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Friday 24 November 2023

Who is Magema Fuze?

By Shorba Harkhu

Have you attended a lecture where you listened intently and wanted to know more about the topic at hand? I was fortunate enough to attend the Dr Killie Campbell 2023 online lecture delivered by Professor Hlonipha Mokoena. Her lecture was lively and enlightening (and entertaining), and she injected so much life and character to her presentation. It felt as if she was conversing with a friend. I left her lecture brimming with new knowledge and wanting to know more about the content at hand, and about her.

Professor Mokoena is an associate professor at the University of Witwatersrand, and her lecture was on the life and times of Magema Fuze. You may be wondering who Magema Fuze was. Fuze (c. 1840–1922) was the author of the first ever book written in Zulu by a Zulu author. The book in question is Abantu Abamnyama Lapa Bavela Ngakona (The Black People and Whence They Came). He also self-published this book which makes him the first Zulu speaker to publish a book in the Zulu language (Mokoena, 2012).  Fuze’s book has been described as one of the principal sources of Zulu history and also one of the works that marked the transition from an oral tradition to a literate culture (Mokoena, 2012).

Fuze’s career in writing began in the 1850’s where he trained as a printer at John William Colenso’s (the first Bishop of Natal) printing press and mission school called Ekukhanyeni (Mokoena, 2009). He also wrote letters to and articles for newspapers such as Ilanga lase Natal and Ipepo Lo Hlanga (Mokoena, 2005).  

Professor Mokoena mentioned the difficulties she encountered while researching on this author for her PhD. She also provided interesting little anecdotes about her research journey. Since there were no online literature available on Fuze, her primary source of information were microfiche, which she accessed at Campbell Collections, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Mokoena also recalled how she used to take breaks from reading the microfiche by walking around the beautiful library gardens (see also Senzosenkosi Mkhize’s blog of 20 September 2023 about the gardens).

For further reading; a selection of Fuze’s papers is held at Campbell Collections. There is also a biography entitled Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual, by Hlonipha Mokoena published by UKZN Press. The Dr Killie Campbell 2023 lecture is available via this link https://youtu.be/uYA9ajrfJq8?si=g2q2y8Y1cYMF9EhW



Mokoena, H. 2005. Christian Converts and the Production of Kholwa Histories in Nineteenth-Century Colonial Natal: The Case of Magema Magwaza Fuze and his Writings. Journal of Natal and Zulu History, 23.

Mokoena, H. 2009. An Assembly of Readers: Magema Fuze and his Ilanga lase Natal Readers. Journal of Southern African Studies, 35, 595-607.

Mokoena, H. 2012. Fuze, Magema. In: Akyeampong, E. M. & Gates, H. L. (eds.) Dictionary of African biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available: https://books.google.co.za/books?id=39JMAgAAQBAJ&pg=RA1-PA403&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false


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