John Laband- together with Benedict Carton and Jabulani Sithole - is the editor of a major new study of what it means to be a Zulu - Zulu Identities; Being Zulu, Past and Present, just published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. At over 600 pages it is a meaty look at the diverse and often contentious issue of what it has meant to be a Zulu from the time of King Shaka to today.
It takes the form of a series of essays written by leading academic historians - including John Laband, Jeff Guy and Ian Knight, who has contributed a paper of the reaction of the Zulu kingdom to the British invasion of 1879 - which ask whether a common sense of Zulu indentity really emerged during the nineteenth-century, the subsequent impact of colonialism upon that, and the political struggle to mobilise and control a sense of Zulu tradition and heritage which accompanied the collapse of apartheid. Along the way the authors consider a wide range of issues which have impacted on the sense of 'Zuluness', from the manipulated images of the kings Shaka and Dingane to attempts by white missionaries to interpret Zulu religious belief in accordance with Christian doctrine, the ideological struggles of the black middle class in the early twentieth-century to reconcile their Western attitudes with their heritage, the role of popular song, and the future of Zulu tradition in the face of AIDS.
At a thumping £75 in the hardback edition - a £25 paperback is in the offing - this is perhaps not a book best suited to those primarily interested in the minutiae of Isandlwana or Rorke's Drift for there is as much here on Inkatha as King Cetshwayo, but it is likely to be seen as a definitive study of the Zulu people at a crucial stage of their history.