Umkhosi Ukweshwama: Revival of a Zulu Festival in Celebration of the Universe’s Rites of Passage
TRADITIONAL AFRICAN RELIGIONS IN SOUTH AFRICAN LAW, T.W. Bennett, ed., UCT Press, 2011
27 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 19, 2011
South Africa is a relatively young democracy with a notorious past interspersed with illustrations of racial discrimination on all levels of public and social life. The highly diverse nature of South African society and the renewed interest in traditional customs and values poses new problems which threaten harmonious cooperation in society on a daily basis. When the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelethini Kabhekuzulu, decided to revive the age-old Umkhosi Ukweshwama Festival (the First Fruits Festival), and with it the ritual of bull slaughtering, he probably did not anticipate the public outcry that eventually ensued, especially from animal activists. The controversy finally ended up in court when the Animal Rights Africa Trust (the Trust) applied for an interim interdict in Smit v His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelethini Kabhekuzulu 2009 JDR 1361 (KZP) to prevent the slaughtering of a bull. The application was dismissed mainly because the applicant's factual basis was flawed and did not prove that the bull was indeed to be tortured, as had been reported in the media. The Court also expressed the view that conflicts such as these should be resolved by the relevant authorities and the intervention of parliament.
What makes this Festival different from other kinds of festivals is the fact that it is now celebrated within the framework of a revived Zulu tradition, which includes elements of both religion and culture, both of which are rights protected in terms of the South African Constitution. Rituals have a tendency to upset individuals and communities who do not share the same values as the community performing the rituals. It is also possible that a ritual may be against the laws of a country. This contribution surveys some of the living realities of legal pluralism when religion and law collide, and discusses a few possible ways of dealing with them.
The first part explores the possible meanings of religion in the context of African traditional religion with the purpose of answering the question of whether the so-called Zulu tradition can indeed be regarded as religious or not. The second issue which will be dealt with concerns the question whether the Festival in question qualifies as a religious event and whether the rituals, such as the offerings of the first harvest and the bull slaughtering during the Festival, can also be regarded as religious, and the last part deals with the legal position and the way forward.
Keywords: Cultural diversity, bull killing, South Africa, Zulu tradition, Zulu religion, cultural practices
JEL Classification: K19, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation