Nkandla or bust. Neo-traditions, politics and the fire-pool

Whelan, Deborah (2018) Nkandla or bust. Neo-traditions, politics and the fire-pool. In: International Association for the Traditional Environment 2018, 4-7 October 2018, Coimbra.

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Situated close to the rural hamlet of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is perhaps, one of the most persuasive arguments for the perpetuation of ‘tradition’ intended to politicise and endemicise architecture. Built at a cost of $20 000 000, this rural idyll is constructed as a home for the personal use of the current president, his five wives, and their retinue. Far from subscribing to the prescriptions of the affluent Zulu homestead consisting of a number of discrete buildings of a scale determined largely by natural materials, it resembles rather a caricature of an upmarket safari lodge. Hotel-scale buildings with steeply sloping thatched roofs sit together with individual cone-on-cylinder ‘rondawels’, some larger examples with en-suite appendages. A number of whimsical follies constructed to theme complete the picture. It is not without the usual accoutrement of the affluent South African household: central to the politicised discourse is a highly contentious swimming pool, argued off as a ‘fire pool’ and vital as a security asset. This is all within a closely guarded security perimeter.

The Nkandla homestead is perhaps the most blatant example of a contemporary visual demonstration of political power associated with Zulu traditionalism in current day South Africa, in its extent and, certainly, its irony. However, whilst the homestead may not be true to form, structure and typology from a ‘traditional’ perspective, it does not mean that its message is not clear. All the elements are deliberately sited to evoke a sense of nostalgia and concomitant nationalism. They convey a message of new power, linked to a current ruling democratic dispensation, and subtly compete with the powers of the long-established traditional authorities.

Manipulation of the built environment to meet with political ends is not a new symptom of a post-Modern South Africa. The Nkandla homestead and its fire pool are pastiche representations of a ‘tradition’ that has been slowly condensing over the last two centuries.

This paper will present the change in ‘traditional’ architectures in KwaZulu-Natal as a result of sedentariness, establishment of political power(s) and fluctuations in positions of ethnicity and identity. It will examine the historiographic record of prominent clan groups in the province in order to understand whether the scale of such homesteads is increased during periods of succession battle, and establish whether these may, or may not, be a domestic scale symptom of a much greater political battle.

Keywords:neo-traditions, political architecture, homestead
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K900 Others in Architecture, Building and Planning
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Architecture)
ID Code:33672
Deposited On:18 Oct 2018 14:20

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