Magema Fuze’s Life and Experiences: A Timeline

isiZulu version

isiZulu version

Magema Fuze’s Life and Experiences: A Timeline

Magema Fuze was involved in, and commented on, the main political events of his time. This timeline plots both the important incidents in Fuze’s life and the various texts which he produced.

  • c.1844

    Manawami Fuze was born near Pietermaritzburg, Colony of Natal, shortly after the founding of the Colony in 1843, which was annexed by the British in 1844.
  • c. 1850/1

    As a boy of perhaps 6 or 7, Fuze was nicknamed Skelemu. Trevor Cope has speculated that this name came from the Afrikaans word ‘skelm’, which suggests Fuze was a naughty and inquisitive child.

  • Fuze, aged roughly 12, left his home to join Bishop John Colenso’s Ekukhanyeni school in Bishopstowe.  That same year, the battle of Ndondakusuka took place as Zulu princes Mbuyazi’s and Cetshwayo’s succession dispute turned violent. After Mbuyazi was killed, another prince, Mkhungo, sought shelter with Colenso. The battle saw Prince Cetshwayo assume defacto control over the Zulu kingdom.


    John Colenso

  • Fuze wrote a brief essay about conversion and his daily life at Ekukhanyeni called ‘Amazwi Abantu’.


  • Fuze was baptised and converted to Christianity. The name ‘Magema’ was chosen for him by Colenso.  Fuze also took his first trip to the Zulu kingdom in the accompaniment of Colenso and William Ngidi.  He was instructed to keep a diary.

  • Fuze’s diary documenting his experience of the Zulu kingdom and of the journey there was published as part of Colenso’s book Three Native Accounts of the Visit of the Bishop of Natal. The book’s publication marked the first time Fuze’s name appeared in print.

  • Fuze spent 12 months with his family following the closing of Ekukhanyeni amid rumours that Cetshwayo was considering forcibly removing his run-away brother, Mkhungo, from Colenso’s care.

  • Fuze returned to Bishopstowe to take up work as the head printer at Ekukhanyeni. That same year, Colenso’s at the time infamous The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined was published. The book challenged the literary truth of the bible and attracted widespread backlash from British and settler readers. Indirectly, this impacted the reputation of Colenso’s converts, including Fuze.  Colenso had drawn on conversations with his converts (William Ngidi in particular, but also Fuze) while writing the book.

  • King Mpande passed away and Cetshwayo became king.



  • The Hlubi chief, Langalibalele, was arrested for allegedly rebelling against the Colony of Natal.  Fuze, along with William Ngidi, and other Ekukhanyeni residents, assisted Colenso in defending Langalibalele. Fuze acted as a scribe, investigator, and witness in the trial.



  • Fuze signed a petition drafted by Natal kholwa community demanding clarification of the kholwa’s status as British subjects.  Fuze was arrested and briefly imprisoned as a consequence.

  • Fuze travelled to the Zulu kingdom to investigate rumours that Cetshwayo was killing Christian converts.  Here he held lengthy discussions with Cetshwayo.

  • Fuze published the piece ‘A Visit to King Ketshwayo’ in Macmillan’s Magazine about his trip to the Zulu kingdom the previous year.  The piece defended Cetshwayo against the accusation of killing converts.

  • The Zulu kingdom was invaded by the British and was defeated, then coming under British control. In the aftermath of the invasion, Fuze’s ties with the Zulu nobility were strengthened. Fuze also worked with Colenso to expose colonial officials’ part in causing the war. Fuze’s role was to print Colenso’s commentary.

  • “We had not the privileges of white men in getting our cases heard. We were treated like dogs.” – Fuze giving testimony at the Natal Native Commission on 5 December 1881.

    Commenting on the 1875 kholwa petition, Fuze remarked that it was about acquiring the same privileges as white people. One of his life’s primary concerns was critiquing the unequal and racially-motivated dispensation of justice under colonial rule.



  • Following the breakdown of political structure in the Zulu kingdom after its defeat to the British, Chief Zibhebhu kaMaphitha attempted to expand his control over the northern reaches of the Zulu kingdom. Zibhebhu was soon drawn into conflict with Royal House loyalists (uSuthu) and a civil war broke out. As the conflict escalated, Fuze assisted Bishop Colenso in providing coverage. In June, however, Colenso passed away. Colenso’s daughter, Harriette, soon assumed her father’s role as political commentator and as ally to the Zulu Royal House.


    Harriette Colenso

  • In September a fire destroyed the Ekukhanyeni printing press. Commentary on the Zulu Civil War came to a halt and Fuze found himself without work. That same year, King Cetshwayo died following an attack by Zibhebhu’s followers. His son, Dinuzulu, ascended as Zulu King and then followed a decisive battle against Zibhebhu, which drew the Zulu Civil War to a close.


  • Fuze travelled to the Zulu kingdom to call on Dinuzulu. Here he advised the young king that the Zulu people needed a strong centralised source of authority.

  • Fuze returned to Bishopstowe to resume work at a printer newly purchased by Harriette Colenso. Commentary on Zulu politics was reintroduced.

  • Amid continued conflict between uSuthu loyalists and Zibhebhu’s followers, the British government annexed the Zulu kingdom.

  • Hostilities escalated between the Usuthu and Zibhebhu’s followers, leading to a civil war at Ndumu on 23 June 1888. After that war Dinuzulu and other Usuthu leaders were subjected to trial for high treason. In November, when their trial began, Fuze was among those who assisted Harriette Colenso in Dinuzulu’s defence

  • Fuze was appointed tutor to Dinuzulu and his uncles. He remained with Dinuzulu at Eshowe until the latter was convicted and transported to St Helena. Dinuzulu was permitted a custodian and interpreter. Harriette Colenso’s attempts to have Fuze join Dinuzulu as tutor and interpreter were not a success. The position was already occupied by a missionary-educated African, Anthony Daniels. Fuze ended up taking a post at St Alban’s College in Pietermaritzburg, where he taught typesetting. That same year, the newspaper Inkanyiso Yase Natal was founded.

  • “Ngicela ukuba ungivumele kengiponse libe linye ku Mhlotshana ngabantu ‘abantsundu’. Izwi lokuti sing’abantu ‘abamnyama’ kambe liqiniswe nje kubantu ngala’mazwi alandelayo. Kutiwa enkosini inxa ikulekelwa ‘Bayete, wena u mnyama,’ noma injani noma injani ngobuso. Kepa u Dingane way’e bomvu, noko kwakutiwa ‘wena u mnyama’. Uma wab’etsho noyedwa ati ‘wena u bomvu,’ wab’eyakubulawa masinyane kutiwe utuka inkosi. Kutiwa umuntu obomvu kanaso isitunzi, u lula, kafani nomuntu omnyama. Ngaloko leli lizwi lokuti’umuntu omnyama’ lihle kwabakiti. Kodwa izwi lokuti abantu ‘abantsundu,’ liveza kahle umbala wetu esiy’iwo, lifanele ukutshiwo, ngoba pela si ntsundu, asi mnyama: ukuti si mnyama ku ng’umkuba nje wokutsho.” – Fuze writing in ‘Ku Mhleli we Nkanyiso’, Inkanyiso Yase Natal, 6 September 1890.

    A letter penned by Fuze in response to another writer, Mhlotshana. In it, Fuze discusses the difference between addressing people as red/bomvu, black/mnyama, and brown/dark/ntsundu. He points out that while King Dingane was red in colour, as inkosi he was addressed as “Bayete, wena u mnyama”, and how, if someone erroneously addressed Dingane as red, that person would be killed. Fuze argued that the name “black people” is favoured, and seen as aesthetically better by people, but that “dark people”/“abansundu” is more accurate to the actual shade of skin that Africans have. He closes by adding that describing people as “black” is just a habit of speech.

  • “Inxa wena ubhekile nje kambe, uti kwoti mhlana laba bantu bevunyelwa ukuzipata, njengoba bekucela nje, bayakusenza kanjani-ke tina ‘ndhlu emnyama? Musani ukucabanga niti nizaude nifunzwa njengengane: kumbulani ukuti inyoni iyazakela. Konje abanye bakiti balibele zinkani zokupikisana, kabakuboni loko esiyiko? O! Zituta. – Fuze in ‘Ku Mhleli we Nkanyiso’, Inkanyiso Yase Natal, 18 February 1892.

    In 1892 Fuze published numerous articles in the newspaper Inkanyiso Yase Natal. Among them was an article encouraging a new attitude among his readers of building up for themselves as the black nation, or ‘black house’, rather than waiting to be provided for. He then used idiomatic expression to highlight the importance of this idea.

    “Kindly receive newspapers from (Inkanyiso) so that you can learn the news from Natal and KwaZulu. It is also good for the royal family to read. I have enclosed my written work about the black people of Africa and whence they came from and have also distinguished various tribes of this country. I would therefore appreciate if you could assist me in this regard by giving me the best information you have about their relationship and distinction. It starts from no.25 up to where it talks about Mnyamana’s tribe. We and the children of the King are still in good health condition and would be very glad if we can hear from you. It is quite a long time since we parted and we all remember you.” – Magema Magwaza, “To Dinuzulu at St Helena”, 20 September 1892, translated by Rebecca Msomi.

    Fuze also corresponded regularly with Dinuzulu in 1892, who was now on St Helena, and kept him up to date with developments in Natal.

    “[…] leli gama elikulu eliti “ u Tixo, ” elilokhu lithandeka kubafundisi, kubelapo utixo lowo engatsho zwi ngobu Nkulunkulu, nalo futi lelo liyadukisa kwabaningi ; nakuba kuligama eselaziwa ngabaningi kambe kodwa kwakufanele liyekwe lapa sekucindezelwa incwadi entsha, kufakwe elakiti u “Nkulunkulu,” ngoba pela bati ukuyibiza le ncwadi ngeyesiZulu. Kwobonwa nini loko na.” – Fuze in ‘Ku Mhleli we Nkanyiso’, Inkanyiso Yase Natal, 4 November 1892.

    Fuze raised an argument first articulated by Bishop Colenso in a public forum – that uTixo/uThixo is not a good descriptor for ‘God’ in isiZulu as it came from isiXhosa carrying a different cosmological significance. Fuze concurred with Colenso that uNkulunkulu was a more suitable word, and encouraged debate around these word choices the reading public of Inkanyiso, arguing further that a “new book” should be published, possibly a new version of the bible, a dictionary, the newspaper itself, or all three, so that it may be called an isiZulu version.

  • Fuze travelled to St Helena to resume his role as tutor to Dinuzulu and the latter’s children.  On the island, he wrote many letters.  His correspondents included people in Bishopstowe and the linguist, Alice Werner. Fuze also encountered many Africans from elsewhere on the continent. According to Hlonipha Mokoena, these encounters were influential in shaping Fuze’s Pan-Africanist views.



  • Fuze was still with Dinuzulu at St Helena when his repatriation was approved. Fuze returned with Dinuzulu; their ship reached Durban on 5 January 1898.

  • Fuze met with the Chief Commissioner of Native Affairs in Natal, Harry Lugg. According to Lugg in the preface to The Black People and Whence They Came’s 1979 edition, Fuze had by this time already finished or partially finished his book on the history of Africans and was seeking funds that would allow him to publish it.

  • Engikwaziyo mina ngokwokuti, umuntu angengene etwele isigqoko, engesilo i Sulumane, ngoba loko kukomba ukungahlonipi kwalowo ositweleyo; kanti ukus’etula nokusipata ngesandhla sikufundiswe yibo abelungu ukuti kungukuhlonipa. Loku-ke kwokusikumula silahlwe kude lapaya umuntu engakangeni nokungena esekude le nendhlu, kufana nomkuba osongati ngike ngawuzwa ukuti wenziwa ngamapolisa edhlala ngabantu, – zonke-ke izinto lezi ezapuma emakuba ziyakukonzela ukubulala uhlanga lwakubo; akufanele ukwenziwa ngumuntu omhlope owaziyo ukuti umuntu uyini, nokuti kasiyo into yokudhlala, njengoba etsho njalo amashingana amunyamana, awakela ngezinwele zabanye kambe. – Fuze in “Ungangeni Nesigqoko”, Ipepa lo Hlanga, 22 May 1903.

    In this piece, Fuze commented on inequality in the Colony of Natal. He recognised that different laws, practices, and standards were being applied to Africans and Europeans.




  • In 1904 Fuze returned to Dinuzulu’s service yet again, but quickly departed on account of what he perceived was a lack of work. He then attempted to sue Dinuzulu for outstanding services rendered to him at St Helena, which Harriet Colenso resolved by paying him.

  • 1906-1909

    The Bhambatha Rebellion broke out in 1906. Dinuzulu was implicated and arrested in 1907. He was tried and found guilty in 1909.

  • The Union of South Africa was created.  This had the effect of dispersing and marginalising the emerging kholwa class. 1910 also saw the Church Properties Act enacted.

  • Dinuzulu dies and his son Solomon ascended to the role of Zulu King, albeit the role was reduced to little more than a glorified chief.

  • Fuze began writing serialised articles for Ilanga Lase Natal. In early November, his daughter, Nomqekelele, was killed by her husband. Fuze wrote an obituary two weeks later on 19 November in which he expressed his remorse and revealed his failings as a largely absent father.

  • “Endulo, sisapetwe kwaZulu sasiwujabulele umBuso wakiti, kodwa ubuhle bawo kwabe ku ubudhlova nokupata kalukuni, ngoba bekuti umuntu engazi luto etuke esebulawa nje, engazi yena ukuba ubulawelwani kanti ufa nje ucetshwe abanye abapambi kwake, kumbe abafowabo; bati uyatakata, noma kumbe bati uqeda izinkomo zenkosi ngokuzihlaba njalo. […] UmBuso wanamuhla mubi ngokuket’ubuso nokubandhlulula. Ngaloko aukugcwalisi okuhle esaza seza lapa sibalekela ukubusa kwakiti ngako: ngoba uma umuntu exabene nomlungu, akuluto noma umuntu oniwe kangakanani, unecala loku exabene nomlungu. Lapa-ke ngifunyanisa ububi bomBuso wanamuhla obandhlululayo, ongafani naloko okutshiwo ngomlomo kutiwe akuketwa buso inganti wona muhle kakulu ngoba lowo owonileyo uzaubotshwa, kudhlule izinyanga noma iminyaka etile abuye akitshwe, umbone futi. Kodwa ububi bokubotshwa lapa bukona, isibotshwa siti singavama ukubotshwa singabe sisayeka ukuya ejele, kuze kungati seku ubuhle ukubotshwa kuso. Kiti, umuntu wabe ebulawa apele, kungaloko zabe zingandile izigangi nganga lapa kulomBuso esikuwo namuhla.”  – Fuze writing in ‘Umbuso Omdala Nomutsha’, Ilanga lase Natal, 23 August 1918.

  • Fuze wrote to the Colenso sisters, Harriette and Agnes, appealing to be paid pension for the many years of his employment at Ekukhanyeni. Fuze was likely living in poverty at this time.

  • “Ayiko enye into bakiti ukupela ukuhlangana nokuzwana. Po! abantu bakiti bona bangaze bahluleke kakulu kangakanani inxa behlanganapi napi baponse isivivane esinjengaleso esaponswa nguNqeto inkosi yakwa Qwabe ukudhlula kwake ekupuka esuka kwelakwaZulu na? Uqinisile impela uMr. Zulu. Bekungaba yiko ukuba izwe lihlangane lonke; abakwaZulu benze inqwaba yabo, abaseNatal eyabo, eKoloni eyabo, eJozi eyabo, eFree State eyabo, amaMpondo nama Swazi. Ziti zonke lezonqwaba zibe njengesivivane leso owabe eti umuntu emunye aponse itshe elilodwa, bese kuba inqwaba engangentaba enkulu ngelanga lilinye. Fuze in ‘Ukuhlangana ku Amandhla’, Ilanga lase Natal, 13 February 1920.

    In this piece Fuze proposed establishing African unity through the establishment of an ‘isivivane’ of African nations across South Africa through personal contributions of a pound a year to a fund. His idea was to unite all these nations, even those newly-arrived, to make a statement that they all were one people, and belonged to the same nation. He exhorted the editor of the paper to make this message widely heard so that such a thing may gain traction and begin to occur.

  • In May 1922, Fuze wrote a will. In it, he mentioned that he had forgiven one of his sons for absconding with his youngest wife. The will outlined how the remainder of Fuze’s assets should be divided. That same year, Fuze’s historical book, Abantu Abamnyama, Lapa Bavela Ngakona was finally published. In it, he encouraged readers to organise, to build for themselves, and to stand up for one another. He encouraged them to realise that without organisation and mutual support, the other nations of the world would forever use them as “fertiliser for their crops”, and they would remain unsuccessful people.

    “It’s quite true that one goat will lead a whole flock of sheep to destruction. So don’t be like either of them. Help one another.” – Fuze in Abantu Abamnyama‘s prospectus

    In his book, Fuze described how he had long encouraged others, particularly amongst the readership of isiZulu newspapers, to collaborate and shape a book on black people and their history. He bemoaned that these efforts came to naught, and how nevertheless he had continued on his own to create his book. He also stated how the book could be beneficial as a text taught to children in schools so that they might understand where it is that they come from.

    Later that year, Fuze passed away. His obituary appeared in Ilanga on 17 November.

Online from: 1 Jun 2022

Revision history

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