Political Organisation of the Zulu

© Dr Peter Magubane
Prince Gideon (far left) of the Zulu nation celebrating Shaka Day proceedings.

Zulu Political Units

The political organization of the Zulu was built like a pyramid. At the base of the structure were the individual households 'imizi', which comprised the smallest political units in the government of the nation. Each umuzi was under the control of the umnumzane 'household head', who was responsible for keeping order and dealing with any domestic or local disputes that might arise. He was responsible to the induna — the head of the district 'isigodi' in which the umuzi was situated.

The head of the district was responsible for all law and order in his district and settled disputes which the household head could not settle or which were too large or important for him to handle. The district in turn formed part of a larger region, the isifunda, which was controlled by an important district head or hereditary chief 'inkosi', who was directly responsible to the king. In a land and at a time when communications were physically difficult to achieve, this interlocking pyramidal political structure provided an effective way for the king to exercise political control over his kingdom.

Much of this structure has survived the interference of successive white administrations, and South Africa's new democratic government, elected in 1994, has acknowledged the need to support and maintain traditional structures of authority in the interest of rural stability. However, some traditional practices are in conflict with the provisions contained in South Africa's new constitution, which guarantees equality regardless of race, religious affiliation or gender. The allocation of land to women, which would not have been allowed in the past, has therefore become increasingly common.