The Rickshaw Puller and the Zulu Policeman: Zulu Men, Work, and Clothing in Colonial Natal

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Critical Arts, Volume 31, Number 3, p.123–141 (2017)



amaMfengu, Fingoes, Griquas, military clothing, Zulu policeman, Zulu rickshaw puller


This article explores the two careers of rickshaw puller and policeman in colonial South Africa and in the period before unification in 1910. The terms “clothing” and “uniform” are used interchangeably, since these Zulu men were officially described as wearing regulated or prescribed clothing. There were, however, differences, since as photographic subjects, the rickshaw puller and the policeman were never photographed in the exact same clothes. Each photograph seems to have captured a unique and signature look. The instability of the “uniform” as a marker of servitude or military service is therefore attested to by the diversity of the images captured by the camera. Thus, although both professions could be said to have regulated the uniform or clothing worn by the worker, the photographs present evidence of irregularity and innovation. The latter, it will be argued, was not unique to the colony of Natal but was in fact preceded in history by the Mfengu levies who fought in the frontier wars of the eastern Cape. This genealogy that connects the Mfengu levy to the Zulu rickshaw puller and the Zulu policeman is tentatively described as a history of “career men”—that is, men who circulated from one career to another, from kitchen service to military service to running rickshaws. Needless to say, even the term “Zulu” is used advisedly here, since there was as much wishful thinking and fantasy on the part of colonial photographers as there was a tangible reality that can be termed “Zuluness”.


Publisher: Routledge _eprint: