by Josh Brownfield
Class of 1997
The Zulus were a warlike branch of the Southern
Bantus who live in the area that is currently South Africa. They are traditionally grain
farmers and cattle herders who frequently subsidized their income by raiding other nearby
tribes. The Zulu people were a part of the Mtewa Nation until the death of King
Dingiswayo. King Dingiswayo's son Shaka separated the Zulus from the Mtewas after his
father's death in 1817, creating the Zulu Nation.
Under Shaka, the Zulu army became a group of well trained, highly disciplined warriors.
Shaka separated all young men into age groups, called sets. These sets of adolescents were
shipped away from their clans in order to be trained in royal military schools, where they
were under Shaka's direct control. During Shaka's reign the Boundaries of the Zulu Empire
expanded to cover nearly all of Natal.
Shaka had few major conflicts with the white settlers in South Africa during his
lifetime. Mainly he just frightened the Boers and the British settlers living in Capetown
because of the enormous size of his army and their many military successes.
The beginning of the most Zulu-European conflicts occurred during the reign of Shaka's
successor, King Dingane. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope in the late 18th
century, many of the Afrikaner farmers began moving north. In 1836 the Boers began a mass
migration known as the Great Trek, as they traveled north they entered Zululand. During
King Dingane's brief rule, the Whites infiltrated many parts of his empire, with the
assistance of Dingane's brother Mpande. Mpande secretly aide the Boers in exchange for
help removing his brother from the throne. In 1840 Mpande succeeded in deposing his
brother and taking the Zulu crown The Boers penetrated even deeper into the Zululand
during Mpande's 32 years as King .
The major Zulu-British conflicts occurred after Mpande's time under King Cetshwayo. In
1878 the British demanded Cetshwayo disband the Zulu army and place himself under British
control. Cetshwayo refused and gathered his army of 40,000-60,000 soldiers together
instead , the British declared war on the Zulus. The British put Lord Chelmsford in charge
of the army, and in January 1879 the British troops crossed the Tugela River into
Zululand. Heavy winter rains slowed the armies travel and tall grasses blocked their field
off view. Lord Chelmsford also made the tactical error of forgoing the use of scouts or
sentries. The Zulu army attacked unexpectedly, killing over 800 British soldiers and
taking 1000 rifles plus ammunition.
When the British reinforcements arrived Cetshwayo had fled because his army had
suffered a high number of casualties. That April, in the middle of the Anglo-Zulu War, the
British were unexpectedly met with the arrival of the French Prince, Napoleon III's son,
in search off an adventure. He traveled along with the British army until June, when in a
surprise attack by the Zulus, he was killed. His death was an international embarrassment
to the British whom were unable to protect such an important guest. In spite of this
political black-eye, the British army continued to defeat the Zulus. In July 1879, King
After his defeat, Cetshwayo was exiled and the Zulu Empire was divided into 13
provinces. Cetshwayo and the House of Tshaka were; however, reinstated , after
considerable disintegration occurred within Zululand under the provinces. After his
reinstatement, Cetshwayo lost all his power but he continued to rule for a few years until
he was once again exiled for fighting with a neighboring tribe.