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Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

versión On-line ISSN 2412-4265
versión impresa ISSN 1017-0499

Studia Hist. Ecc. vol.36 no.1 Pretoria may. 2010


A broken land and a healing community: Zulu Zionism and healing in the case of George Khambule (1884 - 1949)



Jonathan A. Draper

School of Religion and Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa




The destruction of the Zulu Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century, the Bambatha Rebellion, the First World War and Spanish Influenza in the Twentieth Century destabilised Zulu culture, created widespread death and suffering, and also led to a longing for healing among the Zulu people. George Khambule's experience in Nquthu and the Western Front, together with his near death experience from Influenza resulted in his call to become a prophet and his foundation of iBandla Labancwele in 1918. His healing practice is analyzed and compared with the contemporary healing practice of Charles Johnson at St. Augustine's Mission, Nquthu, as competitive cultural and social phenomena.



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1 The echo of Richard Dawkins, The God delusion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) is deliberate,         [ Links ] not because he is necessarily wrong in his critique of right wing religion, but because he argues in the most strident way possible for the monolithic universality of the "Western scientific world view".
2 The discussion of this question has focussed on the AIDS denialism which characterised the policy of President Thabo Mbeki. See for example Deborah Posel, "Sex, death and the fate of the nation: reflections on the politicization of sexuality in post-Apartheid South Africa", Africa 75 (2005) 125-153.
3 Jean and John Comaroff, Of revelation and revolution: Christianity, colonialism and consciousness in South Africa, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). This emphasis on "conversation" finds its place also in the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and method, 2nd rev. edition. trans. by J. Weinsheimer and D.G.Marshall. (New York: Crossroad, 1989).         [ Links ]
4 Ibid., 54.
5 Ibid., 18.
6 Ibid., 11. This way of viewing the imperial encounter with subjugated cultures and its modern consequences is taken up helpfully also by Edward Said, Culture and imperialism culture and imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993).         [ Links ]
7 Jean Comaroff, Body ofpower, spirit of resistance: the culture and history of a South African people (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.         [ Links ]
8 In this I differ somewhat with James Scott's approach, with which I otherwise find helpful, in Domination and the arts of resistance (1990), which maximises the conscious agency of the dominated. On the other hand, I do not mean to deny the reality of the element of control exercised or at least exerted by the agents involved. Perhaps use could be made of the theory of "discursive field" (Steinberg 1998) in semiotics as this is developed by Timothy Shortell, "The notion of a field, in which the interpretation of collective action and shared identity takes place, suggests that the ways in which meaning-making promotes and inhibits action is not fully conscious or intentional. But neither is it entirely outside the control of the actors involved."
9 Rhodes House Library, Oxford, USPG Archives, CLR 143, 106, 17 June 1884.
10 Jeff Guy, The view across the river: Harriette Colenso and the Zulu struggle against imperialism. Cape Town: David Philip/ Oxford: James Currey/ Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001).
11 See Sheila Meintjes, "Edendale, 1851-1930: farmers to townspeople, market to labour reserve", in J. Laband and R. Haswell (eds), Pietermaritzburg 1838-1988: a new portrait of an African city. (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press/Shuter & Shooter, 1988), 66-69.
12 O. Watkins, "Fought for the great white queen. Edendale". Typewritten account in the Killie Campbell Archives (University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, n.d.).
13 For a pious but valuable account of his life, see A. W. Lee, Charles Johnson of Zululand ( United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1930). Also available electronically at http://
This, argues Johnson, was no moment's excess but the result of a deliberate attempt to solve the "native question" by genocide:
14 Rhodes House Library, Oxford, USPG Archives, CLR 144, 8-9, 24 July 1906.
15 Ibid.
16 Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, Nquthu Magistrate, unclassified papers. George's father was Isaac Khambule, from whom he inherited his land. This was the crux of the legal process between George and both the Provincial and Union governments, and was not disputed. However, the heir of Isaac Khambule was called Garden Khambule in the records of inheritance in the Natal Provincial Archives for Nquthu in these unclassified papers. It seems that he adopted the name George at some stage, probably when he worked on the mines.
17 Rhodes House Library, Oxford, USPG Archives, CLR 144, 93.
18 Lee, Charles Johnson of Zululand, electronic version, chapter X, p. 2.
19 Ibid.
20 Rhodes House Library, Oxford, USPG Archives, CLR 144, 171-172
21 Ian Gleeson, The unknown force: Black, Indian and Coloured soldiers through two world wars (Rivonia, Johannesburg: Ashanti, 1994), 36.         [ Links ]
22 Eric J. Leed, No man's land: combat and identity in World War I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979;         [ Links ] Jonathan A. Draper, "Global warfare and charismatic resistance: the case of George Khambule (1884-1949) and the Book of Revelation", in S.J. Staelset (ed.), Spirits of globalization: the growth of Pentecostalism and experiential spiritualities in a global age (London: SCM Press, 2006), 90-106.
23 Molly Billings, "The influenza pandemic of 1918". Created June, 1997 modified RDS February, 2005.
24 See Howard Phillips and David Killingray (eds.), The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 - new perspectives. [Routledge Studies in the Social History of Medicine] (London: Routledge, 2003).
25 P. Mhlungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 14-17. Presented to Bengt Sundkler as an assignment at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Umphumulo, 1941 and located in the Sundkler Archives in the Carolina Library, Uppsala. Transcribed and translated by J.A. Draper and M.K. Ntuli. Note that murder "with your mouth" resonates strangely and strongly with the pent up resentment of the unarmed SANLC expressed by Jingoes above.
26 George Khambule et al., Diary 2:85; Liturgy 3:76. These texts belong to a collection unpublished diaries, liturgies and hymn books in isiZulu quoted here as Diaries 1-4; Liturgies 1-3; Hymnbooks 1-2, 1925-1949, located in the Sundkler Archives in the Carolina Library, Uppsala. Transcribed and translated by J.A. Draper, B.M. Mkhize, M.K. Ntuli and B. Maseko
27 See Bengt Sundkler, Zulu Zion and some Swazi Zionists (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 119-160
28 Jonathan A. Draper, "The marriage of the lamb and the Isigodlo in iBandla labancwele of the Zulu prophet George Khambule," in P. Denis (ed.), The Power of oral history: memory, healing and development. Proceedings of the XIIth International Oral History Conference 24-27 June 2002 (Pietermaritzburg: Oral History Project, 2002), 1, 15-33; "The closed text and the heavenly telephone: the role of the Bricoleur in oral mediation of sacred text in the case of George Khambule and the Gospel of John", in Jonathan Draper (ed.), Orality, literacy and colonialism in Southern Africa (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature - Leiden: Brill, 2003), 57-89; "Global warfare and charismatic resistance: the case of George Khambule (1884-1949) and the Book of Revelation", in S.J. Staelset (ed.), Spirits of globalization: the growth of Pentecostalism and experiential spiritualities in a global age (London: SCM Press, 2006), 90-106; "Many voices, one script: the prophecies of George Khambule", In R.A. Horsley, J.A. Draper and J.Miles Foley (eds.), Performing the Gospel: orality, memory and Mark (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 44-66; "The Nomadic text: Africa", in John F.A. Sawyer (ed.), The Blackwell companion to the Bible and culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 176-197.
29 See the account of Nomguqo Dlamini in H. Filter and S. Bourquin, Paulina Dlamini: servant of two kings (Durban: Killie Campbell Africana Library - Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1986). Khambule's better known contemporary, Isaiah Shembe, also established an isigodlo, but his was confined to young girls, the virgins, before they were given in marriage. The question of the origin and dating of some of the terminology and practice which Khambule and other Zulu prophets used is contested. The dating of the origin of their use is difficult, and the various Zulu movements clearly borrowed from each other. Khambule, however, makes a consistent theological appropriation of the cultural practice based on the book of Revelation. This may well be the origin of the practice, in my opinion.
30 Khambule et al., Liturgy, 3, 4-5.
31 Khambule et al., Diary, 1, 7a.
32 Khambule et al., Liturgy, 3, 3.
33 Khambule et al., Diary, 1, 19b-20a.
34 Bengt Sundkler, Zulu Zion and some Swazi Zionists (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 145, n. 5.
35 B. Mduduzi Mkhize, Brian Maseko and M. Khawulani Ntuli were all involved with me in the fieldwork, transcription and translation of the Khambule material and were an integral and indispensible part of the project. I would like to record my thanks and appreciation to them here.
36 Mhlungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 29.
37 Ibid., 39. Again, the origin of the term isibhedlela is contested and obscure. It may well go back to the earliest Zulu Zionist prophet, Daniel Nkonyane, who broke away from the Zionist church established by Le Roux in 1906. See Bengt Sundkler, Bantu prophets in South Africa (London, Lutterworth Press, 1948, reed., Oxford University Press, 1961). At least its origin with Nkonyane was claimed by leaders of one of the branches of this church today, the Christian Catholic Apostolic Hoy Spirit Church in Zion (Enyonini) in field interviews. They also use the terminology of "weapons" (izikhali) in healing practice, although in their case this refers to the use of special sticks.
38 Again, the terminology of "volunteers" is obscure. Robert Houle traces it back to the earlier movement in the American Zulu Mission led by Mbiya Kuzwayo. See R.J. Houle, "Mbiya Kuzwayo's Christianity: revival, reformation and the surprising viability of mainline churches in South Africa", Journal of Religion in Africa, 38 (2008), 141-170.
39 Khambule et al., Diary, 1, 30b-32b.
40 Ibid., 1:18b-19a.
41 After the birth of a child to Fakazi Mhlungu, reputedly fathered by George Khambule, Isaiah Khambule, his brother, who had been responsible for enforcing celibacy in the community, left the church, went to Johannesburg and married. This caused a major decline in the church. However, Isaac subsequently had a vision of Mary with the sun and moon and repented. His subsequent illness was seen as a result of his action in destroying the church: "When he was sleeping he saw the vision of Fakazi, the mother of Jesus, saying: 'You saw me carrying a child putting my foot on the moon.' He says, 'I then remembered that I had seen the vision when this girl was young'. He said, 'This is the curse on me because I have destroyed the Church of Khambule because Fakazi gave birth to a child.'" He then went to Khambule to ask for forgiveness and healing. So Khambule prayed for him and he had to offer a sacrifice like was the custom, because he had not yet been paid at work Khambule promised to pay for him. He told him to go home. But because Khambule delayed offering the sacrifice he had promised, Isaiah was not cured. This thing troubles him; it has episodes of him wanting to throw himself into the fire. In 1935 I also saw him burned in his whole body at hospital at Swede. This time Khambule was at kwaThalane (Dundee) where he still is. Till today this man is mad. But he has come back to Kambule's church out of remorse that he caused the church to disintegrate and he and other people who are members of Khambule's church believe it is because of this that this happened to him" (Mhlungu, "Report in Zulu on Various Independent Churches at Telezini", 48-49).
42 Mhlungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 20-21.
43 It seems as if the quarrel is between Fakazi Mhlungu, who is the "Clark", and Joanna Ndlovu, who is the "General". The term "Prosecutor" (uMtshuthsisi) is difficult to pin down though often used and may be an alternative title for Ndlovu. The ambivalence comes out in the stole worn by Mhlungu where she has the title, "The General's Clack of the Lord. & Prosecutor". It seems to me that the "& Prosecutor", coming after a full stop, refers back to the "General". It is difficult to make sense of this scene otherwise.
44 A Zulu proverb: that you can take someone to the sea to be cleansed, but if your sickness is beyond control it will take you and swallow you.
45 Khumbule et al., Diary, 3, 120-22.
46 Khambule et al., Diary, 23b-25b.
48 Ibid., 1, 3.
48 Mhlungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 35.
49 Note also that Isaiah Khambule is required to sacrifice an animal as part of the requirement for healing in the story given in footnote 28 above. Failure to complete the sacrifice timeously is blamed for the continuance of his illness.
50 She had other ritual objects, such as keys and steel nails which she showed us, which were likely to have been her own innovation. She and her sister donned the blue mantles of the isibhedlela to worship while we were there, covering their faces with them while they sang and prayed.
51 Khambule et al., Diary, 1, 51b: "About the matter of Mount Sinai, this is the one starting from the right hand. This is the Mount Sinai where Moses was speaking to God. Exodus 19:1 texts. George is Moses." There are several photographs of Archbishop Sikhakhane with the staff with the snake on it in the Sundkler archives, one of many loose photos in unnamed and unnumbered boxes, one of which is printed in Zulu Zion, but trimmed, so that the snake is not visible. The link with healing power is obvious
52 Mhlungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 17-18.
53 Khambule et al., Diary, 1, 52a.
54 Lee, Charles Johnson of Zululand. We quote here from the electronic version, X page 1.
55 Ibid.
56 Mhungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 30.
57 Khambule et al., Diary 1, 50b.
58 Mhungu, "Report in Zulu on various Independent Churches at Telezini", 30.
59 Khambule et al., Diary 1, 25b-26b.
60 Ibid., 23b.
61 Ibid., 33a.
62 Ibid., 40a-41a.
63 Ibid., 47a-47b.
64 Mhungu, "Report in Zulu on Various Independent Churches at Telezini", 31.
65 Ibid., 31.
66 Khambule et al., Diary 1, 21b-22b.
67 See above note 28.
68 Mhungu, "Report in Zulu on Various Independent Churches at Telezini", 35-36.
69 Ibid., 38.
70 Rodney Stark makes a helpful proposal for ten major principles for predicting the success or failure of a new religious movement. Khambule's movement meets several of his key criteria for failure: the level of tension with the surrounding environment is too high; the legitimacy of his leadership was undermined in terms of his own criteria for authority; his insistence on permanent celibacy meant it was impossible to maintain the requisite "level of fertility to ... offset member mortality" and finally his socialisation of the young clearly did not work, even with his own children. See R. Stark, "Why Religious Movements Succeed or Fail: A Revised General Model", Journal of Contemporary Religion 11/2 (1996), 133-146, here 145.

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