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John William Colenso PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 12:19

John William Colenso (1814-1883) was born in St. Austell, Cornwall England. He received a degree in Mathematics from Cambridge. After teaching in an English public school called Harrow, he then entered the ministry and in 1853, after eight years in a parish in Norfolk, he was appointed as the bishop of the newly created Anglican mission of Natal. He was later ordained the Anglican archbishop of Natal from 1853 onwards, during the age of British imperial expansion. He was a militant champion of justice for the Zulu people and their traditional rulers, but was also at the center of theological controversy because of his nonconformist views; a tradition carried on after his death by equally outspoken children. His daughter, Frances Ellen Colenso (1849 -1887), published two books on the relations of the Zulus to the British (History of the Zulu War and Its Origin in 1880 and The Ruin of Zululand in 1885) that explained events in Zululand at the time, from a pro- Zulu perspective. His oldest daughter, Harriet E. Colenso took up  Colenso’s mantle as advocate for the Zulus in opposition to their treatment by the authorities appointed by Natal, especially in the case of Dinizulu in 1888- 1889 and in 1908 -1909.

Colenso dedicated himself to missionary work and lived among the Zulu people where he mastered the Zulu language and, within a few years, compiled a Zulu dictionary and grammar textbook, as well as a translation of the New Testament and other portions of the scripture. He shocked his contemporaries by publishing a theological work entitled the Pentateuch Critically Examined (1862-79) which questioned the High Church and cast doubt on accepted beliefs about the authorship of the Pentateuch. When the archbishop of Cape Town attempted to have Colenso removed in 1862, he was faced thereafter with hostility from other church authorities, as well as from many colonists who did not agree with his liberal humanitarian approach on questions of British policy concerning Africans. Although a new bishop was appointed in his place in 1860, he remained at his post despite diminishing support from his countrymen.

When colonial authorities singled out the rebellious Zulu chief Langalibalele for suppression in 1874, Colenso carried the chief’s case to the British parliament and press. With the help of his formidable daughters, Harriet and Frances, he continued, by preaching and in writing, to crusade against Britain’s subjugation of the Zulus, both before and after the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. The Zulus named him “Sobantu,” which means “friend of the people.” Colenso died in Durban on the 20th of June 1883. His body lies buried at the altar of St Peters Church in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.


Excerpt from 10 weeks in Natal (30 November 1853)

Monday 30th January 1854. As the sun rose…the mist and rain cleared away; and when I next mounted the deck the coast was before me, green as an emerald, and the hills so beautifully sloped that I can only compare the scenery with that of Devonshire and Cornwall, except that here in Natal, as in Kafraria (sic), the green heights go down to the very edge of the white beach, which margins the shore all along for miles. What surprised us most was the greenness of everything, in the very midst of the hot season; whereas at the Cape we had left everything burnt up, and brown, and dusty…But this difference, it appears, arises from the fact that, in these eastern parts of South Africa, the summer season is also the rainy season, and therefore perpetual verdure covers the land, except, of course, where the natives burn the grass.



John William Colenso (1855). Ten weeks in Natal: A journal of a first tour of visitation among the colonists and Zulu Kafirs of Natal.

John William Colenso (1866). Natal sermons.  (The 1st and 2nd series of the Natal Sermons have been re-printed, but the 3rd and 4th series, published only in South Africa and extremely rare, have not yet been reprinted.)

Frances Bunyon Colenso (1958). Colenso Letters from Natal.

John William Colenso (1876). Lectures on the Pentateuch and the Moabite Stone.

KZN Writer Honoured by Jacana Literary Foundation PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 12:07

By Rasvanth Chunylall

The Jacana Literary Foundation has announced the lists of highly commended and finalist writers for the inaugural Dinaane Debut Fiction Award. The award, previously known as the “European Union Literary Award”, celebrates an outstanding fiction manuscript from a debut writer.

Gail Dendy was honoured with the title of “Highly Commended” for her submitted novel, Rina. This achievement adds to her already impressive literary C.V. of sorts. Last year, Dendy was also awarded a commendation at the Poetry Space Competition for her poem, “The edge of the world”.

Dendy is a recent addition to the KZN Literary Tourism writer archive. You can read more about her here.

#RhodesMustFall and the implications for Literary Tourism PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 12:01

By Rasvanth Chunylall

On 9 March, something happened at the University of Cape Town that stirred the nation’s consciousness. A student, Chumani Maxwele, threw human waste on a statue of Cecil John Rhodes in protest against white supremacy. The furore has seen countless discussions on race, class and even the feminist movement.

But what economic impact would the removal of these remnants of white supremacy and colonialism have on the country's tourism sector? The destruction could see our country’s tourism take a hit. In Zimbabwe, Rhodes also remains a highly contentious historical figure. Despite this, Zanu-PF youth, the ruling party’s youth body, recently changed their stance from exhuming Rhodes’s remains after learning about the amount of tourism he generates for the country.

And, what of literary tourism - the preoccupation of this project? By definition this form of tourism depends on a link between what has been written and the tangible, physical elements that tourists can visit. In South Africa, literary tourists in search of spots described in literature are hindered by the renaming of tourist sites and spaces that no longer reflect what has been written. When Sherin Ahmed writes in The Good Luck House about a character’s work in Field Street, a literary tourist interested in tracing her life and her work would find this street does not exist anymore. Instead they would need to search for Joe Slovo Street. A literary tourist fascinated by Imraan Coovadia and Aziz Hassim’s descriptions of the community depicted living in Grey Street would find it no longer exists. Of course these are minor quibbles. A literary tourist can easily search for the new names of their sought after spots  online and many structures still exist that hint at what Grey Street use to be like.

The problem lies in deliberately destroying monuments that literary tourists may have an interest in. Take Ernst Gideon (E.G.) Malherbe for example. He was an acclaimed academic and principal of the University of Natal – now the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). However, he has also been considered racist for using the K-word (uncritically) on more than one occasion (1) and this recollection of Mac Maharaj does him no favours:

I was active in student affairs and faced expulsion two or three times. The first time was during my first year. With forty other students, I stayed away from a function for non-white students only that was to be addressed by a visiting dignitary from abroad. I recall that everything was turmoil ahead. I was afraid for my future, for my desire to study, but on the other hand, I was repelled by the arrogance of the white principal, Dr E.G. Malherbe, who insisted we should apologise for our actions. In the end we didn’t get expelled. I think that Malherbe balked at the idea of expelling forty-one students in one go.


The library named in honour of him at UKZN could easily become the source of a #Malherbemustfall campaign in the same way as Rhodes. However, destroying it would simply reduce landmarks for those interested in his life after reading his autobiography, Never a Dull Moment, or the biography of Maharaj. More importantly: an attempt to erase Malherbe's history would also risk reducing the struggles Maharaj and other students faced under his rectorship.

On a personal note, I agree that transformation does need to take place. As a person of colour I see few monuments that celebrate my history in the province of my birth. However, destroying the problematic ones we have is not the answer. We need to engage critically with them so that literary tourists of today and tomorrow are given the full extent of our complex and often painful history.


(1) Nicholas, LJ. 1997. 'Reviews', South African Journal Of Psychology. 27, 4, p. 273, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 April 2015.

(2) O’Malley, P. 2007. Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa. Durban: Viking Adult. Pg. 67

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