Vusa Ma Zulu Credo Mutwa was a Sanusi and High Priest of African Spirituality. He was known as “the most distinguished African traditional leader in the world.”
Through his long and remarkable life he expressed himself as an artist; philosopher; storyteller; sculptor; nature conservationist, author of ground-breaking books on African mythology, builder of cultural villages and healer through knowledge.
Mutwa turned to his calling of spirituality and divinity at the age of 16, when after a terrifying ordeal in Johannesburg, being seized and sodomized by a gang of mineworkers, he returned to his mother’s home in KwaZulu Natal to undergo a miraculous transformation to healing. His grandfather was the High Sangoma to the Zulu King Dingane and guardian of the umlando, cultural history. Mutwa was moulded by this deep oral tradition and undertook to preserve his cultural legacy and undertook initiation from one of his grandfather’s daughters, Myrna.
Mutwa received a further initiation at the great standing stones of Adam’s Calendar just outside Nelspruit, in the Blue Swallow heritage site in 1937. He said the Zulu’s named this site, 'Inzalo ye langa,'place of the sun.
Between 1946 and 1965 Mutwa furthered his African mythology research through his work with Mr AS Watkinson in the tourism industry and curio shops in Johannesburg, Zimbabwe and Kenya. His studies into African artefacts inspired his great capacity for storytelling and led to the publishing of his first collection of stories, Indaba My Children in 1964. This he described in the introduction as ‘a strange mixture of truth and nonsense.’ The book was a critical success, selling well over 250 000 copies and still selling to this day. Its deep cultural significance was universally acclaimed. Kimberley newspaper, Diamond Field Advertiser wrote: “Mutwa’s book could one day mean to Africans what the Koran means to Muslims.”
However, Mutwa’s purely non-political and centralist stance during apartheid alienated him from both the left and the right of the old South Africa. Although his primary concern was that Africans should be free to preserve their distinct cultural customs and way of life, outsiders confused this with the Apartheid policies of separate development.
In order to further his life mission of preserving Africa’s indigenous African knowledge systems for the sake of future generations he developed a blue-print for cultural villages representing the traditional cultures of all South African cultural groups.
In 1974, whilst employed by the South African National Parks Board as the attendant of the traditional African Tourist Village, he obtained permission and funds from the West Rand Administration Board with the shared intention of promoting ethnicity and attracting tourists to Soweto. The first living museum was built on the seven hectares of land surrounding the Oppenheimer Tower. He called it Kwa-Khaya Lendaba, meaning “home of the story” in isiZulu, planted it with traditional herbs such as the highly revered aloe vera, constructed storytelling circle, providing a meeting of eclectic symbolism and vivid imagination, and thatched rondavels representing the homesteads of the many Southern African cultural groups.
After Mutwa gave evidence in the Cillie Commission, a one man investigation into the 1976 Soweto riots, his village was partially burnt down, although he and Tsietsi Mashinini (primary student leader of the Soweto Uprising)were friends and had even danced the fire dance together at Kwa-Khaya Lendaba before.
In 1978 Mutwa retreated to Bophuthatswana, Lotlamoreng Dam, now Mafikeng, and established another Kwa-Khaya Lendaba. At the end of 1986, Mutwa’s most controversial book Let Not My Country Die was published. “Genuine reform can come not from politics but from the recognition by black and white alike of a common humanity,” he wrote. The book called for the release of Mandela and for politicians to put South Africa first. The day after this book was released he received a necklace threat over this message of peace and reconciliation.
From 1986 - 1998 Mutwa partnered with Lesley Ann Van Selm to document African history and travelled together to Australia for the Whale and Dolphin Conference, the sacred sites of Bolivia and Peru, and the British Museum of Mankind and Stonehenge in England to explore the similarities between ancient cultures. Together they conceptualized, “Usiko,” a therapeutic intervention using storytelling to instil self-esteem and identity among affected youths helping them to develop skills, create jobs and promote a spirit of sustainable entrepreneurship. The programme continues to this day under Khulisa Social Solutions, which has taken publishing rights to much of Mutwa’s works, including the unavailable, yet inspiring collection of folk tales - Isilwane, The Animal.
Mutwa was sadly distanced from the fruits of his labour and the royalties accruing to them, and often ridiculed by professors. Yet, he continued with his mission bravely and humbly; simply saying, “You cannot be angry at the ignorant.”
Mutwa was sought out by world leaders, mystics, benefactors and historians alike to glean from his valuable knowledge. He shared unconditionally with the likes of Bradford Keeney, author of Zulu High Sanusi, Stephen Larson, author of Song of the Stars, David Ike who recorded the Reptilian Agenda DVDs and Michael Tellinger who drew on Mutwa for his research into Adam’s calendar.
He was known as a psychic, clairvoyant and audiovouyant. He predicted the assassinations of President Kennedy and Hendrik Verwoerd. His 1979 prophecy in a painting of the 911 attack hangs in the meditation room of his Soweto village. He turned down an offer of $8 Million to purchase this vivid and dramatic piece full of symbolism.
In August 1997 she sent an urgent fax message from Princess Diana in Kensington Palace requesting a meeting. Mutwa was with the Aboriginal people in Australia and could not respond.
His powerful sixth sense was a curse to him, as he would see terrifying events before they happened. Mutwa was a humble man. He dedicated his lifetime to ensuring that his great knowledge of cultural roots would be preserved to inspire future generations. He has left many jewels of African indigenous knowledge, cultural history, lifestyle and philosophy. And he has left the whole world with enduring spiritual insight. “The future,” he said, “is like clay: it can be moulded.”
The fire of Mutwa’s great passion and life’s work continues to burn brightly in the many people he has touched and will continue to inspire. In 2019 the National Lottery Commission constructed the Credo Mutwa Museum and Library in Kuruman for the use of the community. Although complete the library is still very short of books and permanent displays. It is a stone’s throw away from his home, where he is survived by his widow Virginia.
Mutwa’s daughter Nozipho together with two other children are the directors of the Credo Mutwa Foundation which aims to bring more exposure to his work, whilst in the Soweto Cultural Village, Lebo Sello preserves the powerful Mutwa legacy.
"I became filled with a fanatical obsession; I realized how rapidly Africa was changing. I realized to my shock and sorrow that the culture of my people, a culture that I had thought immortal, was actually dying." Credo Mutwa
A visit to Kwa-Khaya Lendaba: Home of the Story
In the midst of sprawling and bustling Soweto, beneath the high point of the Oppenheimer Tower are the sacred gardens and living museum of the continents most revered holy man.
Kwa-Khaya Lendaba, meaning “home of the story” in isiZulu, was the first living museum built and designed by 98 year old Sanusi, Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa who currently lives in his cultural village in Kuruman in the Northern Cape. A Sanusi is the highest grade of African sangoma (healer), a role that Mutwa was destined to, being the grandson of the High Witchdoctor to the Zulu King Dingane.
After initiation in 1937, Mutwa’s search for the “knowledge and truth about my people,” as he called it, was developed through a wanderlust that took him all over the continent to document the story of the elders. His work in the curio and safari market in Kenya, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and Johannesburg during the 50s developed his imaginative synthesis of traditional history, indigenous medicine and sacred artefacts and sites and resulted in the genius work Indaba My Children published in 1966.
He was at once established as the guardian of Zulu tribal history and the most distinguished African traditional leader in the world and wassought out by world leaders, mystics, benefactors and historians.
Mutwa’s life mission was to preserve Africa’s indigenous African knowledge systems for the sake of future generations to restore and maintain a pride in African cultural roots. His solution was establishing cultural villages in Southern Africa as a permanent repository for the great people and practices that defined the ancient African way.
Mutwa’s wish was for African culture to “bring together the people of the world with the greater understanding of one another thus nurturing a respect of different tribes, aspirations and origins,” as he said in an interview.
In 1974Mutwa obtained permission and funds to build his first living museum onthe seven hectares of land surrounding the Oppenheimer Tower. This tower was situated on a strategic high point of Soweto and was built in 1963(the year Soweto got its name) as a symbolic landmark honouring the loan of 3 million pounds given by Ernest Oppenheimer and the chamber of mines to construct the massive township.
Mutwa planted a variety of indigenous plants to attract the birds and insects and built a living museum to bring his stories of African mythology, culture and spirituality to life.
In the center of the village is the storytelling circle, providing a meeting of eclectic symbolism and vivid imagination in what Mutwa termed in the introduction to Indaba My Children as a “strange mixture of truth and nonsense.”
In the midst of giant clay sculptures of the gods of creation, uNkulunkulu, with four faces representing the four races, and the African Goddess or Earth Mother, Nomkhubulwane; two baby boys argue over their penis-size whilst an alien observes from high up on a pole. A criminal’s upended feat protrude from a traditional grave-site and dinosaurs roam near a cattle kraal. In the meditation room is Mutwa’s 1979 prophecy in a painting of the 911 attack. He turned down an offer of $8 Million to purchase it.
The village includes thatched rondavels representing the homesteads of the many Southern African tribes, including Tswana, Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa and Southern Sotho groups. A bust of King Shaka stands with a pink mohawk. He is overlooking a remodelling of Kwa Dukuza (Placeof the LostPerson) the capital of his empire, resplendent with huts for himself, mother Nandi, aunt Mkabayi, and grandparents.
The mid 70s was a golden era for the village as traditional healers collected bark and leavesfrom the variety of African healing plants such as the highly revered aloe vera. The children of Soweto attracted by the drumming, dancing and storytelling of the healers frequented the village whilst Johannesburg City offered regular bus tours.
However in the wake of the 1976 revolution and in direct response to Mutwa giving evidence to the Cilliers Commission (a piece of history preserved in the stunning Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum), the village was partly burnt down rendering huts and artefacts largely destroyed and forcing Mutwa to evacuate this African cultural shrine, and the country and move to Lotlamoreng Dam in Mahikeng, previously Bophuthatswana. Here he built his next living museum.
After an extended dormancy, in 2006, the City of Johannesburg put out a tender for the restoration of Kwa-Khaya Lendaba. An original sculptor Musa Ntanzi, who had worked side by side with Mutwa, won the tender and immediately began to fix the chips in the broken clay sculptures and re-thatch the rondavels.
Life was restored to the village attracting the return of artists, traditional healers and young historians. Lebo Sello had been one of the many children in the late 70s that had followed the sound of the African drumming to this village to revel in the inspiration of the traditional healers and storytellers. He now lives on site and preserves the powerful legacy like a disciple of the positive “energy of the universe,” as he put it.
Over the last 14 years he has developed a passionate and impressive knowledge of the living museum and Mutwa’s prophecies and folklore and shares insights to this unique combination of indigenous African culture and nature with foreign and local visitors alike.
As Sello explained, “Each and every country of the world you find a place where people can come and connect spiritually. Kwa-Khaya Lendaba is like that. It serves the purpose of balancing your energy and cleaning your aura.”
Now in its 46th year, and although still a work in progress, Kwa-Khaya Lendaba is indeed as one international visitor called it, “another piece in the puzzle of the great Credo Mutwa.”