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Leadership and governance lessons from ama-Hlubi King Bhungane

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Picture: Henk Kruger – The statues of King Cetshwayo kaSenzangakhona of amaZulu, King Langalibalele kaMthimkulu of amaHlubi, King Sekhukhune of BaPedi and Gorochougua clan freedom fighter Doman were unveiled at the Castle of Good Hope.

Histories of many non-literate societies in Africa have been reconstructed by analysing their oral traditions, by analysing legends, proverbs, songs or clan -praises and praises.

Ama-Hlubi have in their historical background two notable kings, Bhungane and Langalibalele.

The clan-praises are not only the record of the past of the society and its kings , but they also have social, cultural, religious and political significance.

The poet and historian

Two critical role players act as a source of knowledge passed from generation orally or through literature – the poet and the historian.

Whilst they perform the same function by preserving history , they use different methods when collecting and recording historical data.

Two kings: Bhungane and Langalibalele

Much has been written about the ama-Hlubi tribe by historians, and poets, especially from KwaZulu-Natal where most of the tribe originated from, and lived side by side with the Zulu nation. One of the original kings in recorded history is one known as Bhungane, in whose lineage is another king Langalibalele, about whom there is more information.

Langalibalele resisted the British occupation and annexation of their land, and was captured, brought to the Cape, incarcerated, at a concentration camp, near where today lies Ndabeni, Maitland area and later transferred to the Castle, held up in a dark dungeon, and finally transferred to Robben Island, where he met with his death.

The naming of present-day Langa

The ANC activists , who lived in the area of Ndabeni, after African people were forcibly removed from the harbour area, sand the Foreshore, at the outbreak of Bubonic fever, which was blamed on their presence in the area (around 1900), named the new township, when they were again moved from Ndabeni, to Langa as Langa, the shortened form of Langalibalele, because of his militant spirit.

The partial return of the land of ama-Hlubi

Years later at the turn of the century, in my capacity as Chief Land Claims Commissioner, at a ceremony presided over by former President Thabo Mbeki, and Minister Thoko Didiza had the privilege of returning part of ama-Hlubi land, at a ceremony held near Escourt, KwaZulu-Natal, where ama-Hlubi were concentrated.

It must be stated truthfully and categorically, that in the second and third Administration, the period 1999 to 2007, during the tenure of former President Thabo Mbeki, the notion of People first, Batho Pele, came into vogue and was very strong, as he championed it, wherever and whenever, he appeared. As officials we were touched by it as our guiding light, in the execution of our duties.

As a City Manager, in the City of Cape Town, I remember President Mbeki hosted an imbizo, where both the Mayor and City Manager had to present their work in local government in the presence of members of communities, who were encouraged to participate in the proceedings, upholding the principle that all of us served at the behest of the people on the ground.

The presentation had to reflect the Integrated Development Plan ( IDP) of the Municipality and budget allocations for communities to see and understand what the municipality was doing. Since then there were no such meetings, with oversight from the highest office in the land.

Why Bhungane was so revered and honoured?

The important point about King Bhungane of ama -Hlubi was that he is portrayed as a very benevolent and generous, people-loving and accountable king.

Legend has it that when the Christian God was introduced to them, they sincerely believed that there was no one they could be called upon to revere or who was equal to or surpassed Bhungane (akangangaBhungane), meaning no one is equal to or greater than Bhungane.

They had this over-sized mental image of their king .

Putting people first – the spirit of Batho Pele

The question is : what would make people so revere and honour this king , the way they did honour him? The answer does not seem to be far off or obscure to find.

It is clear that Bhungane put his people first, in everything that he did, not just rhetorically, but practically. He showed and demonstrated genuine love for his people, in a transparent and accountable ways, as to inculcate deep-seated respect and reverence for him as their king. This made his people to owe their first allegiance to the king in return.

There was this rapport of reciprocity between the king and his subjects. Unlike modern kings, chiefs, and leaders who place themselves first in line and the people last, Bhungane had the wisdom to know that the best way to take care of himself and the royal house was to put people first – the secret lay in servant – leadership, which is scorned and looked upon, nowadays.

He stood fast against alienating their birth rights to land and fought the British, and other adversaries who were a threat to the rights of his people, especially land rights. His descendants like Langalibalele did the same, and the latter paid the supreme sacrifice – his life in defence of his people.

Servant leadership

Bhungane knew that it was short-sightedness to take care of your interests first.

Whatever the size of the deal or transaction, it could never be greater than the goodwill and loyalty earned by a leader from his people. Such a leader did not have to have a tax or levy system to be supported by his subjects, they volunteered to support the king, in every way that he needed their support. They were his eyes and ears even against the king’s adversaries.

Just as the benevolent farm-owners, who treat their farmworkers well, sleep securely at night , for they know that the farmworkers are their eyes and ears, their personal security, on everything that happens on the farm, more than relying on security equipment. They are the first to alert him to impending danger on the farm, because they know that their well-being comes from him.

There is in Old Testament, the story of Boaz, a benevolent farmer, and sheep breeder, who instructed his workers at harvest time, to leave something for gleaning by the poor, who would follow in the footsteps of the harvesters.

That is how Ruth managed to keep the hyena at bay, and the two ended up marrying and gave birth to Obed and the latter to Jesse, David’s father.

Throughout history there are numerous examples of benevolent kings, like Bhungane of ama-Hlubi tribe, who treated their people very well and the people reciprocated with their loyalty and respect, thus living a legacy in the hearts of their people . Just there are histories of kings who were notorious for ill-treating their people.

There is one where his cruel father, the king died, and he went to seek counsel from the elders, who advised against following in his father, s footsteps in oppressing his people.

He went to take advice from his peers , who advised him to double the harshness of his father, by doubling the yoke on their necks. Needless to say, he did not live long, and left ignomity behind, (disgrace, or shame).

It must have been such good deeds that moved the poet Horatio Alger Jr to write the poem:

Carving A Name

“I wrote my name upon the sand

And trusted it would last aye,

But soon, alas! the refluent sea

Had washed my feeble lines away.

I carved my name upon the wood,

And, after years, returned again.

I missed the shadow of the tree

That stretched of old upon the plain.

To solid marble, next my name

I gave as a perpetual trust.

An earthquake rent it to its base,

And now it lies, o’erlaid with dust.

All these have failed. In wiser mood

I turn and ask myself, “What then?

If I would have my name endure,

I’ll write it on the hearts of men.

In characters of living light,

Of kindly deeds and actions wrought.

And these, beyond the touch of time,

Shall live immortal as my thought.“

These benevolent, wise and accountable kings and leaders have learnt the best lesson of leadership is: to write your name in the hearts of the people, through kindly deeds.

To this day, centuries after Bhungane’s demise, we are still talking about his legacy, because he chose to do the right thing: carving his name not any thing else, but the hearts of his people, through kindly deeds. Our leaders would do well to learn from the life of this king of amaHlubi, Bhungane, Mthimkhulu, Ndlebentle zombini kude kuthis le yasekunene. IRheledwane A! Bhungane.

He stands out like a Colossus, among many kings and leaders, through the centuries, who placed their subjects or people before themselves.

As a country, we are in dire need of a new breed of leaders like King Bhungane, who put his people first, carving his name in their hearts, hence he immortalised himself in this way, scholars and researchers need to unearth more of such figures for us to know about their existence, so that we may emulate them, in their leadership/governance styles.

Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi is chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity.