National Geographic News
A photo of a Zulu tribesman pulling his female employer around in a cart.

A Zulu tribesman pulls his employer in a pedicab in Durban, South Africa.

Photograph by Melville Chater, National Geographic

Johnna Rizzo

National Geographic

Published October 14, 2013

During the famed chief Shaka Zulu's reign, European settlement began in 1824 in what is now Durban, South Africa. A century later, Zulus began to filter into the coastal city, drawn by steady work.

But the influx wasn't welcome.

In 1953, the ruling Dutch set aside a separate area for the Zulu people—called KwaZulu—as part of the apartheid system. In 1981, KwaZulu was forced to become independent. The Zulu living in Durban and other cities were made to relocate there and to renounce their South African citizenship—and the rights that went with it. Jobs were all but nonexistent in KwaZulu, so many Zulu men filtered back to urban areas as migrant workers.

Decades of protest preceded and followed.

Though apartheid was officially abolished in 1991, the United Nations didn't drop its sanctions on South Africa until October 8, 1993—20 years ago last week—and the country didn't hold its first multiracial election until 1994. Nelson Mandela won.

In the months following that vote, Durban became known as the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality. Today, Zulus make up about 24 percent of South Africa's 48 million people, and Durban claims one of the largest urban concentrations of Zulus.

This photo was never published, but another image of this Zulu and several fellow pedicab drivers in Durban ran in special staff correspondent Melville Chater's April 1931 National Geographic story "Under the South African Union." Others photographed included a snake park guard, sugar-cube makers, a fire walker, and a human pincushion.

"Horn-crowned like Isis," wrote Chater of the drivers, "his legs whitewashed, his person amazingly bedecked, he and his jaunty vehicle make limousines seem drab."

Shirlyne Gay Garcia
Shirlyne Gay Garcia

It's really painful to see that some people enjoy the luxury at the expense of others. I salute to commend the Zulu tribesman in the picture

Elsabe Botes
Elsabe Botes

Sadly, this article is full of historical inaccuracies:

1. British settlement of Natal started in 1942 NOT 1924

2. The Dutch never ruled Natal & the European woman in the photograph is most likely British

3. Kwazulu was a homeland that was granted self-government in 1977 (under the apartheid regime) NOT in 1953 NOR under the Dutch

4. Things that did happen in 1953 were the passing of the Bantu Education Act and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act under the Union of South Africa - a dominion of the British Empire.

5. The concept of 'Apartheid' was first investigated & its implementation recommended in 1948 by the Sauer commission (under General Smuts) as prime minister of the Union of South Africa (which lasted until 1961).

6. Kwazulu was offered (NOT forced) independent homeland status several times during the 1980's, but this was refused by King Buthelezi. 

I find it sad and shocking that a magazine such as National Geographic would allow something like this to happen. This is NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC!!!! not a blog written from a basement in the middle of nowhere with a readership of the writer's mom & dad!

Leo Lasekula
Leo Lasekula

i Take my hat off for the Zulu people, they really do know how to dress for work. VERY creative people. 

K B.
K B.

When I saw this, I thought, "Wow, it tells a thousand stories!"  I recall seeing such pictures as a child and was full of wonder at the curious native fashion. Now I marvel at the curious quirks of the non-native of those times; that a fashionable parasol was taken for a 'cart ride' powered by human treated as animals. That Zulu looks quite civilized and in step... and he is the person I would want to visit and come to know.

In such a very short period of our history this regard for fellow humans has shifted perceptibly but still too slowly. In geological time, it is an instant. However, I wonder at the millions of lives which bore the suffering of mistreatment and abuse by which we must measure 'progress' in our view for our species. Now facing the must rigorous test of our survival, we must consider how slowly, stupidly and fraught is 'progress' with perils.

Eisenhower once said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." 

Here we are in our 'civilized nation' where millions of people are hungry every day and we still find funds to make war. So maybe I'm a Zulu here but it seems times have not really changed so very much at all. Just the parasols are different...

Looking forward to visiting often with my subscription! Thanks!


robert brooke
robert brooke

I remember the human pincushion photo.We used to have a copy of the April 1931 Geographic.Unfortunately,many of our old Geographics were lost when the storage building they were kept in was flooded.

Michael McKee
Michael McKee

I'm with you, Ken. I expected an archive, not a picture /from the archives/.

Presumably, they should switch the first two words, as "Archive Picture" would serve as a better title for this item.


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