1 September 1873, Cetshwayo kaMpande was crowned at kwaNodwengu, 150 miles north of Durban, as the last independent King of the Zulu nation.
"An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the nation, there are not enough tears to mourn for the dead." (King Cetshwayo after the Battle of Isandlwana)
King Shaka had united the Zulu clans into a powerful kingdom in 1820, bordering on the Orange Free State in the west and the Indian Ocean in the east. By mid-century, Shaka’s successors and their rapidly expanding kingdom came into conflict with the white settlers in South Africa, first the Boer Voortrekkers and pretty soon with the British. Both had their hands full to maintain their ground against the well organised Zulu nation with their innovative ways of sending well-drilled warriors against their enemies, from their equipment and their rapid mobility to their regimental system, the impis, and their cunning encirclement tactics, the famous bull horn formation, resembling more or less Hannibal’s tactics at Cannae.
|A photograph showing Cetshwayo kaMpande in London (1885)|
Shaka’s grandnephew Cetshwayo became king after a long struggle for power with his brother Mbuyazi, built, according to the custom, a new capital, Ulundi, the High Place, augmented his army and threw Christian missionaries out of his country. It was a matter of time for how long the British Empire would tolerate the powerful Zulu kingdom in their hinterland. A border incident in 1878 finally led to war – two girls from Natal had been abducted by Zulu warriors, the British high commissioner Sir Henry Bartle Frere demanded a herd of 550 cows as reparation, Cetshwayo paid only 50 pounds in gold, Sir Henry was quite miffed and issued an ultimatum with unrealistic demands, the king ignored it and in January 1879, a British army under Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand. Then the unthinkable happened. Cetshwayo defeated the British at Isandhlwana and gave Chelmsford’s men a hard time afterwards until, in July, the Zulu capital Ulundi fell and his impis were disbanded.
|The square formed by the men of the 1/24th Regiment of Foot, last stand of the Battle of Isandlwana, as imagined by Charles Edwin Fripp (1854 - 1906)|
Cetshwayo was captured four weeks later by the British, his kingdom divided into separate entities and the Zulu nation was no longer a threat to the Empire and the Boer Republics, although their cousins, the Matabele proved to be tenacious enemies until the end of the century. Cetshwayo himself was first brought to Cape Town and later to London, where he met with Queen Victoria and was finally allowed to return to South Africa where he died in 1884. His great-grandson, the South African Politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi, played the role of his famous ancestor in the 1964 film “Zulu”.
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