The Linguist, the Cosmology and Zulu Traditional Beliefs

with Gugu Mkhize

Mar 23, 2018

In our first episode we scratch the surface of isiZulu linguistics, Zulu cosmology, myths and traditional beliefs. It’s one we’re going to revisit many times, but this is where we start.
Let me tell you about Gugu Mkhize: she is a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in the isiZulu department focusing on linguistics, traditional beliefs and Zulu cosmology and myths; and she was the first person to take a chance and give me the time to interview her. I spoke with her twice, for over an hour each time and both times she answered my questions with a smile and eagerness to share what she knows. And what she knows is a lot! Not even two sessions can cover what she knows. But it’s the start, for me, to find out more and to research those tidbits that piqued my interest. And it’s up to you guys to do the same if you want. But also, ask questions here. Ping us on social media.
Students climb the stairs at UKZN
Meeting Gugu Mkhize:

Having grown up in Durban and seen the imposing structure of the UKZN building – sometimes from far and sometime close up on the grounds themselves – it was my first time actually inside. Naturally I got lost.

Eventually, with some help, I found my way to the office door of Gugu Mkhize just as she was coming down the hall.

We both settled in. I got out my writing materials and audio recorder, and although we’d chatted briefly the week before I set about giving her more of a detailed rundown of why I’m doing what I’m doing. And then we got to it…

“Am I an African who is a Zulu and a Christian. Or am I a Christian who is an African Zulu?”
In the past, and in some regions of the world today, people have been forced to take on new religions and beliefs. And rather than being given the choice they are being scared off from something that is part of their heritage and their traditions in their communities.

With access to information, those individuals can look at the customs, myths, and cosmology of their communities and ancestors and decide for themselves what they take on and what they leave.

Walking the halls of UKZN
Display at the Killie Campbell Library
Photo collection at the Killie Campbell Library

Terms and Phrases:

Amathambo – Bones

Rondavel – round structure housing Umsamo (space for rituals)

Ukubuyela emuva uthathe izinto zakho – To come back and fetch your things

Ukubuyela emuva uthathe izinto zakho – To come back and fetch your things

Ngisaya emangeni – I’m going to lies


  • Rain Goddess/Princess
  • uthingo lwenkosazana – rain goddess
  • uthingo – light
  • nkosazana – girl
  • uthingo lwenkosazana – Rainbow.
  • Imvula – rain


  • Vela – show up, appear, arise
  • Ngqangi – first
  • Ancestors are the link to mMvelingqangi


  • Missionaries asked “who is your ‘Great Great’”
  • Khulu – great, big, large, important.
  • Umdali – Creator


  • Spiritual world.
  • Uthongo – dreaming/falling/asleep
  • Sithongo – sleep


YOU MIGHT LIKE: The Inyanga, the Sangoma and the Herbalist

After my first visit with Gugu and after her recommendation, I went to the Killie Campbell Library (part of the Museum complex in the Musgrave area) and was overwhelmed with the amount of books, news-clippings, newspapers and photos they have in their repository. Lying on one of the research desks were two bindings, one of editions of a newspaper from 1925, and the other old photos of rural life in KwaZulu-Natal (undated).

I’ve since been back a few times and usually it involves me getting sidetracked with other items I find on the searchable computer database.


Killie Campbell Library
One man’s “solution” is another man’s problem
Killie Campbell 1950
Killie Campbell Display
Newspaper from 2nd January, 1925
I’ll always be indebted to Gugu for her willingness to impart some of the knowledge with me that she has dedicated her life to studying and teaching.
Stephen (left), Gugu Mkhize (right).