By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Zulu artist, South Africa. King Zwelethini’s wedding. Photo by Sandra Klopper.

Costume and regalia remain integral to contemporary political maneuvers. Nancy Reagan's purchase of a $10,000 inaugural ball gown was once newsworthy, as was Gorbachev's decision to break communist tradition in the Soviet Union and wear expensive “power suits.” Political leaders among Zulu in South Africa also change clothes to suit the needs of any given political situation. Dr. Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, appears in traditional Zulu regalia, the military-style uniform of the Inkatha Freedom Party, or a business suit, determined by the circumstances of his activities. In each appearance, however, he is using dress to underscore his agenda. Zulu beadwork also speaks to the status of a given individual and continues to be used today to assert a Zulu identity. Motifs used in the beaded skirts of the recently invented Reed Ceremony are said to refer to the shields traditionally carried by Zulu warriors.