Sanibonani, Molweni, Hello, Xin Chao!
Greeetings from Vietnam, this time:-)
Over the past few months I have been traveling in and outside Zululand doing storytelling and just admiring the beauty that is the Zulu Kingdom and its people. But what really got in the way of my blogging is my recent trips, with Zulu dancers, to Morocco in October, Vietnam in December 2015 and again Vietnam in February 2016. It has been a roller-coaster of excitement and I can’t wait to share the stories that I’m currently work on.
On before I forget, we are releasing a full-length music album (Beyond Zulu: Mkabayi kaJama) honoring the heroes and heroines such as Mkabayi kaJama. There are of course many other great songs such as Baba Nomama — a traditional Zulu wedding song (inkondlo) sung by a Zulu bride just before she says “I do” in a true Zulu tradition!
In the meantime enjoy the images from my recent trips in Zululand and outside of South Africa! For more images and videos; visit my company website Beyond Zulu Experience Check out Beyond Zulu YouTube channel
For the traveller seeking community-based cultural tourism, however, not contrived, not manufactured, not illusory … a mix of nature and a true taste of Zulu heritage in an untainted and unpolluted natural environment; join me as I guide you on your journey of discovering the beauty of Zulu Culture and Heritage!
….And for who appreciate spectacular and vibrant Zulu dancing … the powerplay between Zulu warriors and maidens through song and dance!
Barry Leitch, known to the Zulus as uMkhomazi (Zulu Praises: Umkhomazi ogcwala ngomoya –“the Mkhomazi River that floods with wind”) is a renowned Zulu cultural expert and entrepreneur, who, together with Kingsley Holgate, created Shakaland, the cultural experience near Eshowe. Shakaland was originally created as a filmset for a movie series: Shaka Zulu…the movie documented the life of the Great King Shaka, the most influential leader of the Zulu empire, credited with uniting, through his military genius, many of the Northern Nguni people. Barry was a driving force behind the creation of that movie. His other interests, besides tourism, Zulu culture and heritage, included marketing & advertising, and Nguni cattle farming. He grew up with the Zulu people, learned to stick-fight, to Zulu dance, and about courtship at the river; just like a rural Zulu boy would do. There is nothing a rural Zulu boy did that he didn’t or couldn’t do. He ate, drank, and breathed Zulu culture.
Barry graduated from UCT with a degree in anthropology. I am told that, as a child, he had to repeat Grade One at school because he couldn’t speak proper English. Astonishing as it may sound for a white boy to be more fluent in Zulu than in his mother tongue, I’m afraid this is the truth. Barry is what I would call a living legend, a Zulu language and cultural expert who would at any time during a conversation surprise you with a Zulu proverb you’d never heard before. He did this often and without any effort. His Zulu is impeccable and he is a marvel to listen to. He is also the greatest marketer I’ve ever known —one insanely creative and funny; and he simply has a way with words. As a marketer, he never took consumers and clients for granted. One piece of marketing advice and consumer insight he shared with me when I worked at Simunye Zulu Lodge around 2007 was that guests were not there for the food, accommodation, Zulu cultural experience, etc. — all they bought and paid for was the “feeling”.
HOW I MET BARRY
In the months leading up to the democratisation of South Africa, Barry Leitch founded a lodge, building it right on a cliff face: Simunye Zulu Lodge. Simunye is tucked away in the magnificent Mfule River, deep in the heart of Zululand, in the area known as Melmoth. The lodge is coupled with a cultural village offering tourists the opportunity of spending the night with and amongst the Zulus; to partake in a cultural tour of the Zulu village, and to watch some traditional Zulu dancing. It is here that I was introduced to Barry when I was a boy, at the tender age of 11. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long journey of mentoring.
It is in this very place that I was to meet famous people like Vanessa Williams and many others. Vanessa Williams taught me as a child, together with my fellow dancers, a song; “To Be Young, Gifted And Black” and she would sing this song every evening until she left the lodge. This was when she was at Simunye for the filming of “Woman Of Colour”. It is also here that the lotto slogan “Tata ma Chance Tata Ma Millions” originated, where Uthingo (the then lotto Management company) held their conference. I had great fun, from being a Zulu dancer to being a director of the very lodge where I had started as a dancer, earning R6 per show. In between, I had held the position of Front Office and Reservations Manager, General Manager, and Production Assistant for New York Times/Granada factual during the filming of “World Wedding Day”. Had I not met Barry or had the privilege of being mentored by him I would not have had all these opportunities and experiences.
Barry had an inexplicable faith in me. What he taught me has remained with me throughout my life. I remember working for him as a trainee at his below-the-line Communications Company, Ingwe Communications (which he later sold to FCB South Africa). Here I trained as receptionist; however, I was also involved in the exciting stuff. It was here that I learned “telephone etiquette”, to excel in typing, and how to use computers in general – I was a fast learner, although I made many mistakes in the process. I remember there were two gentlemen that used to call looking for Barry. Both of them were named Victor. When they asked to speak to Barry, my response would be something like this: “We have Victor from next door and we have Victor who is a Unilever client: which one are you?” That was my way of screening Barry’s calls: it was poor etiquette and rather rude. Barry didn’t shout at me – he found it funny. He allowed me to make those mistakes in the knowledge that I would learn from them. Luckily, the two Victors were not offended. There were many other mistakes that followed, which of course were forgiven.
It was also at Ingwe Communications that I met my “first” girlfriend, Nombuso. By any standards Nombuso was beautiful; there was nothing that gave me more joy than the feeling that she was beautiful and that she was mine. But I remember how Barry sat me down, (unexpectedly) to have that serious conversation, as a father would to his son. He called me in. The conversation went something like this: “I know that you’ve met a girl and that she’s a most beautiful girl; but my advice to you is to be careful not to let this distract you and destroy your life”. I came out of that “discussion” feeling worthless. However, that was tough love; it is a conversation along the same lines that I will have with my sons when the time is right!
Barry, throughout my career, was to play that fatherly role. Most of us referred to him as “ubaba”. Come to think of it, I never discussed father-son issues with my own father. The only serious discussion I remember having with my father was when I was about 24, a year before I was married. I was ready to pay ilobolo (a herd of cattle given to his parents-in-law by their son-in-law, as thanks for bearing him a wife, to cement the relationship between the two families. This is also, in paying for cattle, a way of proving that the man will be able to care for their daughter). When I told my father that I was preparing to pay ilobolo to the Biyelas, his first reaction was “Ungabe ulahla izinkomo njengobaba wakho omdala uDlawu” — loosely translated as: “I do hope you’re not wasting/ throwing away cattle like your uncle Dlawu did throughout his life”. That was the only serious conversation I remember having with my father; however, there were many conversations I had with Barry.
Another story about Barry that comes to mind is that he believed in people more than they believed in themselves. I remember his domestic worker, Manala, one of the most talented beaders I know. Manala couldn’t speak English at all, but one day Barry left his cellphone with her, requiring her to answer it for him. He told her what to say to people looking for him. The wording was quite simply: “Barry is sleeping in”. I happened to be the one calling. All I heard from Manala was “BARRY SLEEPING IN!”. As funny as it was at the time, it shows the confidence and the belief Barry had in people, taking them out of their comfort zone and making them see that they could do more!
Barry instilled humility amongst all his people. He is genuine; he is unassumingly engaging. During the construction of Sibaya Casino, a project in which he was very instrumental, I would accompany him to all his meetings, including those where the likes of Peter Bacon (ex CEO Sun International) would be present, as also many other important people. At no time did Barry ever introduce me as his PA. He always introduced me as his colleague. He never saw colour; he treated people the same, regardless of their age, colour of their skin, status, gender, etc. — come to think of it, I think he is also a feminist.
Barry is one of kindest, greatest mentors I’ve ever known. A force of nature who believes in people. I’m forever grateful for his guidance, and for using his resources in the advancement of my career, as he would have for his own son. Barry paid for my Business Management course, my Computer training, and my Marketing Management training. I have to add, however, that I didn’t copy his dress style:-).
I’m also grateful for his amazing and true stories, some of which formed part of my growing up. Right now, I’m chuckling as I remember “Ngema and the condom story”, in which Barry gave Ngema advice about wearing a condom to prevent STIs and HIV. Ngema wore the condom for 48 hours, only removing it to pee or to bath. On the third day Ngema came to tell Barry: “Mkhomazi, iyangilimaza lento — this thing you asked me to wear is hurting me”.
This is the man who understood the true meaning of mentorship, having mentored hundreds of other people from all backgrounds. He believed in transferring skills. This was his passion, and he offered his assistance without expecting anything in return. He is a legend and an absolute original who should be emulated by all…but whatever you do, do not copy his fashion style!
If this story about Barry’s great service to this country, particularly to rural communities fails to move and inspire you, it is not because Barry failed in changing lives, but because I have failed in the telling of his story.
By Soka Mthembu
The Zulu Kingdom has never had a void in selfless leadership. This was a time when traditional leaders also took to the battle to defend their land and their people. Their leadership style was beyond delegating – they led from the front! Shaka had instilled those values, because he too led his own army in tribal battles. This was a time when Amakhosi and warriors served their King, their country, and communities, with distinction. One unsung hero who comes to mind is Mkhosana Biyela of the Biyela clan, the son of Mvundlana Biyela. He lived at a crucial time in the history of the Zulu people during the Anglo-Zulu War. He died at Isandlwana, but he did not die in vain: I am here to tell his story.
When it became clear to King Cetshwayo and the Zulus that Lt General Lord Chelmsford’s ultimatum was untenable (which amongst other things demanded that the Zulus disarm, and Cetshwayo forsake his sovereignty), the king had no choice but to prepare his +/-20,000 warriors for what was to become the greatest defeat the British ever suffered at the hands of men armed with only shields and spears.
BACKGROUND: ANGLO-ZULU WAR
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, umtwana wakwaPhindangene, during the unveiling of Inkosi Mthiyaqhwa kaDidi of the Biyela Clan, described the battle of Isandlwana very succinctly when he said: “The resistance to colonial rule in Southern Africa reached a climax when the British colonial powers deployed a force larger than the force that they used to conquer the continent of India, in order to destroy the Zulu Kingdom. A full-scale war took place in order to destroy the old Zulu order, and to subjugate the Zulu nation. It was our ancestor, King Cetshwayo ka Mpande, whose regiments took on the British forces. The British at that time had the mightiest army in the world. King Cetshwayo’s regiments were only armed with their spears and their shields”.
It was on 22 January 1879 that the Zulu army, led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, (a Senior General Commander and hereditary Chief of the Khoza in north-western Zululand, an old man in his 70s) were prepared to lay down their lives to defend their land, to fight the battle which they had never wanted in the first place. Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, along with his men, had run all the way from Ulundi (about 92 km) to Isandlwana over 4 days, to lead his warriors against the invading the British. His high rank in the kingdom and his recognised abilities as a warrior made him a natural choice as a senior commander. Amongst the regiments which fought there were the mighty Ingoba Makhosi, Uthulwana, Udududu, Udloko, Indlondlo, Umcijo, Imbonambi, and Uve regiments, to name just a few.
Mkhosana kaMvundlana Biyela led the Ukhandampevu regiment (identifiable by their black-and-white shields). He did this against the request of the king, who had asked him to stay behind. His excuse was that “Ngeke ngilibheme igudu noKhandampevu uma ngingayanga eSandlwana, ngiyofela eSandlwana”: “I may never smoke the pipe again with my regiment, Ukhandampevu, if I don’t go with them to Isandlwana. I’d rather die at Isandlwana than stay behind.” The King gave him his blessing and he left for Isandlwana. What a remarkable and dedicated leader he was, determined to fight alongside his comrades!
When the British were firing their Martini-Henry rifles, the Zulu army became shaky, with most warriors already pinned down on their bellies to escape the bullets, almost as though they were ready to surrender. Something remarkable happed at that very moment! uMkhosana kaMvundlana stood up like a Colossus in front of his men. Turning his back on the British, he shouted “Yeyinina Laphaya Ningabaleki”, followed by the reciting of the king’s praises: “Isilo Uhlamvana Bhulumlilo Kashonga Njalo”—”Don’t Run, Don’t Run, The Little Branches of trees that extinguish the Great Fires gave us no such order”, He had barely uttered those words then the British shot him right through the head. He died instantly. As the brave warrior fell on the ground, after this selfless act, not a single warrior moved back an inch: they all rallied forward, more determined than ever to annihilate the British army. By sheer numbers and force of attack, the Zulu regiments won the Battle of Isandlwana. King Cetshwayo celebrated this victory. Had Mkhosana not intervened at the time he did, something could have gone seriously amiss, and today we would be living a different story!
Mkhosana was buried by his brother; weeks later his family went to Isandlwana to fetch his body so they could afford him a proper burial. However, the vultures had eaten his body, leaving only his traditional regalia —so the family buried his traditional regalia. He made the nation, the king, his commander, and his warriors proud. Ukhandampevu, (his regiment) was then known as “Ukhandampevu olwenqaka amatshe ezulu”, meaning the Ukhandampevu regiment which caught the hailstones…hailstones being the bullets!
How many of us today would be prepared to serve our country the way Mkhosana did? Would we expose ourselves to bullets like he did? Do we take the responsibility when our colleagues stumble, and try to inspire them? What kind of a man would abandon his own special occasion such as his wedding, choosing rather to go to battle? Mkhosana kaMvundlana Biyela was that man! I am eternally grateful to him and to many of his people for the respect which the Zulu people embrace today. It is the spirit of these warriors that kept the flames of our Zulu Culture burning. Ndabezitha! wena owadela uzimba emaNgisini Esandlwana!
By Soka Mthembu