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isiZulu

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ISIZULU LANGUAGE

PROF. SIHAWUKELE NGUBANE

African languages spoken in South Africa and Southern Africa are referred to as South-Eastern Bantu languages, according to Guthrie(1967). As a Language zone, South-Eastern Bantu, comprises Shona in Zimbabwe; Venda, Sotho, Nguni, Tsonga in South Africa and Tshwa-Ronga and Chopi in Mozambique. Among the Nguni language group there is isiXhosa in the southern part and isiZulu, siSwati and isiNdebele in the north. What is fascinating about the Nguni languages is that there is variance in speech sounds; for example, the Zunda variety uses the sound “z” where the Tekela speakers use “t”. For example, a goat is known as imbuzi in Zunda and mbuti in Tekela. Besides, the main Nguni languages are composed of conglomerations of dialects that are not recognised as languages by the constitution. Major Zulu dialects are spoken in South Africa (in KwaZulu-Natal and Southern Natal) where the variety is simply known as Zulu; in Malawi and Tanzania where the Zulu dialect is referred to as Ngoni and in Zimbabwe where it is termed Ndebele.

The term Zulu means sky or heaven in English and the language was named so after the personal name of the Zulu King, Zulu, the son of Malandela in 1670. Malandela is the son of Luzumane, the son of Mnguni II, the son of Gumede, the son of Lubololwenja, the son of Mnguni I. Zulu had two sons Mageba and Phunga. This is evident in the Zulu clan praises and, the Kingdom of the Zulu people is referred to as the place of Phunga and Mageba. However, among the Zulu, the most prominent king was Shaka Zulu, the son of Senzangakhona, the son of Jama, the son of Ndaba, the son of Mageba. The current Zulu king is Goodwill Zwelithini, “Ubhejane phuma esiqiwini kudala bekuvalele”.

Zulu which is now referred to as IsiZulu is one of the dominant languages spoken in South Africa. It is also spoken in neighbouring countries of South Africa. In 1994 isiZulu became one of the nine indigenous languages to obtain official recognition in South Africa. The 2001 South African Census revealed that isiZulu speakers were estimated to be 10.6 million which is 23% of the South African population then. The province of KwaZulu-Natal is the home of the majority isiZulu speakers but it is essential to state that it is also widely understood in South Africa and in KwaBulawayo in Zimbabwe.

The writing of isiZulu was initiated by missionaries in the then Natal. Among the pioneers of isiZulu writings are JW Colenso, S B stone, H Callaway and Lewis Grant. They are the first prominent scholars who had contacts with Zulu speakers. The first Zulu converts were used by missionaries to spread the word of God. Those were also taught writing skills in isiZulu. Magema Fuze was taught to communicate in English in the early 19th Century (1830 -1841). Magema Fuze wrote his first book in 1922 entitled, Abantu abamnyama nalapho bavela ngakhona. Newton Adams founder of Adams College and Reverend Aldin Grout produced the first Bible in isiZulu in 1883.

The first literary work was by Thomas Mofolo, who wrote a book entitled, Chaka for Shaka in 1910. Other authors emerged later and these were Dr J.L. Dube, who wrote Insila kaShaka; Dr B.W. Vilakazi whose first novel is entitled, Noma Nini; R.R.R> Dhlomo who wrote historical novels on Zulu kings uDingane, uShaka, uMpande in the 20th Century. Subsequent to these, are several authors who also produced isiZulu literature books such as Keneth Bhengu in 1953, who wrote, Ukhalalembube and Prof Sibusiso Nyembezi, who wrote Ubudoda abakhulelwa the same year, 1953. These were followed by authors of note such as Prof DBZ Ntuli; Prof Otty EHM Nxumalo; Joyce Gwayi; Prof C.T. Msimang and CZ Ntuli; JC Dlamini and Nimrod Ndebele, the father of Prof Njabulo Ndebele who wrote the first drama book, UGubudela Namazimu in 1941.

In conclusion isiZulu as a language has been developed over the years and the main objective is to reach a level where it will be treated as an academic language.