President Jacob Zuma says stress is a white man’s disease, and that Zulu people don’t suffer stress. He lied.

Mr. President Zuma, Zulu people also suffer stress − stress is certainly not only a “white man’s problem”, as you said recently.

by Soka Mthembu

During the address at his 75th birthday celebration in April 2017, President Zuma said that Zulu people do not experience stress; and that there is not even a Zulu word for stress. Hahahahaha, this is the most absurd statement I’ve ever heard on the topic of stress. To you non-Zulus out there, don’t envy us – we are so stressed, it’s not even funny.

Of course it’s very rare that you’ll hear a Zulu saying, “umoya wami uyakhathazeka”, or “nginencindezi.” However, you will hear us saying “ngine-stress.” So it’s more of a language issue in that we have borrowed words from another language, than stress as an experience simply being non-existent in the black race.

Let me go back to the previous century to try to illustrate “this stress thing” we’ve been experiencing.

Zulu people have had bizarre traditions, such as, for instance, having to kill one of a pair of twins at infancy, for fear that he/she would bring bad luck to the family/clan or community if his/her life were spared. Remember Mkabayi kaJama, who went on to build and strengthen the Zulu nation – she was supposed to be killed; however, Jama kaNdaba (her father) couldn’t bring himself to put her to death. Guess what? His act of mercy stressed the nation because what he was doing was unheard of. Mkabayi carried this burden – don’t you think her childhood must have been stressful because she was despised by her people? And her father, because he had taken an unpopular decision and changed the trajectory of history?

Shaka kaSenzangakhona ordered the killing of people at the time of the death of his mother Nandi in 1827, merely so that others might also feel the pain he endured in the wake of his loss. Surely that was something that would have stressed the nation? Yes?…No? During this grieving period on his mother’s death, which took over 3 months, there was one hero who was even more stressed and prepared to die − Gala kaNodade of the Biyela clan, who walked all the way from Empangeni to KwaDukuza. This dauntless hero strode up to the gate and shouted: “Bayede, your Highness, your people are dying: who shall you rule over? Your people are so weak: how will they protect this kingdom when the enemy attacks?” He took this bold step because he was stressed about the future of the Zulu Kingdom.

What about the stress that the Zulu people experienced in 1802 when there was drought, known as “madlathule”, during which people, for the first time, were not prepared to share their harvests because there was insufficient food?

What about the battles black people have had to fight against one another? Remember the Mfecane? I’ll wager my life that that must have caused people of the time enormous stress.

When the British gave King Cetswayo an ultimatum in 1878 to forsake his sovereignty, which led to an invasion in early 1879, don’t you think that must have stressed the king and his people? They had to fight a war they didn’t want in the first place − hiding in caves for fear of being attacked, not only by British soldiers, but by their very own people, who sold out, and decided to join the British army.

 When the Zulu people said, in 1906 – “Insumansumane imali yamakhanda” – (this matter is complicated like the poll tax) don’t you think that saying was born out of stress and confusion at suddenly being ordered to pay a £2 tax, hence the Bhambatha rebellion?

Was it not stressful for you, as a Zulu man, to have to leave your young children to spend years on Robben Island, not knowing whether you’d ever return?

Mr President, black people are stressed. We stress about the corruption in government and how inaccessible decent health care and education is, hence #FEESMUSTFALL. I have no doubt in my mind that, amongst those stressed about rising and unaffordable education fees are Zulus, and you still say “Zulu people never have stress”?

When the Apartheid government killed thousands of our people, when we turned on each other during the conflicts between Inkatha and ANC − in fact, you played a crucial role in ending this senseless war − were you not stressed then?

The Land Act of 1913 caused many Zulu people to be left destitute, having their livestock die through forcible removal from their farms. I remember talking to an old Zulu lady in 2016, who shared her personal story with me about her family removal from the farm because she refused to be abused by her ‘madam’. She would work for a whole month on the farm only to be paid in cigarettes, which by the way she didn’t smoke, but still took for her brothers, because that was the only payment offered. Mr President, to this day, some of her family members blame her for their removal – imagine her stress then and now.

I’m not even going to get into my unfortunate personal experiences, but let me share with you how, since childhood, I’ve been having this “stress” thing.

Mr President, unluckily for me, my mother (whom I love dearly), discovered as soon as I could feed myself that I was left-handed. Upon discovering this she beat the hell of out my left hand in an effort to get me to change to using my right hand, which by the way left me confused. Don’t you think it stressed my mother to believe that I was stubborn? I guess back then this was equivalent to a rural Zulu man discovering that his son was gay.

I remember when in Zululand, at the age of 9, Mam Buthelezi made us stand in front of the whole school to sing “ngiboleke imbokodo ngigaye isono sami” (lend me a grinding stone so I can grind my sin), which, in this case, was not paying about R20 in school fees back in 1991/1992? Don’t you think that that was embarrassing, not to mention stressful?

Setting out my thoughts while trying to understand your point has not only been tiring: worse still, it has been overwhelmingly stressful.



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