch:

This book was originally meant to be a chapter in my earlier book Zulu Names which the University of Natal Press published in 2002. The reviewers, however, suggested at the time that the chapter was too long, and that I should think about expanding the chapter as a separate book. Well, 13 years have passed since then, and it has been a long haul between that earlier suggestion, and the launch of Zulu Plant Names today. In that long haul, many people have helped in both the writing and the publication of this book and it is important that I thank them publicly today.

Thanks to various people:

Ndela kaBhekifa – also known as Nelson Ntshangase – has been an absolute fount of indigenous knowledge about plants and how they are used and perceived in Zulu culture. Many were the hours, nearly 10 years ago now that we sat together and you shared you knowledge with me.

Hhayi-ke Wena kaBhekifa: Wangivumela ngitape inyosi engqondweni yakho, wangivumela ngilime ngikhe ngivune emasimini akho. Manje, namhlanje, inqolobane igcwele, ngenxa yosizo lwakho.

Mgazi, Somlomo, Biyela – Ngiyabonga kakhulu.

I thank Mkhipheni Ngwenya for his helpful suggestions on the first draft of my manuscript. Mtimande! Bambo lunye! Zingaba zimbili weza nonima! Mkhipheni and I share other things related to the interface between botany and the Zulu language. He and I together with Rosemary Williams were joint authors of Zulu Botanical Knowledge and were together with Noleen Turner, Elsa Pooley, Nelson Ntshangase and a number of others participants in the Zulu Botanical Knowledge Project. But there is something else which links Mkhipheni and I, and that is that both of us are named after plants: My adopted Zulu clan name is Khumalo, derived from the noun ikhumalo, the tree Cassinopsis ilicifolia or Lemon-Thorn, while Mkhipheni’s clan name [u]Ngwenya shares the same word root as ingwenya “crocodile” and umgwenya (Harpephyllum caffrum). You’ll find the link between the crocodile and the tree on page 235 of my book.

Noleen Turner also made useful comments on the first draft of the manuscripts, and has been the first to write a review – before the book has even been launched – which will be published in this year’s issue of the journal Natalia. Noleen has been inviting me over the last two years to join her Zulu bird names workshops (which I have done), and a book on bird names and birds in Zulu culture might well be my next project.

And then I must thank Elsa Pooley: Elsa has played a double role in this book on Zulu Plant Names: First, when I was researching and writing the book I relied enormously on her wonderful publications Trees of Natal and Wildflowers of KwaZulu-Natal. And then secondly I must thank her for her extremely useful suggestions when she read a draft of the manuscript.

I am glad to see Louis Gaigher here: He was much involved in the earlier review and consultation stage of the book. Thank you for that, Louis.

I owe a great debt to Angela Beaumont. She was responsible for going through the manuscript from the first page to the last, checking and correcting botanical errors (I am in no ways whatsoever a botanist!) and especially in checking whether scientific botanical names were still current. Much of my Zulu name material came from books published over 50 years ago, and in one case 110 years ago, and over this period of time botanists have made a lot of taxonomical changes, which means that the scientific names frequently change. We decided in the editing of the book to leave the earlier names in place, but mark them with an asterisk, so the later, current names could be looked up in a list of synonyms. You’ll see her annotated copy of the manuscript on the table inside.

But I must also thank Angela for the superb colour painting of the Snake Lily in the book, and her equally wonderful drawings thoughout. The black mamba merged into the umdlebe tree on page 196 is stunning. We were lucky to have such a gifted botanical artist to illustrate the book.

And then my thanks to the UKZN “team”: UKZN Publisher Debra Primo, Adele Branch, who has organised this launch here today, Christopher Merrett for his usual meticulous text-editing, Trish Comrie for typesetting, and Catherine Munro for proofreading. But particularly I must thank Sally Hines for managing the entire production process. Many were the long hours we worked together, Sally. I bet you are pleased to see it’s all over!

And then last but not least (as they say) I come to my wife Jewel: Jewel, thank you first for allowing this launch to be held here today. Many of us here will know how much work this entails, and Jewel didn’t hesitate to take it on. And then I must thank her for doing most of the General Index of the book, a task that required hours of the most boring kind of work. But mostly I must thank Jewel for a different type of contribution. I don’t know if this is true for all writers, but I find that when I am researching and writing (and I seem to be spending 100 percent of my time since I retired doing just that) that it is enormously rewarding, if not essential, to have someone to share exciting discoveries with – to have someone you can run to and say, “Hey! Look what I’ve just discovered!” Jewel has always played that role to perfection.

And now to a few remarks about writing the book and the book itself:

I have to say that researching and writing a book like this one can in no ways be considered work: It is rather a wonderful and intriguing voyage of discovery, marked at regular intervals by instances of pure serendipity.

I don’t want to spend the next two hours talking to you about the book, so let me rather give you just three serendipitous moments:

I mentioned earlier the connection between umgenya the tree and ingwenya the crocodile. I had been puzzling for years trying to see if there was a link between animal and tree, and then I came across a statement in Peoples Plants by Ben-Erik van Wyk and Nigel Gericke about how muti from the tree was used to cure warts and pimples. Bingo! Light-bulb moment! At once I saw how the crocodile and the tree could be linked. You’ll find the story on 235 of Zulu Plant Names, together with a drawing of a crocodile, a half-eaten mealie cob, and a pimply face.

And then I must mention my puzzlement when I first read in Pooley’s Wild Flowers that the Zulu name for Scadoxis puniceus or Snake Lily was idumbe kaNhloyile. I knew the word idumbe to be the singular of what Natal English calls “madoombies”, and I knew that unhloyile was one of a number of names for the Yellow-Billed Kite. It was only last year, at the beginning of August when I saw the Snake Lilies in this garden starting to poke their snouts above the soil, and at the same time heard the Yellow-Billed Kite calling above that my mind once again went ‘Bingo!’ – another moment of serendipity.

I was likewise puzzled when I read in Pooley that the Caterpillar Bean or Zornia capensis had the Zulu name umkhondo. I only knew the word umkhondo to mean the track or spoor of a person or animal. Here it was my old friend Doke and Vilakazi’s Zulu-English Dictionary that provided the link. They give three meanings for the word umkhondo, all linked to each other. The first meaning is the one I was familiar with: “track, trail or spoor of passing animals or persons”. The second meaning is “disease of new-born baby, entailing a sinking of the fontanelle, believed to be caused by the mother crossing the track of an ill-omened animal such as the eland”. And then the third meaning of umkhondo is “species of spreading weed, Zornia capensis, used by pregnant women, tied around the ankle as protection against the umkhondo disease”. Another light-bulb moment! Here we see the link between umkhondo as spoor and umkhondo as plant name. When I read this I learnt about three distinct Zulu cultural beliefs that I had never known before: One, that the eland is an unlucky animal; two, that the bad luck inherent in an animal can pass up through the feet and the body of a woman carrying a baby, and cause its fontanelle to sink; and three, that an anklet made from the plant Zornia capensis can prevent such bad luck passing into a person.

Here in this last example we see clearly the link between plant, language and culture; a single space where the distinct worlds of botany, linguistics and belief systems come together. Such linking is the major theme of this book on Zulu plant names and there are many, many more such examples. I hope you enjoy reading it.

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Good Stories and Great Dreams: Gcina Mhlophe Describes Her Hopes for Young South Africans (Video)

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Gcina Mhlophe, actress and storyteller, was recently interviewed by Jennifer Sanasie for News 24.

Mhlophe, who had just given a talk to a group of young people, told Sanasie about how “honoured and humbled” she is to hear about how her work has affected and inspired her audience, and says she is “so excited to see and hear what young people are doing in South Africa today”.

She goes on to speak about the importance of young people being allowed to express their dreams, disappointments and good stories.

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