by Kenneth C. Fleming
Philip sat in class with a puzzled expression on his face. We had been discussing the changes in the culture of his people, the Zulus of South Africa. His frown deepened as he thought about the patterns of change. Suddenly he blurted out, “I don’t have a culture.”
Philip sat in class with a puzzled expression on his face. We had been discussing the changes in the culture of his people, the Zulus of South Africa. His frown deepened as he thought about the patterns of change. Suddenly he blurted out, "I don’t have a culture."
He was right. Philip was no longer secure in his traditional culture. Nor was he able to understand the direction of the cultural changes swirling around him.
Philip was caught in the middle of three conflicting world views: traditional Zulu, colonial Christian, and secular humanistic. He was, in fact, at the point where each world view clashed on one issue after another.
Kin forms the foundation of the Zulu society in rural areas. Traditionally the village (UMUZI) consists of a headman, his wives and children, his younger brothers with their wives and families, and often married sons. Sometimes nonrelated dependents put themselves under the protection of the village head.
Apart from being a family unit, the village is also a self-contained economic unit. Traditionally, everything needed for food, clothing, and artifacts was available from the fields, the herds, or the local countryside. The only two things that were obtained outside the local context were medicines and iron tools.
For the traditional rural Zulu, reality includes a universe inhabited by material as well as spiritual forces. The Creator is a god who is called by two basic names: UNKULUNKULU—The Great, Great One, and UM-VELINGQANGI—The Pre-existent One. All natural phenomena were created by him, but he is remote and plays little part in everyday life.
As a result, man, to the Zulu, is a personal being created by God who no longer takes much interest in him. The spirits are the nearest approach to any personal God and the only check on unethical behavior. However, they can also be agents of evil.
Zulus seem to have little regard for the future; they reverence the past and its worthy characters. Consequently, they live for the present and seek to gain as much personal advantage as possible. But they have little or no idea as to a rationale for their existence apart from a place in the chain of people who have lived and died.
Through the missionary efforts from the 1830s to the 1930s, Christianity made an ever-increasing impact on the Zulus’ world outlook. The concept of God was altered. The traditional idea of a remote and impersonal God was transformed. Now, God became a knowable personality, especially revealed in his Son who came to earth in historical times and lived as a man in human form. He was interested in the world and its people. God’s enemy was another personality called Satan who is responsible for evil, misery, and trouble in the world. Becoming a believer gave the individual the "power" to resist the temptation of the enemy and to please God.
Christianity also gave man a new place of dignity as the crown of God’s creation. Man’s place in society extended outside the tribal group to a universal brotherhood including all believers. The new believers were taught to follow Christ by separating themselves from everything connected with the ritual and ceremony of the tribe. All these cultural customs were looked upon as sin. As a result, the Christians and the rest of the tribe became polarized, deeply affecting the solidarity of the tribal kinship.
Christians also emphasized the nuclear family rather than the extended family. On a practical level, the institution of the extended family, which gave both identity and unity to the traditional society, was replaced by the institution of the church. Therefore, the minister or missionary replaced the headman, and the church became the center of the new way of life.
Death was looked upon differently, too. Instead of the ISITHUNZI (shade and shadow) wandering and eventually becoming an ancestor spirit, Christians were taught that the spiritual part of a man (soul and spirit) departed at death to be with God in heaven. Souls of unbelievers went to Hades, a waiting place for judgment.
By 1980, almost 60 percent of the South African Zulus were thought to be living in urban areas. Zulus have been housed in large townships on the outskirts of the cities. The townships are models of low-cost, high-density housing to which the Zulus have come in droves.
The tribal authority has little political power in the city. White city fathers, or the central government, run the townships themselves. As a result, there is almost no political voice for the urban Zulu.
Other customs have changed. The use of spare time in the city is taken up in sports events, entertainment, going to the beach, and playing golf-all taken over from the Western society. Music blares from the FM radio. Material things, according to a Western value system, began to take precedence over spiritual things.
The Zulu language is also undergoing transformation in urban areas. Some English and Afrikaans words have been adapted to Zulu speech to express new technical terms. But more significantly, more and more Zulus are choosing to use English. Zulus find a cultural sophistication in using English, which gives them an identification value with the wider world.
THE EMERGING URBAN ZULU
The aspirations of the emerging urban Zulu are clearly away from the traditional, value structure and toward the Western model. However, it is not simply a rejection of the one and a whole-hearted acceptance of the other.
For example, Philip, who now lives in a Durban township, has not left his traditional culture entirely behind. A great deal of cultural baggage comes with him. However, the new environment and his place in it causes change in his world outlook.
God and the Supernatural. As a boy, Philip was influenced by his tribal view of a remote and impersonal Creator God and the reality of ancestor spirits. To this was added the Christian view of a loving, personal God when he went to school. This new view would influence him to some degree, even though he may not have become a Christian at this time. When he moved to the city, he came up against the Western secular humanistic world view, which discounts the supernatural and emphasizes present material and social benefits. Since these benefits seem desirable, there is either a conscious or an unconscious attempt to syncretize these views.
Man and Community.In the rural setting, "being" was important. Acceptance was automatic for every member of the group. In the urban setting the emphasis changes to "becoming," the competitive approach to life with rewards going to those who compete and win. Contact with other peoples and the media cause him to see himself as part of a world community, which gives him a sense of dignity. Vicariously, at least, he can identify with this world community because men with Zulu names have gained world recognition in areas like music, sports, and art.
Temporal Orientation.The traditional rural Zulu culture had its time orientation in the past. Its worship was reserved for departed spirits. There was only an extremely nebulous future orientation. With the introduction of the Christian gospel came the concept of a God who holds the future and who offers man a salvation that is largely in the future. Finally, his urban experience makes the Western values of the "here and now" paramount. A Zulu who has moved from the "past" of traditional culture, to the "future" of Christian culture, and then to the present orientation of the urban culture has undergone an astonishing transition.
The Enclave Mentality.The Zulu townships are deliberately constructed enclaves. As such they provide a sense of belonging. In these enclaves, one has an easily formed bond with other Zulus who share the frustration at the changes brought about by urban living. The enclave becomes a refuge from the impersonal city into which all members of the family may go either for employment or shopping. For the Zulus, the enclave is much nearer the face-to-face society that they knew in the country.
Ethics and Morality. The old tribal view of morals was predominantly a horizontal one. The seriousness of antisocial behavior is measured only in terms of actual hurt to other people, whether physical or mental, with almost no regard for the cosmological importance of morals. Then missionaries brought the Christian view of morals, which was essentially a vertical one. Christians see sin as breaking the law of God and that which damages or destroys man’s relationship with God. To some degree the new vertical view became intertwined with the-horizontal view.
When Zulus began swarming to the white-dominated cities, this view was complicated by still another factor- the white man’s laws. These were, to some degree, based on a vertical view of morality. But many of them made little sense to the Zulus and seemed to be more for the whites’ general security than for their general moral value. The non-Christian Zulu living in urban areas, as a result, tends to see morality in terms of what he can get away with. Away from tribal restraints, he now has so much latitude for behavior that he is morally disoriented.
Place in History. As the Zulu is increasingly urbanized and his view of the physical world expands, he begins to become aware of his place in history. Feeling himself to be a part of a larger world, and with the knowledge that he might be able to upgrade that part, he is encouraged to do just that. One attractive, highly-visible issue is that of human rights and involvement. This issue gives the urban-educated Zulu a sense of destiny, which unfortunately is being exploited by leftist movements. Value Conflicts. Value conflicts add to the complexity of the picture. There is a cultural collision at almost every turn: working to produce versus working for enjoyment; competition for advancement versus acceptance as a human being; pressure to be active versus relaxing and waiting for tomorrow; and the facelessness of the city versus the friendliness of the tribal areas. Value conflicts would also include: emphasis on the material versus the spiritual; the use of the white man’s language versus the tribal tongue; and the importance of the individual versus that of the group.
Hostility to Whites. All of these-the present state of world opinion, the actual and imagined sins of the whites in the past and the present, and the position of authority and control occupied by whites alone-combine to foster a growing hostility toward the white man. Urban Zulus who rub shoulders with whites everyday are continually reminded of their social inferiority. They desire some of the values of the whites but reject others.
The South African white tends to think that the material advantages he has brought to the Zulus should encourage them to accept the political and social disadvantages that make them second-class citizens in the cities. Few whites understand the frustration the Zulus feel as a result.
THE GOSPEL AND THE URBAN ZULU
God, in his wisdom, provided a salvation that is suitable for man in every society. However, the gospel communicator must ensure that the people to whom he is ministering see the message as being culturally relevant. It must be applicable to their context. Here are a number of points that should be emphasized to make the gospel meaningful to a Zulu.
1. Community. Having lost the sense of belonging that was his in the tribal culture, he now needs to feel needed. Thus, the brotherhood of believers should be made clear to him. He must be able to see this brotherhood operative in the existing church, not just hear of the possibility. The church in community is vital.
2. Stability. The rapidly-changing world, particularly in the African urban scene, points out the need for that which is strong, secure, and unchanging. Christ as Rock and similar themes would be helpful.
3. Dignity. South Africa race relations are at a low ebb. The black man is made to feel by both word and deed that he is a second-class person. The gospel can bring him a dignity that places him as a brother among brethren.
4. Identity. Against the background of huge Zulu suburbs, where crowds live and move in a faceless society, they need to feel their identity. The emphasis should be on the personal God who takes personal interest in Zulus as people. That the infinite God takes interest in finite man gives the Zulu identity. On the earthly level, the church gives him identity through fellowship.
5. Hope. Hope for the future is one of the urban Zulu’s basic felt needs. While this is universal, this need for hope is especially important for the newly-urbanized Zulu. The gospel message presents hope, both in the remote future in heaven, and in the immediate future as the sovereign God works out his purposes in individual lives within their community.
6. Security. Security should also be emphasized in Zulu evangelism. Physical tenure is often unsure, and political explosion is certainly a possibility. These factors make the security in Christ and the feelings of security within a close circle of believers very attractive.
A CONTEXTUAL CHURCH IN AN URBAN ZULU SETTING
If it is to live and grow, a church in the black townships should discover its identity within that society. It must use the cultural vehicles of the Zulu world view if it is to make an impact on the Zulu people. However, a distinction should be made between form and content. The form is adaptable to the cultural setting, while the content is the gospel and must not change. On the side of form, some of the features that should be built into the development of a contextual church are as follows:
1. An indigenous church. It must be free from the monolithic structures of the traditional Western churches. It must also be free from the taint of being an imported faith. The types and times of meeting, the collection and use of funds, the structure of discipline and correction, and the standards and qualities of its leaders must come from the local context.
2. An organizationally free church. In no way should it be tied to the policy of American or European churches, apart from those bonds which tie all believers together in Christ. Its organizational structure should redefine the New Testament pattern within the local setting and apply it.
3. An expressive church. Conformity to the cultural setting will tend toward much more audience participation than is usually true in the home churches of missionaries. Preachers who shout, audiences who respond with vocal agreement, and increased body movement may mark the South African Zulu church.
Much more singing will probably also be desirable. The singing will be after the Zulu pattern rather than 19th century British tunes. Rhythm will be more pronounced and the words will be written by Zulus for the Zulu church. Translations of lines like "let me to Thy bosom fly" will be eliminated.
4. An intimate church. Small groups for interaction give the cultural intimacy that is lacking in the townships, which no longer have extended family settings. The people will share burdens and joys, developing a healthy sense of interdependence on one another.
5. A community conscious church. The church should be sensitive to the community where it exists and seek to meet the needs it perceives. Townships are filled with lonely, disoriented people. The local church must seek to bring them under its wing, meeting them where they are. Local churches can be much more active in their communities, and would, as a result, grow faster.
6. An event-oriented church. The type of outlook common to tribal culture and to the city life of the urban Zulu is that the day is set aside for the event. If Sunday is the day and the event is church life and ministry, then times can be relaxed. They can come and "make a day of it." It may be applied to an all-night meeting or the weekend conference at a selected location. If carefully applied in the cultural context, this could provide a more attractive form of Christianity than presently exists in the urban Zulu church.
South Africa is in the spotlight and the direction that the people of God take there, both black and white, will be a model for millions of other Christians either to reject or follow. The Zulu people do not have much time, if they are to take advantage of the opportunities they have.
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