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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Zulus in South Africa

View Group Chronology

South Africa Facts
Area:    1,219,912 sq. km.
Capital:    Pretoria
Total Population:    42,942,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Zulus face only a very limited risk of future rebellion. The group has a history of protest to seek greater autonomy. South Africa’s stable and democratic regime has, however, taken steps to reduce repression against the Zulus and to accommodate the concerns of the group. Factors that could encourage protest are a history of protest and high levels of crime and poverty in the KwaZulu-Natal province. Nonetheless, if the South African government continues to be representative and accommodating it is likely the Zulus will seek redress within the system, rather than opposing it.


Analytic Summary

Zulus in South Africa live primarily in KwaZulu-Natal, but have migrated throughout the country for a variety of reasons. The Zulu, Xhosa, and Swazi are related by the Bantu language and together make up two-thirds of the black population in South Africa. The Zulu are the largest single ethnic group in South Africa and number over 8 million (GPRO04-06 = 21).

Zulus are not indigenous to South Africa but are part of a Bantu migration down from East Africa thousands of years ago. Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa in 1652 while British settlers landed in 1820. The Zulus fought several bloody battles against the Europeans but were ultimately defeated. The white minority oppressed the black majority and in 1948 began introducing apartheid legislation that legally discriminated against blacks in favor of whites. KwaZulu-Natal was nominally independent under the apartheid system, and the Zulu leaders attempted to work within the system to bring about change. Apartheid started to break down in the 1980s and the first all-race elections were held in 1994. Nelson Mandela of the ANC became the country’s first black president.

Within the Zulu community, there is a split between those who favor the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and those who support the African National Congress (ANC). The IFP is a cultural-political Zulu movement with little support outside of the Zulu ethnic group. Mangosuthu Buthelezi is the leader. Buthelezi was administrator of the Natal region under the apartheid system. In the past, there have been several dozen deaths a year from ANC versus IFP violence mostly Zulu against Zulu. The elections of 1994 and 2000 were especially bloody; several candidates were killed, and many others were attacked or intimidated. There is further, less violent, division within the IFP itself between moderates who want greater integration into the South African system and extremists who want more autonomy/traditional power. The Zulu pay allegiance to a king, Goodwill Zwelithini. Buthelezi claimed to be the hereditary advisor to the king, but a split between him and Zwelithini occurred in 1995. Ironically, the monarch is more moderate than Buthelezi and has been calling for cooperation with and tolerance for the ANC.

The conflict between the ANC and IFP is basically a power struggle. During the late 1980s, South Africa began the transition from white-rule to democracy with equal participation by all ethnicities in the running of the country. The ANC became the major actor in this process, and the IFP resorted to a violent campaign in KwaZulu-Natal and the townships in an attempt to bring its agenda more firmly to the negotiating process. Violence occurred mainly between Zulu/IFP and Xhosa/ANC. In four years of violence leading up to the dismantling of apartheid, 4000 people died in the violence. Between 1990 and 1994, up to 20,000 had died, and between the elections of April 1994 and June 1995, an additional 1,100 perished in violence. In 2001-2003, there were, however, no reports of intergroup or intragroup violence (COMCON01-03 = 0; INTRACON01-03 = 0). The inclusive policies of the South African government seem to have been at least somewhat successful in integrating the Zulus.

The Zulus do not face any political, social or economic discrimination and remedial policies are in place to counter past economic discrimination (POLDIS04-06 = 0; ECDIS04-06 = 1). While they benefit from the affirmative actions policies in place, the group has yet to significantly improve its economic position. They do not face any significant disadvantages compared to other blacks; they are however far less wealthy than whites or Asians. At present, the group does not face significant repression. The group does have high rates of HIV infection, a problem afflicting a large number of South Africans.

The Zulus have several grievances. Like other communities in the country, they are concerned with obtaining greater economic opportunities (ECGR04-06 = 2). In addition, because of the political status of KwaZulu-Natal under apartheid, some would like greater regional autonomy. The salience of this demand has, however, declined in recent years. Zulus would also likely to have more political rights within their own community and a greater recognition of group culture and customs (POLGR04-06 = 3, CULGR04-06 = 1). A history of tensions between the Zulu-dominated IFP and the ANC has meant that the group is also concerned with greater protection from attacks and threats. In recent years, however, there has been a growth in support for the ANC among the Zulu. At the same time, the IFP has sought to be more inclusive in its policies and demands.

While the KwaZulu-Natal has high levels of crime, poverty and government repression, it cannot be surmised that there is a pattern of systematic discrimination against the Zulu people. Government repression appears to be in reaction to local violence, and there is no evidence to show that the Zulu are specifically targeted because of their ethnic identity.

Only conventional parties and umbrella organizations represent the group. In recent years, the IFP has steadily lost ground to the ANC in the KwaZulu-Natal province. In the 2004 elections, the ANC for the first time won a landslide victory in Zulu-dominated province KwaZulu-Natal. This marks a major political shift in the region and further strengthens the hold of the ANC over the country. However, corruption charges against Deputy President, and Presidental-hopeful, Jacob Zuma (Zulu) in 2005, revealed the ethnic tensions that still play a role in politics. Hundreds of Zulu protested, claiming the charges to be ethnically motivated. The corruption charges were thrown out due to prosecutor disorganization, but the affair had already weakened the unity in the ANC. Protest also occurred due to pressure on the Zulu to stop their traditional virginity testing. (PROT05-06 = 3).



Africa Research Bulletin, published monthly in Exeter England.

Africa South of the Sahara, published by Europa.

Beinhart, William, 1994, Twentieth-Century South Africa, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Human Rights Watch, 1995, South Africa: Threats to New Democracy-Continuing Violence in KwaZulu-Natal, New York: Human Rights Watch.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2006.

Saunders, Christopher, 1983, Historical Dictionary of South Africa, Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.

van Rensburg, Heila Janse (Ed), 1994, South Africa Yearbook.

U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: South Africa, 2004-2006


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Information current as of December 31, 2006