UP’s Dr Macqueen points out impact of imaginative project of European colonialism on Polish society in seminar on Shaka Zulu

Posted on November 04, 2020

On 20 October 2020, Dr Ian Macqueen, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, presented the paper, ‘Shaka Zulu in the Polish People’s Republic: Interrogating Cultural Exchanges in the Late Cold War’.

The paper explored the popularity in Communist Poland (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa – PRL) of the mini-series Shaka Zulu, produced and released in 1986 by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

In the paper, Dr Macqueen used the mini-series Shaka Zulu as a lens to gauge the relationship between the countries and to ascertain sentiment towards apartheid in Poland ‘from below’. 

Dr Macqueen argued that the popularity of Shaka Zulu in Poland demonstrated that although it was a European country that never had colonies, it was nonetheless impacted by the imaginative project of European colonialism, the traces of which could be detected in its susceptibility to the exoticism of Shaka Zulu


Henry Cele as King Shaka kaSenzangakhona.
Credit: Creative Commons CC BY-NC.

Dr Macqueen also pointed to the impact of post-WW2 social movements on the West, seen in critiques of Shaka Zulu in countries such as the United States. The absence of similar popular critiques in Poland, seemed to indicate that Communist state-sponsored anti-apartheid support, which was not negligible, was comparatively less effective at informing popular sentiments. This also indicated the impact of decolonisation in shifting cultural attitudes in the UK and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The absence of these in Polish society was another possible explanation for the popularity of Shaka Zulu. One significant source of anti-apartheid awareness, however, was punk rock as Dr Macqueen discovered (pictured below).

A punk rock pamphlet titled ‘Have you heard of apartheid in RSA’? 
Source: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, Bi/611/1.

Lastly, Dr Macqueen also presented archival evidence from South Africa’s Department of International Affairs and Cooperation (DIRCO) that showed Communist Poland had healthy trade ties with apartheid South Africa from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

Dr Macqueen was able to conduct research for the paper between July and October 2019, as part of his sabbatical, funded through the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP). In Poland, Dr Macqueen conducted archival research and interviews in Legnica, Wrocław, Gdańsk, Warsaw, and Olsztyn, and interviewed Nobel Prize winner and former president, Lech Wałesa.

Dr Macqueen at the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk 
with former Polish President, Lech Wałesa.

This presentation was part of a larger project of Dr Macqueen comparing Poland and South Africa during the Cold War and as part of new approach to the ‘global Cold War,’ which attempts to frame our understanding of the Cold War in the flexible ways in which individual states negotiated the Cold War, guided by pragmatism as much as ideology.

Dr Macqueen would particularly welcome honours, master’s and doctoral students who would be interested in getting involved in this project. 

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