South Africa: Inaugural Nobhiyana Madondo Lecture Hosted By the Pietermaritzburg Tourism Association

press release






Msunduzi Voortrekker Monument, Pietermaritzburg: 19 September 2018

Ladies and gentlemen;

When I received an invitation to deliver this lecture from Mr Dumisani Mhlongo, the Director of Msunduzi Pietermaritzburg Tourism, I felt a little out of my depth, because I am neither an expert nor an historian. But Mr Mhlongo caught my attention when he rightly said that Nobhiyana Madondo is an "almost forgotten hero".

As a proud Zulu I have a direct interest in seeing my nation's history remembered. As a traditional leader of more than 60 years, I know that I am one of the repositories of that history. And as someone who grew up in the palace of King Solomon kaDinuzulu, who was my uncle, I have heard the story of Nobhiyana Madondo told again and again.

So I may not have the academic credentials to deliver this lecture, but I have the bloodline history and the requisite passion to tell Madondo's story.

My mother was the sister of King Solomon. She was given in marriage by the King to his traditional Prime Minister, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi. My father was the great grandson of Inkosi Nqengelele Buthelezi who lived in the royal court of King Senzangakhona and tutored the royal children, including the son who would ascend to the throne, King Shaka kaSenzangakhona.

It was during the time of King Shaka that Nobhiyana Madondo made a name for himself by daring to speak the truth under deadly circumstances.

There are several accounts of this incident scattered throughout literature, and the story has even been incorporated into works of fiction. Perhaps the strangest place one can find this story is the Guinness Book of Records from 1975, in which it is labelled as the greatest "smelling-out" in African history.

But today I would like to read the account penned by the remarkable scholar, and Africa's Poet Laureate, Professor Mazisi Kunene, who wrote "Emperor Shaka the Great".

This epic poem was written in longhand as "uNodumehlezi KaMenzi" and was then translated into English. It still astounds me that it was published in English, Japanese, French, German and Dutch before ever being published in isiZulu. In fact it was only ten years after Professor Kunene's death that the project of publishing "uNodumehlezi KaMenzi" began. I had the privilege of speaking at its first publication in March last year. I believe the original isiZulu manuscript can be seen at the Mazisi Kunene Foundation's Museum.

The account of Nobhiyana Madondo in "Emperor Shaka the Great" is as follows, spoken through the character of King Shaka himself -

Once when I realised how the numbers of diviners multiplied,

Crawling on the ground like new-born lizards,

Accusing the great men of the court of conspiracies,

I decided time had come to trick them and end this charade.

As you know, there are many varieties of diviners.

Some act to please and win approval of their rulers;

Still some divine to please those who approach them;

Yet few exist who speak the truth.

All these types were everywhere in my court.

People lived in fear of a diviner's accusing finger.

It was then I decided I would eliminate them.

I smeared a goat's blood on the beam of my house

And at the break of dawn I raised the alarm.

The diviners of the land turned out in all their numbers.

To my great horror, they set out to choose those close to me.

Throughout the day they picked whomever they pleased.

Late in the afternoon a fierce-looking diviner of the Mdletshe's clan

Called out: "My king, I do see the culprit,

But I fear him." "Speak. Let the truth be heard!

The land is infested with men of evil intent," I said.

He raised his divine stick, pointing up to the sun,

Uttering words not known in Nguniland and said:

"My king, I see only one man.

This man's hands are splattered with blood.

He is no other than yourself, my lord."

The whole gathering was shocked into deathly silence.

It was then I intervened and endorsed his words.

I ordered those who were now proven innocent

To pick up their accusers,

Giving them the same fate that was due to them.

One such diviner had dared to choose Mgobhozi-of-the-Mountain!

Only my furious command stopped the crowds from killing him.

To appease them I ordered him abandoned in the forest.

I knew, too, such men are never without allies:

Often they command numerous teams of agents

Who carry distorted stories of me and those close to me.

Thus when he roamed he revealed the names of others.

Herein lies the truth of rulers, son of Mashobana:

By their skills they manoeuver the strings of power.

They feed this and that belief into the minds of others,

Feeding them with thoughts whose results they often can predict.

They plant their own seeds in the summer fields of the mind -

Indeed, for them the truth is only that which nourishes their power.

Thus the diviners, assuming this authority, blundered to their deaths.

By such games they sought to make the illusion of power real.

Yet the greatest power lies in the populace.

As our forefathers have told us:

"A ruler only rules through the people."

Professor Kunene's "fierce-looking diviner" who identified King Shaka himself as the culprit, is none other than Nobhiyana Madondo.

I heard this story many times when I was growing up, to the extent that I considered Madondo to be one of the heroes of our past. When I became Chief Minister of KwaZulu, I made enquiries about Madondo's grave, for I knew that he was buried on the mountain of Ntembeni in Vulindlela. When I saw the grave, I immediately made plans to erect a tombstone.

At the time, I was patron of the Bureau for Zulu Language and Culture. Through the Bureau, and in partnership with the descendants of Nobhiyana Madondo, we financed the erection of a tombstone, which I was proud to unveil in 1983. The inscription on the stone reads - "A memorial to Nobhiyana Madondo, the celebrated diviner of King Shaka's days."

Madondo should be celebrated. What he did was exceptional on several counts. There was enormous risk involved in pointing out the King. Some 300 people, many of whom were the King's close allies, had been smelled-out by the gathered diviners and they faced execution by impalement. Pointing out the King himself as the culprit placed Madondo at imminent risk of death.

In fact, from the moment he took his courage in both hands and identified the King, Madondo sealed his fate. Because the King was right in that the diviners were never without allies. Even when all the diviners had been executed, plans were hatched to assassinate Madondo.

He and his family were forced to flee. They sought refuge in Mvoti, until Madondo's enemies discovered where they had settled and again began hunting for him. They followed him as he fled to Mtshezi and then to Umgungundlovu, to a place that later became Ntembeni. Madondo then built two homesteads so that his enemies would not easily find him. One he built in Ntembeni, where he is buried, and one he built in Nadi.

If Madondo had remained silent, or had pointed out innocent people as his colleagues were doing, things would have taken a different turn. It is likely that many innocent people would have died that day. It is also likely that corruption among the diviners would have continued to thrive.

King Shaka's intention was not merely to expose the deceitfulness of the diviners, but to seek out anyone who would tell the truth. Some historians claim that King Shaka believed all diviners to be tricksters. But others have pointed out that King Shaka believed in the spiritual abilities of diviners, yet knew that many of them abused their influence. By exposing them, he would prove to his people that the King was superior in all ways; including matters of the spirit.

He was angry at the depth of corruption among the diviners. He had seen how they blamed innocent people for the natural occurrence of drought or the spread of disease. Often they had some personal vendetta against those whom they blamed. But because they wielded such power, when they pointed out a witch or a wizard, people believed them. Those who were pointed out were often killed in so-called mob justice.

The terrible reality is that, 190 years after King Shaka's time, there are still sangomas who point out innocent people as being witches and wizards, and there are still acts of mob violence in which these people are murdered. In the kingdom of KwaZulu Natal, there are frequent incidents of elderly women being murdered because they have been labelled as being witches.

As a leader, I have condemned this evil. I have also been outspoken against the targeted murder of people with albinism, whose body parts are used in witchcraft. It is a terrible indictment on African people that such violent human rights abuses are still taking place in the name of superstition. We need to stand up and speak about these things. All human life is sacred and all of us have a right to life.

I am not condemning the practices of sangomas. I am no expert in the field of their practices. But insofar as they cause harm to innocent people, I must speak up. Our families are losing loved ones, who are slaughtered like animals.

Often when I speak up for truth and justice, I am reminded of Nobhiyana Madondo. It took tremendous courage for Madondo to speak up. I feel it important that we remember Madondo, for our nation needs examples of courage. Courage is something we need to survive as a nation. We risk destroying our nation if we lack the courage to point at the wrongs being done

We cannot be afraid to point out corruption, even if we are pointing at leaders. Where people have been given a responsibility to lead, they also carry the responsibility of being honest. When leaders abuse their influence, they do damage for the sake of power. Corruption is never a victimless crime. Someone always pays the price, and that someone is generally among the most vulnerable. It is predominantly the poor who suffer when leaders are corrupt.

It gives me sleepless nights knowing that the corruption that makes our newspapers and TV screens is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that we don't know about. This is evident from the state of our country's economy. Social and economic justice will elude us for as long as there is corruption.

So we need people with the courage to become whistle-blowers, even if they are exposing their own colleagues, family or friends. We need to learn the lessons that history provides. We need to learn from the courage of Nobhiyana Madondo, who remains a shining example of honesty under fire.

If we want our secure future, we need to learn from the past.

I thank you.

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