Zululand, the Zulu-dominated area of northern KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa, extends along the coast of the Indian Ocean from the Tugela River in the south to Pongola River in the north. Historical Zululand stretches over the modern-day districts of Zululand, Amajuba, Umzinyathi, uThungulu, Umkhanyakude, Uthukela, Umgungundlovu and iLembe.


In 1816, Shaka acceded to the Zulu throne. Within a year he had conquered the neighboring clans, and had made the Zulu into the most important ally of the large Mtetwa clan, which competed with the Ndwandwe clan for domination of the northern part of modern-day KwaZulu-Natal.

Shaka initiated many military, social, cultural and political reforms, forming a well-organized and centralized Zulu state. The most important reforms involved the transformation of the army, thanks to innovative tactics and weapons he conceived; and a showdown with the spiritual leadership, clipping the wings, claws and fangs of the witchdoctors, effectively ensuring the subservience of the "Zulu church" to the state.

Another important reform integrated defeated clans into the Zulu, on a basis of full equality, with promotions in the army and civil service becoming a matter of merit rather than due to circumstances of birth.

After the death of Mtetwa king Dingiswayo at the hands of Zwide king of the Ndwandwe (around 1818), Shaka assumed leadership of the entire Mtetwa alliance. The alliance under his leadership survived Zwide's first assault at the Battle of Gqokli Hill (1818). Within two years, Shaka had defeated Zwide at the Battle of Mhlatuze River (1820) and broken up the Ndwandwe alliance, some of whom in turn began a murderous campaign against other Nguni tribes and clans, setting in motion what became known as Defecane or Mfecane, a mass-migration of tribes fleeing the remnants of the Ndwandwe fleeing the Zulu. By 1825 Shaka had conquered a huge empire covering a vast area from the sea in the east to the Drakensberg mountains in the west, and from the Pongola River in the north to the Bashee River in the south, not far from the modern-day city of East London.

An offshoot of the Zulu, the Kumalos, better known to history as the Matabele created under their king Mzilikazi an even larger empire, including large parts of the highveld and modern-day Zimbabwe.

Shaka, who had had contacts with English explorers, realized that the white man posed a threat to local populations, and had planned to begin an intensive program of education to enable the Nguni people to catch up with the Europeans. However, in 1828 his half brother Dingane assassinated him and succeeded him as ruler. Dingane planned the execution of Piet Retief and a number of Trekboers in 1838. In 1840, Zulu Nyawo, Sambane and Nondawana assassinated Dingane near Hlatikhulu Forest on the Lebombo Mountains near Ingwavuma. Under his successors Mpande (another half-brother), who reigned till 1872, and Mpande's son Cetshwayo (effective ruler 1856 - 1879) the Zulu rebuffed Boer attempts to conquer them.

Before encoutering the British, Zulus first were confronted with Boers, for in an attempt to form their own state as a protection against the British, the Boers began moving acroos the Orange River northwards, while traveling they first collided with the Ndebele kingdom, and then with Dingane's Zulu kingdom. In 1839, these Boers set up an undeveloped republic near the coast adjecent to Zulu territory. [Martin Meredith, "Diamonds Gold and War", (New York: Public Affairs, 2007):5] Another problem the British brought with them was the desired for wealth in the diamond industry. The diamond boom attracted many people - British and Africans - Zulus being a part of the 50,000 Africans that were drawn in each year during the 1870s. [Meredith,"Diamonds", 43]

As of 1877, the new high commissioner, Sir Bartle Frere, very quickly had to deal with several uprising from surrounding chiefdoms. This series of events led him to believe that white civilization would never be obtainable as long as the African chiefdoms were allowed to exist. During this time Zululand was the most powerful, and with the backing of his Transvaal consul, Sir Theophilus Shepstone (who was considered the expert on Zulus), Frere went on to conquer them. At this point, the Zulus had been a strong force clashing with surrounding chiefdoms in the 1820s and with the Boers in the 1830s. Overall, the Zulus had a strong army where every combatant was to 'wash his spear' in the enemy's blood. Still, in 1838, the Zulu did have a severe defeat against the Boers in the battle called Blood River, in which a commando of 468 trekkers, 3 Englishmen, and 60 blacks went against 10,000 Zulus. The battle lasted two hours and left only 3 trekkers wounded while 3000 Zulus were killed. In 1843 the British created the colony of Natal, in which the Zulu king Mpande agreed to the border between Zululand and the Tugela River. In the meantime, Mpande had a civil relationship with Shepstone. The Boers posed a problem when they began moving into Zulu territory on the north-western border. Though Mpande asked Shepstone for help and the British government backed the Zulus the Boers continued over stepping their boundaries. Mpande tried to compromise by proposing that the British establish a neutral buffer zone, and in 1854 even gave the Boers a section of land between the Buffalo and Blood Rivers. When Mpande died in 1872 Cetshwayo invited Shepstone to his 'coronation' in order to build better realtions with the British. In order to keep Boers from continuing their move into Zulu territory Catshwayo offered the land that had been taken over to British control, Shepstone refused his offer.

Once Transvaal land had taken over by Britain four years later Cetshwayo assumed that the border dispute with the Boers would finally be resolved, since they had complied with Shepstone's advice of moderation. When Shepstone became grand-overlord of the Transvaal he instead wished to annex Zululand, and to pacify the Boers. On October 1877, Shepstone and the Zulu leaders met near Blood River, and suggested that they compromise with the Boers. Shepstone additionally gathered support, including from Frere, to not only annex Zululand, but to go to wat with them. Britain, had no objectionto annexing Zululand, but wanted to postpone going to war. In order to gain time, Britain establishment implemented an investigation on the border dispute. In July 1878, the commission backed the Zulu's claim. Frere withheld the findings in order to being about a war against the Zulus. In stating that Natal was in danger of Zulu invasion Shepstone sent a troops towards Zululand. Additionally, he falsely stated that the Zulus had 60,000 combatabts; in turn the British government sent two battalions. Since no telegraph lines connected Britain to the Cape, Britain had basically no control over Shepstone. Ultimately, to being about war Frere sent Cetshwayo an ultimatum on December 11th, stating that he disarm and eliminate his military, to go to war. Frere used the mail delay to his advantage by informing Britain of his ultimatum too late. Be the time London had received his message Chelmsford, Frere's army commander, had 18,000 troops on the Zulu border.

Chelmsford, on January 11th, crossed Blood River at Roeke's Drift, traveling with 4700 men, 1900 that were white and 2400 that were African. Following a wagon path that ran straight into the Zulu capital, Ondini, he set up camp along the way at Isandlwana. Chelmsford, opposing to given advice, did not dig trenches nor send out reconnaissance. On January 22nd, Chelmsford led his troops southeast, at 9am he received a message from the camp commander stating that Zulus were advancing, again Chelmsford did not send for reinforcements. The Zulu with 20,000 warriors defeated the British, killing six companies in the 24th regiment. Out of the 1760 troops only 55 whites and 350 African auxiliaries survived. While only an approximate 1000 Zulus were killed. Other Zulu troops attacked at Rorke's Drift, and due to the British troops being forwarned they were able to hold out against a 12 hour attack. In retaliation Frere set out to destroy Zululand. This time armed with reinforcements, and many arms the battle of Ulundi killed 1500 Zulus, and 13 British. Ultimately, to being order to southeast Africa Britain sent its proconsul, General Sir Gernet Wolseley who sent Cetshwayo to prison in Cape Town, and broke Zululand into 13 kinglets. A large piece of Zululand in the south was given to John Dunn, who was an ally of Cetshwayo but abandoned him at the beginning of the war. The territory once fought over with the Boers was given to the Transvaal. [Martin Meredith, "Diamonds", 86-94] However, they then faced the problem of the British. In 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, British Commissioner for South Africa, issued an ultimatum that Cetshwayo disband his army and concede to a number of demands. (Visitors can still see the site of the delivery of the ultimatum, the "Ultimatum tree" on the Natal bank of the Tugela river, below the present-day N2 highway bridge). The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 resulted.

Initially the British suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana (January 22, 1879) where the Zulu army killed more than 1,000 British soldiers in a single day. This constituted the worst defeat the British army had ever suffered at the hands of a non-European fighting force. The defeat prompted a redirection of the war effort, and more British troops poured into Natal to ensure a British victory at Ulundi (4 July 1879. The British victors exiled Cetshwayo and subdivided Zululand into 13 regions, each administered by a kinglet. The largest region came under the control of John Dunn, a white hunter who had befriended Cetshwayo.

After the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the British appointed a Resident, Melmoth Osborne, to mediate between the local chiefs and the British government; but continuing strife prompted the annexation of Zululand on May 9, 1887. The whole Province of Zululand, including Tongaland, became annexed to Natal on December 31, 1897.

In 1895, Sir Charles Saunders of Eshowe visited the areas of Ubombo and Ingwavuma, which subsequently became annexed to Zululand in 1897.


Postal system

A postal system operated in Zululand from 1888 to 1897, issuing its own postage stamps.

See also

* Zululand District Municipality

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