Zulu Kingdom

The Zulu Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Zulu Empire, was a Southern African state in what is now South Africa. The small kingdom gained world fame during and after the Anglo-Zulu War.


1 The Rise of the Zulu Kingdom under Shaka
2 The Bloody Ascendancy of Dingane
3 Clashes with the Voortrekkers and the Ascendancy of Mpande
4 Succession of Cetshwayo
5 Anglo-Zulu War
6 Division and the Death of Cetshwayo
7 Dinuzulu’s Volunteers and Final Absorption into Cape Colony
8 External links

The Rise of the Zulu Kingdom under Shaka
Shaka Zulu was the illegitimate son of Senzangakhona, chief of the Zulus. He was born circa 1787. Shaka and Nandi (Shaka’s mother) were exiled by Senzangakhona and found refuge with the Mthethwa. Shaka fought as a warrior under Dingiswayo, leader of the Mthethwa Paramountcy. When Senzangakhona died, Dingiswayo helped Shaka claim his place as chief of the Zulu kingdom.

The Bloody Ascendancy of Dingane
Shaka was assassinated by Dingane (his half brother) who conspired with Mhlangana, another half-brother to murder him. Following this assassination, Dingane murdered Mhlangana, and took over the throne. One of his first royal acts was to execute all of his royal kin. In the years that followed he also executed many past supporters of Shaka in order to secure his position. One exception to these purges was Mpande, another half-brother, who was considered too weak to be a threat at the time.

Clashes with the Voortrekkers and the Ascendancy of Mpande
In October 1837, the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief visited Dingane at his royal kraal to negotiate a land deal for the Voortrekkers. In November, about 1,000 Voortrekker wagons began descending the Drakensberg mountains from the Orange Free State into what is now KwaZulu-Natal.

Dingane asked that Retief and his party retrieve some cattle stolen from him by a local chief. This Retief and his men did, returning on the 3th of February 1838. The next day, a treaty was signed wherein Dingane ceded all the land south of the Tugela River to the Mzimvubu River to the Voortrekkers. Celebrations followed. On the 6th of February, at the end of the celebrations, Retief’s party were invited to a dance, and asked to leave their weapons behind. At the peak of the dance, Dingane leapt to his feet and yelled “Bambani abathakathi!” (isiZulu for “Seize the wizards”). Retief and his men were overpowered taken to the nearby hill kwaMatiwane and executed.

Some believe that they were killed for withholding some of the cattle they recovered but it is likely that the deal was a ploy to overpower the Voortrekkers. Dingane’s army then attacked and massacred a group of 500 Voortrekker men, women and children camped nearby. The site of this massacre is today called Weenen (Afrikaans for “to weep”).

The remaining Voortrekkers elected a new leader, Andries Pretorius, and Dingane suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Blood River on the 16th of December 1838 when he attacked a group of 470 Voortrekker settlers led by Pretorius. Following his defeat, Dingane burned his royal household and fled north. Mpande, who had been spared from Dingane’s purges with 17,000 followers and together with Pretorius and the Voortrekkers, went to war with Dingane. Dingane was assassinated near the modern Swaziland border. Mpande then took over rulership of the Zulu nation.

Succession of Cetshwayo
Following the campaign against Dingane in 1839 the Voortrekkers under Pretorius then formed the Boer Republic of Natalia, south of the Thukela and west of the British settlement of Port Natal (now Durban). Mpande and Pretorius maintained peaceful relations. However in 1842 war broke out between the British and the Boers resulting in the British annexation of Natalia. Mpande shifted his allegiance to the British and remained on good terms with them.

In 1843, Mpande ordered a purge of perceived dissidents within his kingdom. This resulted in numerous deaths and the fleeing of thousands of refugees into neighbouring areas including the British-controlled Natal. Many of these refugees fled with cattle. Mpande began raiding the surrounding areas, culminating in the invasion of Swaziland in 1852. However the British pressured him into withdrawing, which he did shortly.

At this time a battle for the succession broke out between two of Mpande’s sons, Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi. This culminated in 1856 with a battle that left Mbuyazi dead. Cetshwayo then set about usurping his father’s authority. In 1872, Mpande died of old age and Cetshwayo took over rulership.

Anglo-Zulu War
On the 11th of December 1878 agents of the British delivered an ultimatum to 14 chiefs representing Cetshwayo. The terms of the ultimatum were unacceptable to Cetshwayo. British forces crossed the Thukela River at the end of December 1878. The war took place in 1879. Early in the war the Zulus defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlwana on the 22nd of January but were severely defeated later that day at Rorke’s Drift. The war ended and the Zulus were defeated at the Battle of Ulundi on the 4th of July.

Division and the Death of Cetshwayo
Cetshwayo was captured a month after his defeat and then exiled to Cape Town. The British passed rule of the Zulu Kingdom onto 13 “kinglets” each with his own subkingdom. Conflict soon erupted between these subkingdoms and in 1882, Cetshwayo was allowed to visit England. He had audiences with Queen Victoria and other famous personages before being allowed to return to Zululand to be reinstated as King.

In 1883, Cetshwayo was put in place as King over a Buffer Reserve Territory much reduced from his original Kingdom. Later that year however, Cetshwayo was attacked at Ulundi by uZibhebhu, one of the 13 kinglets supported by Boer mercenaries. Cetshwayo was wounded and fled. Cetshwayo died in February 1884, possibly poisoned. His son Dinuzulu inherited the throne at the age of 15 years.

Dinuzulu’s Volunteers and Final Absorption into Cape Colony
Dinuzulu recruited Boer mercenaries of his own, promising them land in return for their aid. These mercenaries called themselves “Dinuzulu’s Volunteers” and were led by Louis Botha. Dinuzulu’s Volunteers defeated Zibhebhu in 1884, and duly demanded their land. They were granted about half of Zululand individually as farms and formed an independent republic. This alarmed the British, who then annexed Zululand in 1887. Dinuzulu became involved in later conflicts with rivals. In 1906 Dinuzulu was accused of being behind the Bhambhatha Rebellion. He was arrested and put on trial by the British for “high treason and public violence”. When the Union of South Africa was formed, Louis Botha became its first prime minister and he arranged for his old ally Dinuzulu to live in exile on a farm in the Transvaal where Dinuzulu died in 1913.

Dinuzulu’s son Solomon kaDinuzulu was never recognised by South African authorities as the Zulu King, only as a local chief but he was increasingly regarded as king by chiefs and political intellectuals such as John Langalibalele Dube and by ordinary Zulu people. In 1923 Solomon founded the organisation Inkatha YaKwaZulu to promote his royal claims which became moribund and then was revived in the 1970’s by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Chief Minister of the KwaZulu Bantustan. In December 1951 Solomon’s son Cyprian Bhekuzulu kaSolomon was officially recognised as the Paramount Chief of the Zulu people, but real power over ordinary Zulu people lay with white South African officials working through local chiefs who could be removed from office for failure to co-operate.

External links
Afropop Worldwide’s public radio program on Zulu Music, “The Zulu Factor
Zulu Music, BBC semi-post-colonial style, RealPlayer file. [link no longer available]
People of Africa, Zulu marriage explained
An article on Piet Retief, including his interactions with Dingane
History section of the official page for the Zululand region
Human Rights Watch report on KwaZulu, just prior to the 1994 elections. – This includes detailed, well-referenced sections on recent Zulu history.

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