The Zulu people are from the Nguni who originated in the Great Lakes area of Central Africa many centuries ago and are one of the ancient ethnic-tribal groups, or nations, of Africa. The Zulus are the largest and best known ethnic/tribal group in the Republic of South Africa (RSA) although, like most other Black African groups, they are currently a mixture of many people groups. “What it means to be a Zulu” today is based more on one’s language, cultural and political orientation than bloodlines. In fact, there are major internal controversies, and fighting over this question.
Zulu’s consider themselves to be a fierce warrior race and the historic defenders of Black Nationalism in RSA. They distinguished themselves in the early 1800’s by conquering and assimilating hundreds of other tribes during the period of “Mfecane ”, and later in major battles with both the Afrikaners and British. Zulu nationalism is currently expressed through the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) that has an uneasy alliance with the Xhosa-based African National Conference (ANC), the current ruling party in RSA.
The Zulu language, isiZulu, is the first language of 24% of the RSA population, although only 18% consider themselves Zulus. Similarities in the mutually understandable languages and cultures of other Black Africans facilitated the Zulu’s becoming a political force (nation) rather than just a “tribe”. isiZulu is the most understood/recognized of the native African (Bantu) languages, and is the current unofficial “trade language” of Durban and Johannesburg.
Today there are over eight million people in RSA who identify themselves as Zulu. The greatest concentration is in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province (KZN) that is located in Eastern RSA on the Indian Ocean, between the Eastern Cape Province and Mozambique. Over 82% of the population in KZN is African Black with the overwhelming majority classifying themselves as Zulus. Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and HIV/AIDS lead a long list of oppressive issues facing these people. KZN is slightly below the national average in most demographic indicators, but within the African Black community, these differences are relatively slight.
The religious picture is murky as 71% claims to be Christians; 6% claim “other faiths” (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Eastern); and, 23% opted for “no religion”, or did not respond. About half of those “Christians” claim membership in “mainline” churches that present Christianity in a ritualistic format and mix Biblical teachings with African Traditional Religion (ATR - animism and ancestor worship). Most of the remainder claim membership in African Independent Churches (AICs), which purport to be indigenous churches, but usually have outside influences/sources, such as the Zionist Church. Most of them teach a combination of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and ATR. However, we believe less than 5% are “born again Christians”. There are numerous Great Commission Christian groups working among the Zulus, however, progress is painfully slow as: Christianity is perceived as “the white man’s religion”; outsiders are not trusted; the culture promotes group decisions versus individual decisions; and, religious orientation is to revert to their ATR roots in times of need.
The Southeastern Africa Cluster (SEAC) is engaged with the Zulu through all of the teams that are located in areas inhabited by this people. These include the Basotho, Durban Urban, Eastern Gauteng, Eastern Metropolitan, Mpumalanga, Northern Gauteng, Swazi, Western Gauteng, and most importantly, the Zulu Evangelism Teams. These efforts have shown that God is working among the Zulu people throughout the SEAC region. Therefore, we are working, praying and trusting God to greatly expand the work among the Zulu.