Setting History Straight

By 6th November 2019 Articles

A few weeks back we wrote about the various impressive statues which are scattered in and around Durban. In recent years though, these monuments to South Africa’s history, in particular its colonial history, have come under fire with large numbers of people calling for their removal. In 2015, with tensions rising around the issue of what’s viewed by many as a celebration of colonialism, a number of statues were defaced, including the Dick King monument on Durban’s esplanade, not far from the Durban Maritime Museum.

But the recently published book, Mlamulankunzi: The Life and Times of Dick King, written by King’s great-great-granddaughter, Jacqueline Kalley, hints at a possible alternative to the removal of these monuments. The cover of Kalley’s book features a bronze statue of Dick King, riding his horse, Somerset, as he sets out on the ten-day journey to Grahamstown. Alongside King rides a young boy, Ndongeni ka Xoki, who not many people will have heard of before. Ndongeni was only sixteen years old when he set out on the 960 kilometre horse ride to Grahamstown that would bring much needed reinforcements to the embattled British regiment. Employed as King’s servant, Ndongeni proved a worthwhile companion on the harrowing journey, despite eventually being forced to return to Port Natal, due to him riding with no saddle or bridle. But King so valued the assistance that he received from Ndongeni, and the important role that he played in the epic ride, that he campaigned for his fellow traveler to be recognised, and Ndongeni was eventually granted a farm by the Natal Government by way of thanks.

So rather than removing the statue of King, which tells a very important story, perhaps, as is suggested by Professor of African Languages at UKZN, Sihawu Ngubane – and by the cover of Kalley’s book – what we should be doing instead is adding further statues and monuments. To have King standing alone tells only half the tale, but by adding Ndongeni riding alongside him, we have a more complete picture of what really happened some 170 years ago.

The statue of King Dinuzulu which stands opposite that of General Louis Botha in King Dinuzulu Park, Durban

An example of how this has worked well can be shown with another of Durban’s colonial monuments. On the 14th June 1923 a bronze statue of General Louis Botha, the first president of the Union of South Africa, was unveiled by General Jan Smuts. In 2005 there were talks of removing the statue to make way for a ‘more acceptable’ heroes’ monument, but instead it was decided to add a second statue commemorating King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo. The statue, which was erected in 2008, not only recognises Dinuzulu’s place in the history of the Zulus and the Zulu royal family, but also acknowledges the relationship that existed between Dinuzulu and Botha, thus telling a more complete and, importantly more accurate, version of South Africa’s history.

Images courtesy of pinterest.com and kznpr.co.za

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