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John Dube PDF Print E-mail

John Dube (1871 - 1946) was born in the Inanda district and was the author of the first historical novel in Zulu. The novel is entitled Insila kaShaka (1930) and was translated into English in 1951 as Jeqe, the Bodyservant of king Tshaka.

Dube was a founding member of the South African Native National Council (later the ANC) and in 1914 led its deputation to Britain to protest against the Native Land Act. He later resigned the presidency of the Congress. Known to his countrymen as 'Mafukuzela', Dube exercised great influence, and was moderate in his views. Dube established the newspaper Ilanga Lase Natal in 1903.

Inspired by the American educator, Booker T. Washington, Dube excelled as educationist, politician, editor, artist and publicist, and was successful in unifying the historical vision of the African people. His democratic nature as well as statesmanship were evident in his belief that despite the oppression of the African people by the Europeans, blacks and whites would eventually be able to live together under a democratic order.


Selected Work

From Jeqe, the Body-servant of King Shaka.

Love has a strange power, for, instead of both the women being condemned to death, Shaka only wanted to kill the one whom he did not love.  But he knew that the chief induna would not consent to this; he would say that if one was to be killed, both should be killed.  So the king sent out messengers to summon the fathers of the two women. The medicine was burnt.  When the fathers of the two women arrived, Shaka ordered the chief induna to tell them the whole story.

When they heard it, they replied, ‘Sire, what can we say? Let the Child of Heaven do unto his dogs as seems good to him.’

Shaka told the fathers to take their daughters home and punish them.  However, a few days afterwards Shaka’s favourite was ordered to return.  The other woman never appeared again at the royal kraal.

But fear had entered Shaka’s heart: he felt he was hated by his own people, and was terrified of witchcraft.  Fe made him a prisoner in his own hut and he was startled by trifles.  He had no desire to converse with his councilors in the cattle-kraal.  When the most powerful chiefs of the country came to do homage and to discuss military affairs, he refused to see them. ‘Is the kind sick,’ they asked, ‘for he will not show his face to us?’

The headmen now hit upon a plan to dispel the moodiness of the king.  They sent for all the best musicians in the land, those who played on reeds and flutes and all stringed instruments.  Day after day they practised in the men’s quarters till the harmony was perfect.  Then one day they assembled in the cattle-kraal to play within the hearing of the king’s apartments.  It was their aim to entice the king to come out and enjoy the music.

When the sweet sound of music came to the king’s ears, he cried to Jeqe, ‘What do I hear? What are they doing in the cattle kraal?’

‘Your dogs, sire,’ he replied, ‘have come to play to you.  They hope you will come out and listen to their music.’

And indeed the king left the gloom of his cattle hut and listened and rejoiced in the music, and the cattle-kraal was filled to overflowing.

Then the kind said, ‘Why did you delay so long to give me this great joy?’

And the people answered, ‘O Black One, we do our best’ we are always thinking how we may please you.’ All this time the court ladies were impatient to come and listen, so the chief induna pleaded for them and the kind consented.

And now the music was over, but the king remained and spoke graciously with the people and their hearts were filled with joy.

Two poems written in praise of John Dube by H.I.E. Dhlomo

Great son of streams and valleys African!
Mafukuzela! thou of warrior frame;
Whose rare achievements proved the Black Man can!
You thought and taught and wrought us into fame.
Not scars of war alone adorn your brow;
For Beauty, Song and Fire of vale and hill,
Of our rich idiom - how the gods endow! -
The pages of your story wondrous, fill.
Blest leader, thou, to fight and midst the glist
Of battles fierce - great scholar, author, sage -
Find time the Muses fair to serve. Our mist
Of ignorance you raised, Light of our age!
In pangs of birth we stood when he began;
Twas dark! God spoke! and there arose this man!

Fuze by H.I.E. Dhlomo
(For John Langalibalele Dube)

Pray, poets of our Race play softly on
Your harps! Lay down your shields for he is gone!
Pipe dulcet songs of praise to God upon
Your tender strings as Fuze passes on
To join immortal throngs of those who strove
With tears to serve both God and Man; who wove
A rope of golden deeds to heaven that men
Might climb and the celestial gates open.
How shall we sing him songs himself who sang
Immortal songs whose echo mountains rang?
How tell his praises with our limping rhyme
Who wrote sweet rimes upon the sands of Time?
The glory of our land - deep vales and mountains;
The pageantry of flocks gathered near fountains;
Of fragrant flowers and herbs, of worms that glow
At night while angels bring us sweet repose
From strife; amorous birds that build their nests
Mid strains of music; the ancestral guests,
Pied snakes, that speak of our reincarnation
And urge us on to fight for liberation;
Deft scenes of beauty where the weeping willows
Weep not, but sing lost harmonies; where swallows
Bring rain; where fantasies of mingled splendour
Of starry nights, sweet sounds, perfume and colour,
Of lizards, bees, blue seas, and winds all sobbing,
And waterfalls, green fields, and birds all soaring,
Combine to make this clime a Paradise,
Ah me! Alas! polluted by the guise
Of those who as they mouth of liberty
And Christian law, shape laws of slavery!....
These glories of our land in book and word
He caught and sang his people to begird
And make them boastful of their land and Race,
And wolves who sneer disdain with pride to face.
Oh weep! Mafukuzela great is dead!
The giant who pained through laborious years
To woo for Africa the place that's hers.
Weep not! for a golden circlet crowns his head!
Weep not for him. He lives! He speaks, is free!
This day he has ascended to the sphere
Of immortality. The atmosphere
Of hate and colour, sorrows, calumny,
He does not breathe. He is at rest, lives free.
Tis we must weep who suffer slavery;
Who on travail hang as upon a cross!
Who dwell amongst men who think the Cross but dross.
Oh weep! Mafukuzela brave is dead!
Weep not! for victory adorns his head!
A nursling in the arms of God, he sings!
Where grave thy victory? Where death thy sting?
He now belongs to the immortal few
Who on the Tree of Time their names did hew
With blades of beauty, pain and noble deeds;
In service to their people and their needs;
Such Shaka, Aggrey, Khama, Hannibal
And many more who answered to Life's call;
His work and efforts and his name and fame,
Forever in our midst will be a flame
Inspiring us to fight for liberty,
An echo and a rod to make us free.
Oh weep! Mafukuzela wise is dead!
Weep not! for pearls of genius alight his head!
Great Guardian of our shattered Eden fair!
The Snake of Wrong you challenged without care!
Like lovers' kisses so upon our lips
Thy name - which even Death cannot eclipse!
Corruption, hate, now stride our politics;
Where Fuze won by deeds, some climb by tricks.
He battled with clean arms of sanity,
Where now we suffer shafts of crudity;
The Ego and the shout are all today;
The Nation thirsts - while pygmies prance and play!
Of Bantu freedom - he the Morning Star!
Who kept us not afar, but led us far.
The Kings of deeds rise immortal from their bones.
Vain men of wealth shine only while they live,
But those who achieve, through ages will survive.
They doubly live who of themselves doth give.
But power mad fools lie dead while yet they live.
Genius endures. Wealth, power and fortune, change;
The works of beauty remain passing strange;
For genius teaches that all life is one;
Works of achievement cry, Thy will be done.

 

Bibliography

1907.  Practical Christianity Among the Zulus.  In Missionary Review of the World. 20, 370-373.
1930. U-Shembe. Pietermaritzburg:  Shuter and Shooter. 
1930. Insila kaShaka. Durban: Marianhill Mission Press. 
1933. Ukuzi-phatha Kahle. Durban: Marianhill Mission Press.
1951. Jeqe, the bodyservant of king Tshaka. Alice: Lovedale Press. 
1996. A Zulu Song Book. Durban:  Killie Campbell Africana Library.

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