A problem of classification
Something has been burning me and I have spent the last few years pondering on it. So I want to share my thoughts with you. Let me start by shocking you. THERE ARE NO TRIBES IN SOUTH AFRICA. NONE!!! If you’ve been walking around telling people you’re Sotho, Zulu, Pedi, Xhosa, Tswana, Tsonga….you’ve been lying to them and to yourself. Now drink a glass of water first then come walk with me for a few minutes.
There is no scientific nor historical evidence to the existence of these 9 super groups called “tribes”. Now bear with me as I take you through this. The great King Shaka ka Senzangakhona NEVER ruled over a super group called amaZulu. The great King Moshoeshoe Moshoashoaila NEVER ruled over a super group called Basotho. The list goes on. Infact the only notion of King Shaka ka Senzangakhona (by the way he was NEVER called Shaka ZULU) was when he said he wants to build an army and it must be so great “nje ngamaZulu” (meaning “like the sky”). There is NO evidence of Moshoeshoe EVER saying the nation he ruled over were “Basotho”. He NEVER used the term ever.
What confuses people is that these two great kings, like many throughout the region, conquered many nations. The likes of Manthatisi, Mzilikazi and others are just a few who did the same (I will one day write a book about Manthatisi). But these groups they then formed were NEVER called, amaZulu, Basotho, Bapedi.
So let’s break it down further. In the so-called Basotho tribe: There are clan names, Ba Monaheng, Baphuthi, Batlokoa, Bataung, Bafokeng etc who all had their clan chiefs. At what point in our history, in what meeting did these clans agree to fall under the chieftaincy of Moshoeshoe and annul the rule of their existing chiefs?
Same with the so called amaZulu. There are ooDlamini, ooNgwenya, ooNdwandwe, ooNdlovu etc. At what point in our history, in what meeting did they agree to fall under the chieftaincy of uShaka ka Senzangakhona and annul the rule of their existing chiefs?
I use Basotho and amaZulu as a prototype, but the concept runs across all so called “tribes” in our region. In the so called Xhosa tribe, Amampondo nabaThembu will correctly tell you they are not Xhosa. Infact, there are very few people in that ‘group’ who can correctly say they are Xhosa. There are amaGcaleka, amaMfeku, amaMpondomise etc who all have a separate family tree.
Now don’t be confused. There is a difference between a tribe and a language. The two are mutually exclusive. Just because you all seem to be speaking the same language does not mean there is some genetic strain you all share. But again, language exposes the fallacy of the existence of these tribes. In the so-called Pedi tribe, there is a clan called Balobedu. What they speak can NOT correctly be called sePedi. Then there are Batlokoa ba Manthata (Manthatisi) who also speak what can NOT be called sePedi. There are at least 7 dialects of this so called sePedi that I personally know of. If you go deep into it, you find this is the same with ALL other so called tribes. They all have different dialects. Even in places like Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.
Of course the Group Areas Act, the demarcation of the British Protectorates (Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana) have attempted to forge, unsuccessfully, some kind of a unitary dialect. But evidence still exists of the different dialects, especially in the deeper rural areas where people have stayed true to their origins. There is no unitary language called Sesotho, isiZulu, IsiXhosa, TshiVenda etc.
Here’s what we know as a scientific fact. We do have clan names and these have somehow been confused with “tribes” whereas all they are are family trees. Family names. In the so called Venda tribe, we have VhaNgona, Vhalea, VhaMbedzi etc, then you have VhaVenda. These are all family trees. How VhaNgona suddenly became VhaVenda bears no historical truth.
In the so-called Zulu tribe, we have ooDlamini, ooNzimande, ooNdlovu etc, then you also have ooZulu. These are also all family trees. How ooNdlovu became ooZulu has no roots in our authentic history.
In fact, these “tribes” only emerge in our history in the mid 1900s. As a matter of fact, their emergence tends to coincide with the emergence of Bantustans. Take Basotho for instance. What is the origin of the word Basotho. Many argue that the word is derived from “ba sootho” meaning “the brown ones”. The question then arises: Brown as compared to what? Because everyone in Southern Africa was brown. What makes the brownnesss of Basotho so special that they even had to call themselves by the color? It makes absolutely no sense. In fact, there was no culture of defining ourselves according to skin color. BUT!! A BIG BUT!!! If you then insert the presence of White People in the region, only then does it make sense to differentiate yourself as “brown”.
So if Basotho is indeed derived from “ba sootho”, it only makes sense that the word emerged after the presence of white people. And since there was no sense in us defining ourselves according to skin color before their arrival, it only makes sense that it is white people, most likely the missionaries Casalis, Abbousett et al who defined us by our color. In fact, the book The Basutos begins its first chapters describing Basotho as brown and the Korannas as pale.
I highlight these issues because we have allowed ourselves to be classified.
We have internalized these classifications and made them who we are.
To the point that this very input is probably making a few people hot under the collar because it rocks the very foundation of what we’ve come to believe of ourselves since birth. In Rwanda, this fallacy of tribes resulted in the senseless genocide of 800 000 people. Senseless because even in Rwanda there are NO tribes. When the Belgians conquered in Rwanda, they found the Hutu and the Tutsi in that region. But Hutu was a term used to define an agricultural farmer and Tutsi a cattle farmer. They were not “tribes”. Then the Belgians arrived and used the “comb test” to divide Rwandans into “tribes”. If the comb went through your hair smoothly, you were a Tutsi, if your hair was rougher, you were classified Hutu. Decades down the line, Rwandans slaughtered themselves in the most callous way based on these superficial classifications.
I will write extensively about this but perhaps I’m saying let’s begin to have these conversations about ourselves and begin to redefine ourselves. We walk around with a sense of pride based on false foundations. Foundations that foster divisions amongst us and prevent us from being one massive and formidable force. I humble myself to constructive criticism. I do not know everything, but like I say. I’m starting a conversation.