Maritzburg College And The Long-lost “Zulu Haka”


Kingsmead, 1928: Bok captain, Phil Mostert, leads the Boks in the ‘Boere Haka’ – composer and former captain of the 1921 Maritzburg College First XV.Phil Nel (fourth from the left) joins in.


N E W S F L A S H: On Saturday, Maritzburg College will perform the long-lost “Zulu Haka” last performed by the Springboks in 1928.

EIGHTY-EIGHT years and 11 months after it was last performed, the “Zulu Haka” first done by the Springboks on 30 June 1928 – just before they took on the All Blacks for the first time on South African soil – will be performed by boys from Maritzburg College.

The Springbok war-cry had been composed by the 26-year-old debutant lock, Philip Nel, an Umvoti farmer who had added the opening words of the Maritzburg College war-cry to a rather confusing discussion about cattle and the whereabouts of a certain red bull! No doubt chosen to compose the chant because of his rural familiarity with isiZulu, Nel had been head prefect of College in 1921, and he retained an affection for the place throughout his long life. He later became famous as the captain of the 1937 “Greatest Springboks” to New Zealand – the only Bok side in history to enjoy a series win in that country.

But, getting back to 1928, the test match in question was played at the old Kingsmead ground in Durban, and the visitors, led by their fierce skipper, Maurice Brownlie, had just given a rendition of the (Maori) haka, upon which immediately before kick-off Bok captain Phil Mostert led his Boks in the following “old Zulu chant” (as the history books call it):

Mostert: I’Gamalayo!
The rest: GEEEEE!
Mostert: I’Gamalayo!
The rest: GEEEEE!
Mostert: I’Gamalayo!
The rest: WHAAAH!

The whole team then produced in unison a blood-curdling – albeit indecipherable – roar, which was meant to mean (from the original isiZulu), “The bull. The bull. Do you see the red bull? Yes, I do. No, I don’t. Yes, I do!”

This is to be translated as follows: “Nkunzi! Nkunzi! Uyayibona inkunzi ebovu? Yebo, ngiyaybona! Cha, angiboni! Yebo, ngyiyaybona!

Not surprisingly, however, this mixture of “bad Zulu and gibberish” (as the great Bok flyhalf, Bennie Osler, called it) was never again used by the Boks – although some historians (notably Michael Charton) are of the opinion that versions of the Zulu Haka were used up until the decisive third test of the 1937 tour.

But the 1928 version couldn’t have been all bad, as, for the record, the Boks were inspired by its rather bucolic lyrics to triumph by a massive (in those days) 17-0, with 14 points coming from the boot of the masterful Osler.

While the actual College war-cry (known by the boys simply as the “number 1”) has a very similar beginning to its Springbok cousin, its second part is dramatically different to the bovine discussion carried out by the Springboks of 1928. But while the common exclamation of “I’Gamalayo” (or “Jimeloyo”) is generally without translation and can simply be regarded as a “spirited exhortation”, the follow-up of “GEEEEE!” (or “Ji!”) is significant, as none other than Mr JM “Skonk” Nicholson – the legendary coach of the College First XV from 1949-1982 and a man steeped in Zulu culture – was very clear that it was the shout of triumph bellowed by a Zulu warrior as he withdrew his bloodied assegai from the corpse of a vanquished foe! While this is in itself most interesting, what makes it especially significant is the fact that the Maritzburg College school motto of "Pro Aris et Focis", the school badge of crossed carbine and assegai and the school colours of red-black-white all originate from the Colonial Wars of the late 1870s – but especially from the bloody Battle of Isandlwana, at which seven Old Boys died at the hands of Cetshwayo’s warriors! In a de-sanitised age of political correctness, how refreshing it is to read of this blood-thirsty tribal celebration, with its origins from a faraway Zululand battlefield, carried out by the 1 300 boys who make up the multi-cultural Maritzburg College of today, as well as the lily-white XV of "boere" all those years ago!

On Saturday 13 May 2017, the school’s annual “Reunion Day” and the holiest day on the school’s calendar, the “inkunzi ebovu” of yore will rear its noble head again and will be chanted by a group of College boarders during the halftime break in the main rugby match.

Hopefully, the boys will make a better fist of it than their illustrious forebears all those years ago!

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