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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: April 2018

Chapter 8 - African Royalty, Popular History and Abantu-Batho



The African press in the twentieth century played a crucial role in enunciating positive images of African royalty after the destruction of indigenous kingdoms across South Africa by British imperialism and settler colonialism in the previous century. In doing so, newspapers such as Abantu-Batho connected with African oral tradition to help recreate anew an indigenous popular history. The disempowerment of kings and their replacement in some cases by state-appointed ‘chiefs’ made the representation of royalty more complex, but Abantu-Batho in particular sought to maintain the dignity of legitimate kings, while reserving the right to criticise those whom it saw as lacking legitimacy.

There was an almost-organic relationship between African royalties and Abantu- Batho and its key editors active in the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) and/or Transvaal Native Congress (TNC). The founding of the weekly was due in no small part to the support, financial and otherwise, of Queen Regent Labotsibeni of Swaziland, and the ongoing support of her and Prince Malunge was important to its early survival. Such support was reciprocated. A series of articles over its first few years of publication sympathetically explored the predicament faced by Swaziland's indigenous rulers and opposed the country's incorporation into the Union of South Africa. In 1915 the paper called for ‘just recognition [of] Native Kings, Princes and Chiefs under the Supreme Sovereignty of his Majesty the King’. There were articles on connections between rulers and indigenous knowledge. Early in 1916, editor Robert Grendon, announcing in Abantu-Batho that the future King Sobhuza was proceeding to Lovedale, mentions a royal indaba to invoke ‘the blessing and the protection of the Ancestral Spirits (emadhlozi)’. Above all, the paper asserted African dignity. The following month, Grendon reported, in very respectful style, the arrival of Prince Bhuza (the future Sobhuza II) in Johannesburg, where he was feted (at great expense) by another Abantu- Batho editor, Cleopas Kunene. The fact that ‘all the white [British] chiefs from Swaziland accompanied their chief’ was a salutary lesson that Swaziland must not ‘fall under the Union’ for then ‘his royalty will be taken away’.