With the British Cape Colony, the Xhosa, and the Boer tribes bordering the Zulu’s coveted “War Zone”, trade became increasingly important. While the Zulus mostly saw cattle as an important social source of wealth, the ivory trading system called for the tribes to get even more advanced. The British liked ivory, which of course comes from elephants. To take down elephants, the tribes needed more advanced and better forms of weaponry to kill elephants for the ivory to trade. Thus, we see the created “symbiotic” relationship forming between industrialized Britain and the, to put in in generalized terms, more “primitive” Zulu peoples.
This “trading” would ultimately be a short-handed rise and long-handed fall for the mighty Zulu Kingdom. Eventually, the British Empire discovered something wonderful among the Boer camps: diamonds. Diamonds have always made a mark in modern history as bloody and horrendously obtained, even as currently as the child slavery cases in the 1990s and 2000s. However, with the Brits perhaps set this tradition up with their horrendous methods of dealing with the Boers and other local tribes.
The Boers, the original Dutch settlers of the cape colony, were expelled rather quickly and suddenly the British needed cheap labor to dig in the newly acquired diamond mines. The solution? Slavery! Ah yes, a growing yet still horrendous trend in human history. We see it forming as a sense of economics in just about every form of history: from the United States to Southern Africa.
Britain would essentially offer guns to these tribes, including the Zulu, in return for people to work for free digging up the gems. Giving guns to tribes that disagree with your mere existence in their sphere of influence probably isn’t the greatest idea, but it was a simple trade agreement nonetheless.
Fastforward to December 11th, 1878, when the British instigated a war with the Zulu people. Sir Henry Bartle Frere, on his own initiative (meaning he had no approval from the British government), presented an ultimatum to the current Zulu king, known as Cetschwayo, that couldn’t be complied with. British forces crossed the mighty Tugela river at the end of the month.
This Anglo-Zulu War led to a major victory…and a major defeat. The British actually suffered a significant defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana around the 22nd of January 1879. The Zulu’s military killed more than 1000 British soldiers in a single day, the worst defeat the British army had ever suffered at the hands of an African fighting force. The Zulu Kingdom had proven the capability of well-organized tactical systems, the very same initiated in the Age of Shaka that allowed for such success to exist for decades.
But, the British quickly redirected the entire war effort. Though now outnumbered, the new British strategy began winning again – eventually the Siege of Ulundi, the Zulu capital city, led to the subsequent defeat of the once mighty Zulu Kingdom. Thus was the defeat of an African empire.
Cetshwayo was captured a month after the defeat, and exiled to Cape Town. His empire was split into 13 subkingdoms in an attempt to minimize the centralization of the Zulu people again. Conflict erupted as the 13 sub-Zulu-Kingdoms desired to centralize. Cetshwayo was pulled out of exile by the British, and in 1882 he was allowed to visit Britain to have a visit with Queen Victoria. A political and military victory that Shaka Zulu himself would have loved in his prime.
He was told to return to ‘Zululand’ once more, and in 1883 he was reinstated as king – although he only controlled a “bugger territory” that made a mockery of the now infamous kingdom. Cetshwayo’s reign was short lived, as he was attacked and wounded by Zibhebhu, one of the 13 kinglets that had started the subkingdom conflicts. Cetshwayo fled, dying in February of 1884. His fifteen-year-old son, Dinuzulu, inherited the remnants of the kingdom.
We go from Shaka to his half-brother Dingane; then from Dingane to his half brother Mpande; then from Mpande to his son Cetshwayo; then from Cetshwayo to his son Dinuzulu. A military mastermind to a jealous and power hungry assassin; a jealous and power hungry assassin to a British-initialized internal coup; a British-initialized internal coup to a resignation and conflict of interest; and then finally to the last of the so-called “Great Monarchs”, Dinuzulu.
Dinuzulu started his reign by making a pact with the Boer people, promising them land in return for support. The British were alarmed, as they had been hoping to prevent to Boers from gaining access to any coastal ports. In anger, the British exiled Zululand in 1887. Dinuzulu was arrested and put on trial for “high treason and public violence” in 1906. He was sentenced to a decade of imprisonment on St Helena island in 1909, and was taken out early to be exiled to a farm in Transvaal – where he died in 1913.
Dinuzulu’s son Solomon kaDinuzulu was never recognized as a king, but merely a local chief instead. Thus is the end of a consolidated Zulu namesake.
What is in its place now? Zululand is currently part of the Republic of South Africa. Its new name is KwaZulu-Natal, and it’s one of the country’s nine provinces. A large portion of the territory is now a wildlife reserve, dedicated to protecting the Black Rhinoceros and making most of its money through tourism.