There are many, no doubt, who know of the old cruel Zulu custom of “Ukugodusa” (sending home), i.e., doing away with the aged people. If a man was too old and feeble to go to the king’s kraal occasionally, and join his regiment whenever called out, the king would pick out a troop of men and say, “Hamba niye kum’godusa” —meaning “go and send him home.” Then this troop of men would travel miles away to the man’s kraal, taking good care to get there by night, and to surround it, so as to pounce upon the poor old fellow as soon as he came out of his hut in the morning, and take him away to bury alive or otherwise kill him. The victim simply had to go away obediently, knowing it was the king’s order, as well as the custom of his country. So all Zulu men, old and young, used to make a point of meeting at the king’s kraal, “Komkulu” (at the great one’s), especially at Christmas time, to show that they were still of service. If through illness they had to stay at home, and it could be proved that they were indisposed, the king excused them; but they were most careful not to let it happen again.
When women became helpless, and needed looking after, they, too, had to be “sent home,” and that was done by their own people. Even their own sons would order it to be done, and assist in the cruel performance… “Ukugodusa,” one is thankful to know, is out of date now, as well as illegal.
I feel that it would, perhaps, be wise to give one more proof to show that the above was a real custom amongst Zulus, even as lately as in the days of King Cetshwayo. A poor old woman named Madokodo was another victim, besides Mfoto whom I mentioned before. Sometime in the beginning of 1869 Madokodo, on account of her old age, was thrown into a donga, or pit, by one of her sons and his friends, to get her out of the way, or send her home (godusa), as this was called. The poor old body was not in her second childhood (as Mfoto was), but was healthy and strong. She was in this pit for a few days, trying to get out, but kept falling back again. When night came she was in terror of the wolves and tigers which were prowling about the place; but she knew there was a Great God above, and she prayed for His protection. At last she managed to scrape a few holes in the donga with her finger nails, and made steps to climb up by, and the Great Almighty (Usomandhla) gave her strength to get out. Then she went to a great friend of hers, who fed her and kept her in a secret corner of her kraal until she got over her shock and became strong again. Madokodo then went to one of her other sons by night, and he was much pleased as well as surprised to see his mother alive; but, fearing the elder and cruel brother might find her and try to carry out this cruel custom again, he thought it best not to keep her with him long, so he proposed taking her to a mission station and giving her to the missionary. The mother agreed to this, and the two went off together, traveling a good many miles till they reached St. Paul’s Mission Station, the missionary there being my father, Rev. S. M. Samuelson. Arriving at the door of our house, poor old Madokodo, lame and footsore, called out in a pleading voice, “Ngitola Baba,” “Ngitola Nkosi Yame!” which means, “Adopt me, Father,” “Adopt me, my Master.” My father inquired into the matter, and all was related, her loving son supporting her. Nothing could be done but to save the poor old soul from future trouble, and to try to win her for Christ’s Kingdom. My father took her under his care on August 13th, 1869, and the son took leave of his mother and returned home again. Madokodo slept in the kitchen, and my mother took great interest in her, for she was very intelligent, industrious and tidy. After a while Madokodo expressed a wish to join the Catechumen class, and be prepared for Baptism. She was very earnest; for early in the morning, just about sunrise, we children heard her deep, pleading voice in prayer whilst we were still in our beds, “Baba wami Opezulu, ovele wa ngibheka, osangibhekile namanje, ngitola Mdali wami, tola nabanta bami, utetelele nalo ongilahlileyo!” (My Father above, Thou Who hast taken care for me from the very first, and Who art still caring for me, adopt me, my Creator, adopt also my children, and forgive the one who has thrown me away.”) Then she would always finish with “The Lord’s Prayer,” which she had by then learnt. At the end of eight months she was baptized, and received the named Eva. She was, I believe, the first old woman who became a Christian at St. Paul’s, and she was very happy after that, and helped in the mission work by setting an excellent example to the younger converts. News of the aged woman’s conversion and baptism spread all over the country like wildfire, for Zulus, as a rule, are great news carriers. Her wicked son heard of it, for he had hoped she had reached her destination long ago, as he had “sent her home.” The middle-aged people bore her a grudge on account of her having become a Christian at her age, and, fearing others might do the same, clubbed together and made plans to get her out the way; so they accused her of witchcraft and reported her to King Cetshwayo. Eva at this time had had someone to help to build her a small hut, and she was cutting some high grass (tambootie) near a certain kraal, with which to thatch it. Meanwhile, illness (influenza colds) breaking out at this kraal, poor old Eva was accused of having caused this. The King, through his Prime Minister, Mnyamana, granted permission to have her killed. On the 4th of June, 1870 (Trinity Sunday), as we were just coming out of church, we were surprised by a large party of men (thirty in number) meeting us outside the church door, armed with assagais and knobkerries, with a demand from the King that Eva should be handed over to them to be killed! Eva ran to her protector (my father), calling out, “Save me, save me!” and caught hold of him round the waist, and the men pulling her away by force nearly tore his coat tails off. Then my younger brother Robert (R. C. Samuelson) interfered, and took hold of the woman, calling out, “Muyeke bo!” (leave her); then one man, indignant with this interference, lifted up his knobkerrie over Robert’s head, shouting: “Ngase ngiliqumuze ikanda kona manje” (I will break your skull this moment); then, of course, the poor woman had to go. She was driven by these thirty men six miles into the thorn country to river called Idango, near the Umblatuzi river. We sat on the mountain, all of us, watching the long procession, Eva leading, the row of cruel humanity following in a long string. We watched and prayed broken-hearted, for we all loved poor old Eva; but it was a comfort to know she was a Christian! At last when we could see them no more we returned home, too dispirited to dine that day. In the evening someone told us she had met her fate bravely. As she went along she prayed to be received in the Heavenly Home of rest, where all unkindness and cruelty will end! At Idango river they drove her to a very big pond, where crocodiles were often seen; there they lifted up their kerries to brain her. She then said, “Ngogoduka impela namhla!” (“I will, of a surety (indeed), go home to-day!”) They then killed her and threw her into the pond for the crocodiles to eat.
Such was life in Zululand before the Zulu war. And yet on the whole things had, in a way, improved since Tshaka’s and Dingane’s days. The life of a missionary with his family was not at all an enviable one, although the natives had great respect for them, knowing as they did that lived in their country as friends and messengers of the Gospel. They liked the missionary, although they objected to his religion.
[#19] Zulu: “Ukugodusa: The First Woman Who Became a Christian,” from L. H. Samuelson (Nomleti), Some Zulu Customs and Folk-Lore, London: The Church Printing Company, 1912, pp. 11-17.