Battered by the flu … and Shenge

Wednesday. I’m huddled under a blanket in front of my laptop, attempting to write. I’m puzzling. My brain is frozen, dead. There’s no connection between my mind and my fingers. No flow. No movement. I’ve been sitting here for hours. I’ll type a few sentences; a paragraph, then two. Then erase it all because it’s flat, dead. Start all over again. Make what appears to be progress. Hit a wall. Wipe it out. Start over.

My vision is blurred, my head is throbbing. Every breath I take tastes of the mucus that’s lodged in my chest, which burns as the air fights its way into my clogged lungs. The cold snap that’s plunged Durban into overcoat mode since Monday night is already over but I’m shivering where I sit, despite my tracksuit pants, sweatshirt and socks. I’m shuddering and sweating at the same time.

There’s a battle royale taking place inside my body between the flu virus that’s laid me low since Tuesday and the cocktail of pharmaceuticals I’ve necked since my visit to the doctor. A stint on the nebuliser has left me light-headed, dizzy. So has the cortisone to open my lungs. The steroid and the antibiotics I took with it have added a sharp, bitter undertone, something like the aftertaste of malaria pills, to the mucus coating my palate. It’s nasty, vile. No matter what I drink or eat, the taste remains, haunting me, mocking me.

READ MORE: Buthelezi slams ANC over calls to expropriate land under traditional leadership

I should be in Ulundi, watching King Goodwill Zwelithini and the amakhosi threatening war, secession and all kinds of mayhem if the government goes ahead with its idea to expropriate land and give security of tenure to people living on tribal land.

Actually, I should be in bed, lying low while the war inside my body plays itself out, but there’s an 800-word hole in a page with my name on it that needs to be filled, so that’s that. I can crawl into bed and die later.


I hit the TV remote. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha Freedom Party president forever, is on the screen. Shenge, as his followers have called him since he started the party and took over the KwaZulu government in the 1970s, is addressing the imbizo called by the king to mobilise support against the proposals by Parliament’s high-level panel, headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, to scrap the Ingonyama Trust.

Shenge’s clearly not happy about the idea to do away with the trust and give title deeds to the people living on the land under its control. Shenge’s rather impressive black ostrich-feather headdress is taking a hammering in the wind. He’s got on this overcoat with a leopardskin overlay, so he looks warm enough, despite the wind.

I can understand why Shenge’s peeved. He is the cat who, along with apartheid’s last president, FW de Klerk, came up with the legislation that created the Ingonyama Trust, on the eve of the 1994 democratic elections.

The trust, in effect, gave the king control over what had been the KwaZulu Bantustan under apartheid, which Shenge had controlled as chief minister, minister of police and minister of economic affairs.

The proclamation of the trust didn’t take one millimetre of land away from the wit ous. It didn’t benefit people living in KwaZulu-Natal’s townships and rural areas either.

Instead, it continued to ensure that the nearly three million hectares of land that had made up KwaZulu did not end up in the hands of the people whose ancestors had lived on it.

The creation of the trust was one of the sweeteners given to Shenge’s party — and the king — to secure their participation in the 1994 elections and end the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal and the rest of the country.

The trust was meant to be a temporary arrangement, a transitional measure to reassure the monarch and the traditional leaders that participating in the first democratic elections wouldn’t bring about their demise.

The monarch and the ama-khosi have survived the transition rather handsomely, but the provision of security of tenure on land under traditional control hasn’t happened, along with the redistribution of land in white hands to the people whose land was taken away.

READ MORE: Buthelezi bows out … at long last

It’s easy to understand the opposition to the trust being dissolved. In purely practical terms, millions of rands are being generated in residential leases, mining rights and commercial agreements all over the province. A mining boom is taking place on land under the Ingonyama Trust. Shopping centres, holiday resorts and game reserves are popping up on trust land.

Somebody’s getting paid, just not those who live on the land.

The failure to scrap the Ingonyama Trust and give tenure to rural people, like the failure to implement real and coherent land reform, is one of those hang-overs from the apartheid years that makes us less that the constitutional democracy we are meant to be — a republic on paper only.

Shenge lays down the law. It’s all so 1993. I hit the remote, head off to bed.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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