Remembering ZULU - Mangosuthu Buthelezi

The IFP leader recalls the making of the movie, 50 years on

Dear friends and fellow South Africans,

For several weeks in 1964, a unique community was created at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains. It was a thousands-strong community of actors, film crew and extras.

What made it unique was that, at the height of apartheid, it was a community of both black and white, where everyone was respected and everyone treated one another as equals. There was no fuss about race, no discrimination, no bigotry. It was simply a community of people working together to recreate a part of history that held tremendous meaning for all of them.

I was privileged to work alongside these people, as we shot what is now one of the epics in film history. "Zulu", which told the story of the Anglo-Zulu War's Battle of Rourke's Drift, quickly took its place as an all-time favourite among both critics and viewers. Empire Magazine listed it as one of the 500 greatest films ever made.

Now, 50 years later, "Zulu" has been celebrated with a Gala Charity Screening at The Odeon in Leicester Square, London. For me, it was a moment of deep satisfaction to attend this screening, for when the film first premiered in 1964 I was barred by the South African Government from attending.

A year earlier, my passport had been confiscated as I returned from the Anglican Congress in Canada, which I attended as a lay delegate of the Anglican Diocese of Zululand and Swaziland. En route to the Congress, I had stopped in London to visit Mr Oliver Tambo, the Head of the ANC's mission-in-exile. We were working closely together to oppose apartheid and secure our country's freedom.

But because of that visit, I was refused a passport for nine years. It was only when I was appointed Head of the Zulu Territorial Authority that the South African Government found it difficult to refuse me a passport. Immediately, I visited Mr Tambo and other leaders in exile again.

I'm pleased to say that, fifty years later, it was far easier to get a passport to attend the Gala Screening of "Zulu" - despite my diplomatic passport having been stolen, which necessitated a mad scramble to have it reissued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation!

Nevertheless, passport in hand, I travelled to the United Kingdom this week to lend my support to the charity screening of "Zulu".

The event was organised by Ms Suzannah Endfield Olivier, the daughter of the late Mr Cy Endfield, who directed the film. She sought not only to highlight the 50th anniversary of "Zulu", but also to raise funds for three worthy charities, namely Walking with the Wounded, Sentebale and the David Rattray Memorial Trust.

Sentebale is the Lesotho-based charity founded by HRH Prince Seeiso and HRH Prince Henry of Wales, affectionately known as Prince Harry. Through this charity, Lesotho's most vulnerable children are supported and assisted to lead healthy, productive lives.

 HRH Prince Harry also supports the UK-based Walking with the Wounded, which assists in the retraining of wounded servicemen and women to give them the necessary skills and qualifications to establish new careers outside the military.

Together with Prince Harry's father, HRH the Prince of Wales, I am patron of the David Rattray Foundation, which is supported by the David Rattray Memorial Trust. Established in 2007, the Trust commemorates a remarkable South African who devoted much of his life to the study of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, to the promotion of Zulu culture and the reconciliation of our country's peoples. David Rattray was tragically killed on his farm on 26 January 2007.

Today, the Trust focuses on educating and caring for children in a number of schools in rural KwaZulu Natal, while promoting a better understanding of this province in terms of its history and present challenges. 

Among the celebrities, historians, movie buffs and former soldiers who supported the gala charity screening, were several people related to the charities, and to the film itself. It was wonderful to be in the company of my South African friends, Nicky and Andrew Rattray. Equally good was the chance to see Lady Ellen Baker after so many years. Lady Baker is the widow of Sir Stanley Baker, who co-produced and starred in "Zulu". Following the filming, I enjoyed a long friendship with the Bakers.

My greatest pleasure, though, was reserved for HRH Prince Harry, whom I was seated next to at the screening. During the pre-screening programme, while the guests were seated in the auditorium, the Prince and I enjoyed a quiet moment in the Royal Circle reception area.

Over drinks, we had the opportunity to discuss our families and the long friendship I have enjoyed with HRH Prince Charles. Indeed, when HRH Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, was born on the 21st of June 1982, HRH Prince Charles sent me a beautiful framed photograph announcing the happy event. That photograph still hangs in my Ulundi office.

I also, of course, appreciated meeting Ms Suzannah Endfield Olivier, whose remarkable vision and hard work made this event possible. The day after the screening, I enjoyed a lovely lunch hosted by Mrs Endfield, the late Mr Cy Endfield's wife.

When Suzannah extended an invitation to me earlier this year to be an honoured guest, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for that unique community at the foot of the Drakensberg.

Nostalgia is perhaps the best description for what I experienced on Tuesday night, as the British regiments lined the red carpet, to the sounds of a Zulu Choir. I thought of my ancestors, who engaged the Anglo-Zulu War with such fervour. I have often said that there was valour on both, acts of bravery on both sides; and both sides suffered tragic losses.

For the Zulu Nation, the memories evoked by the film are recent in our national consciousness, even 135 years later. They are part of the cultural narrative we grew up with and part of what shaped us as a nation. The re-enactment of the Battle of Rourke's Drift was a milestone event, not only in cinematic history, but within the Zulu nation.

It was therefore deeply poignant for me to be cast in this film in the role of King Cetshwayo kaMpande, my maternal great-grandfather.

Originally, there has been no intention of casting me in the film at all. In fact, when Cy Endfield and Sir Stanley Baker came to see me at KwaPhindangene to request my assistance in enlisting the thousands of extras for the Zulu regiments, they had already cast Mr Hubert Sishi, an announcer from Radio Zulu, for the part of King Cetshwayo. But when Endfield saw me, he was so struck by the family resemblance that he persuaded me to play the role myself.

Thus it was that I had the privilege of debuting with Sir Michael Caine. We began our acting careers together. But while he went on to fame and glory, history and birth called me to the less acclaimed path of politics.

It was remarkable at the time to engage so many extras. Thousands upon thousands of Zulu men found themselves re-enacting the deeds and glories of their own grandfathers.

It was therefore almost incomprehensible when, a year after its release, "Zulu" was given a "D" certificate by censors in South Africa, effectively barring black South Africans from watching the film. I was grateful that a special arrangement was made to at least screen it for the thousands of extras, in places like Mahlabathini, Nongoma and Durban.

At those screenings, just like at the screening on Tuesday night, the audience was drawn by the pathos of the warriors and soldiers into what was, in the end, a very human experience.

As the traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, I have dedicated much of my life to the continued struggle of the Zulu nation for the recognition of our King and kingdom. I continue to work for the unity of a nation that is so remarkable that it took the full force of Her Majesty's army to defeat us. In the words of Prime Minister Disraeli, it took a larger army to defeat the Zulu Nation than it did to conquer the whole of India!

I am proud of my heritage, and proudly South African.

Yours in the service of our nation,

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP

Issued by the IFP, June 12 2014

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