by Jill E Kelly
To Swim with Crocodiles: Land, Violence, and Belonging in South Africa, 1800–1996 offers a fresh perspective on the history of rural politics in South Africa, from the rise of the Zulu kingdom to the civil war at the dawn of democracy in KwaZulu-Natal. The book shows how Africans in the Table Mountain region drew on the cultural inheritance of ukukhonza—a practice of affiliation that binds together chiefs and subjects—to seek social and physical security in times of war and upheaval. Grounded in a rich combination of archival sources and oral interviews, this book examines relations within and between chiefdoms to bring wider concerns of African studies into focus, including land, violence, chieftaincy, ethnic and nationalist politics, and development. Colonial indirect rule, segregation, and apartheid attempted to fix formerly fluid polities into territorial “tribes” and ethnic identities, but the Zulu practice of ukukhonza maintained its flexibility and endured. By exploring what Zulu men and women knew about and how they remembered ukukhonza, Kelly reveals how Africans envisioned and defined relationships with the land, their chiefs, and their neighbors as white minority rule transformed the countryside and local institutions of governance.