Sitting in the shade waiting for the animals to come, the old man talks about the nearby mpafa tree – Zizyphus mucronata to the scientist. “We have two names for this tree,” Magqubu says, “Mpafa and lahlenkoos, which means to lay down the chief or the king. This place is the meeting place between people and animals. Look at the thorns, one points forward and the other is curved back. This is like life itself. We are forever going forward for that is our destiny, but we are hooked to our past and can never shake it off.”
The old Zulu points to the lower branches. “The grey duiker and the steenbuck feed on the leaves and the new stalks. A little higher up, the impala and nyala eat the leaves and stalks. And those that are broken – that are the kudu bull with his big curved horns that have smashed them by putting his head into the tree and twisting his horns. This in turn makes it possible for the smaller antelope to feed again, especially in the dry season when the lower brances have been stripped clean of leaves. The black rhino also loves the leaves, stalks and branches of the mpafa. Sometimes he pushes half the tree down to feed on chosen leaves. This makes it easy for the duiker and steenbuck to feed again. The giraffe eats leaves, stalks and thorns from the crown of the tree.”
“So from the bottom to the top it is used by animals. But that is not all, for porcupine feed on the bark and butterflies and ants like the sap. Baboons and monkeys eat the berries and francolins, guineafowl, warthog, bush pig, wildebeest, zebra, white rhino and all the wildcats eat the ones that drop on the ground. That is the animals and the tree,” says Magqubu.
“Now there is the story of man and the trees”:
“We Zulus like to have the spirits of our relatives at the kraal. When my father died in Durban, I took a branch of the mpafa and travelled to the city to bring his spirit back. I found the hospital and the bed he died in. I laid the mpafa twig on the bed and I said, ‘Father, I have come to take you home.’ Then I caught a taxi to the station. I paid for two fares and bought two train tickets to Mtubatuba, one for my father and the other for myself. At the kraal I put the twig in the eaves of the hut and then said to my father’s spirit, ‘Father, you have now come home and you are part of the community of spirits.’ I then killed a beast and my family and neighbours feasted.”
“After the great battle of Isandhlwana when twenty thousand warriors swept down from the heights of the Nqutu Hills and wiped out eight hundred men of the British army, four thousand Zulu died. Family after family had to travel to that battlefield to bring back the spirits of their relatives. Everyone carried a mpafa twig and when they arrived at that lone koppie on the plain they held the twigs above their heads and called out to their relatives, because by now all the bones had been mixed together, ‘Ntombela, Mdalalose, Mabuza – woza amadhlozi – come spirits, come to the mpafa because we have come to take you home’.”