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British control of South Africa began in 1795. From this time onwards local inhabitants and other colonial settlers resented British rule. At the time Britain was colonising countries all over the world. Resistance to the British military in South Africa was usually unsuccessful, as was the case in the Anglo-Zulu and Second Anglo-Boer wars. Although the Boers won the First Anglo-Boer War they were defeated in the Second Anglo-Boer War. Despite an early victory at Isandhlwana, the Zulu nation was later overwhelmed by the imperial army in the Anglo-Zulu War.
The Anglo-Zulu War took place in 1879 between the British army and the Zulus.
There were a great many inter related causes of the Anglo-Zulu War. Some of these include:
The proclamation of the Republic of Utrecht by Boers in northern KwaZulu Natal in 1854.
The British colonial policy in the interior in the 1870s, which aimed to confederate the British colonies, Boer Republics and independent African
groups in South Africa under British control.
Sir Henry Bartle Frere’s active promotion of war with the Zulu nation.
Cetshwayo’s refusal to accept British domination.
These causes are discussed further below.
The proclamation of the Republic of Utrecht
At the turn of the 18th Century, Zululand covered the land north of modern Durban. In 1854 Mpande, Cetshwayo’s father, was the king of the Zulu nation. Boer setters in Northern KwaZulu Natal received a deed of cession from Mpande for an area on the border between Zululand and the Transvaal Republic. This area was to become the Republic of Utrecht. A commission was appointed in 1860 to mark the border of the new Republic and to get land from the Zulu for a road from Utrecht to St. Lucia Bay on the north coast. The commission was unsuccessful and the area became a disputed territory. Tension between the Zulus and the Boers about this land increased over the next 20 years.
Mpande had three sons and there was often conflict among the three brothers. Cetshwayo wanted to rule the Zulus and had already killed his younger brother, Mpande’s favourite son. He saw Umtonga, his older brother, as a threat and chased him into Utrecht in 1861. Cetshwayo camped an army on the border of the Boer Republic and promised the Boers a strip of land on the border if they handed his brother over. The Boers were prepared to meet his request if he spared Umtonga’s life and Mpande signed a deed giving the Boers the additional land. The extra territory extended from Rorke’s Drift on the Buffalo River to a point on the Pongola River. Utrecht expanded and this new border was officially marked in 1864.
Umtonga fled from Zululand to the Colony of Natal in 1865 and Cetshwayo felt that part of the agreement he made with the Boers had not been upheld. He reclaimed the land his father had given to the Boers in 1861. This move nearly caused a war as a Zulu army under Cetshwayo and a Boer commando under Paul Kruger positioned themselves along the border between Utrecht and Zululand. In 1869 the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Natal, Sir Anthony Musgrave, was called in to solve the argument between the two groups, but he failed to do so.
Britain’s so-called “forward policy”
In 1845 Britain proclaimed the Colony of Natal and by the 1870s Carnarvon, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, was actively trying to unify the Boer republics, traditional African groups and British colonies in South Africa under British rule.
On 12 April 1877 the Transvaal was annexed by Britain and all the problems between the Zulus and the Boers now became problems between the Zulu and the British. The Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Natal at the time was Sir Henry Bulwer. He decided to solve the border dispute over the extra strip of land between the republic of Utrecht and Zululand by setting up a commission of enquiry in February 1878. In July 1878 the commission ruled that the Zulus were in the right. Bartle Frere, the British High Commissioner in South Africa, decided that all the Boers who were living on the strip of land had to be paid for their land if they left and protected if they decided to stay. He also demanded that the Zulu army could not be called to action unless they had permission from the council of the Zulu nation and the British Government.
Britain wanted to develop Zululand economically, but also realised that the kingdom was full of potential workers for European employers. They wanted to expand their colonies and saw that the Zulu kingdom was an obstacle to their ambitions. Bartle Frere promoted a war with the Zulus to achieve his goal of adding the territory to Britain’s other colonies, even though his superiors in London warned him not to pursue a conflict. He saw the Zulus as a threat and wanted to use them as an example for all other people in South Africa who wanted to resist British control
Sir Henry Bartle Frere’s promotion of the Anglo-Zulu War
In July 1878 two wives of one of the Zulu sub-chiefs, Sihayo’s, committed adultery. The punishment for this was death so the two women and their lovers fled into the colony of Natal. Cetshwayo sent a search party after them and they were caught just inside the border with Zululand. He was not aware that this action was an offence against the British because forces from Natal often crossed the border to catch criminals. The women and their lovers were taken back to Zululand and executed.
Frere, the British High Commissioner in South Africa, used this minor event to force a war with the Zulu by demanding that Cetshwayo hand over Sihayo’s brother, who was part of the Zulu search party, and his sons. He insisted Cetshwayo pay a large fine to the British government and disband the Zulu army. Further more the Zulu military structure had to be dissolved and a British diplomat had to stay in Zululand to make sure these demands were met.
In November 1878 a meeting between Zulu and British representatives took place at the Tugela River. Frere gave Cetshwayo 20 days to hand over Sihayo’s brother, his sons and the fine, and 30 days to disband the Zulu army and allow the British diplomatic representative to confirm that he had met this demand. If Cetshwayo did not comply demands Zululand would be invaded by British forces. Because he wanted to keep his country independent the Zulu king asked Frere not to take action if he could meet the first three demands. Zululand was flooded at the time and the message was delayed. It also took longer than 20 days to deliver the fine in cattle.
Cetshwayo’s refusal to accept British domination
Cetshwayo refused to allow his kingdom to come under British control without a fight and assembled an army of 40,000 to 60,000 men. He hoped to come to a peaceful solution, but Frere’s aggressive actions resulted in an attack on the British forces on the Zululand border.
Britain invaded Zululand in January 1879 because Cetshwayo, the king of the Zulus, did not meet certain demands that Bartle Frere, British High Commissioner in South Africa, made at the time. The demands Frere's demands were that Cetshwayo hand over the brother of Zulu sub-chief Sihayo’s, his sons and a large fine of cattle as punishment for a search party that crossed into the Natal to capture Zulu fugitives. He also demanded that Cetshwayo disband the Zulu army, discard the Zulu military system, and allow a British diplomatic representative into Zululand. Cetshwayo could not meet the first three demands because Zululand was flooding and he could not deliver the fine in time.
Sieges and battles during the Anglo-Zulu War
The Anglo-Zulu War officially started on 22 January 1879 when the British centre column, with 1 600 Europeans and 2 500 locals, moved into Zululand at Rorke’s Drift and camped at Isandhlwana. Colonel Durnford was left in charge of the camp while Lord Chelmsford went to explore the area with a small group of soldiers. The Zulu army surprised the British and killed 806 Europeans and 471 black soldiers. They also destroyed all the transport the British soldiers had. Lord Chelmsford returned and found an empty camp. On 23 January he retreated to Rorke’s Drift. News of the British defeat at Isandhlwana reached England on 11 February 1879 and 10 000 more soldiers were sent to South Africa.
5 000 Europeans and 8 200 locals made up the British army under Lord Chelmsford, 3 000 local soldiers had to guard the border of the commander in chief of the British forces. Natal and 1 400 Europeans and 400 locals were stationed near Utrecht. They would enter Zululand in 3 columns, Rorke’s Drift, the Lower Tugela and Utrecht, and march to Ulundi, the capital of Zululand.
Cetshwayo sent an army to stop the main column of the British army and try to negotiate for peace. Zulu soldiers were only allowed to kill British soldiers in red uniforms, but no civilians.
There were four battles and one siege in the course of the Anglo-Zulu War. The Battle of Isandhlwana, The Battle of Rorke’s Drift, The Siege of Eshowe, The Battle of Khambula and The Battle of Ulundi.
After the Zulu attack at Isandhlwana, the Battle of Rorke’s Drift also happened on 22 January 1879. 4 000 Zulu soldiers raided the British camp. They were confident after their success at Isandhlwana, but they were driven away after 10 hours. There were only 145 soldiers, under Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead, at Rorke’s Drift and eleven of the men who participated in the battle were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. The Zulus lost 350 men in this battle and the British only 17. After the battles at Isandhlwana Rorke’s Drift and the Zulu army was tired. Cetshwayo still did not allow any of his soldiers to go into the Colony of Natal and while his army rested Lord Chelmsford reorganised his force. He was waiting for reinforcements, but on 12 March 1879 a group of 106 British soldiers with food and other provisions was attacked while they were camping on both banks of the Intombe River. 62 of the British soldiers were killed and the provisions were lost.
The right column of the British forces, under Colonel Pearson, occupied Eshowe, a mission station on the coast. This force had beaten the Zulu army at the Nyezane River. The Battle at Isandhlwana, and the defeat of the main column of the British defeat army, meant that the other two columns, right and left, were exposed. The right flank was besieged at Eshowe for 3 months.
On 7 March 1879 extra soldiers arrived in Durban and 3 400 European soldiers and 2 300 locals were sent to help their comrades at Eshowe. A Zulu force attacked the British camp on the 2nd of April, butt they were driven off. About 1 200 Zulus and 2 British soldiers died. On 3 April 1879 Eshowe was relieved.
On 28 March 1879 the left column of the British army, led by Sir Evelyn Wood, attacked a Zulu stronghold at Hlobane Mountain to draw attention away from the attack planned at Eshowe. They were caught by surprise by the main part of the Zulu army and retreated. All the black soldiers in their force were killed, along with 100 of the 400 Europeans.
Wood camped at Khambula and on 29 March a Zulu force of 20 000 men attacked him. After more than 4 hours the Zulus were driven away. 4 000 Zulus were lost and only 18 British soldiers died.
The heavy losses at Khambula and Eshowe left the Zulu forces weak and exhausted. Lord Chelmsford reorganised his forces again and in late May 1897 he was confident to conquer Zululand. The march on Ulundi began.
The first and second divisions of the British army, under Major General Crealock and Major General Newdigate had to combine forces. The second division and Sir Evelyn Wood’s column, marched from Rorke’s Drift and Khambula. It was a very difficult march because many British soldiers fell ill and the surrounding area was very harsh. Major General Newdigate was only ready to start moving in the beginning of June 1879.Newdigate and Wood reached the White Umfolozi River on 1 July 1879.
Cetshwayo pleaded for peace several times during the British advance, but he was turned down. The forces of the first and second divisions of the British army crossed the White Umfolozi River on 4 July 1879. There were 4 200 European soldiers and an unknown number of local supporters. A Zulu army of about 15 000 men attacked the British force nearly 1 mile from Ulundi. 1 500 Zulu soldiers died while only 100 British soldiers were lost. The British had won the Anglo-Zulu War. Most of the leading Zulu chiefs turned themselves over after the Zulu army was broken up, but its still took
several months for the British to suppress all resistance.
The Zulu army only won one battle during the war with the British. They were not as well armed as their enemies and did not use horses or guns during battle. Instead they used assegai, or short throwing spears and cowhide shields. Britain could also send more soldiers to support their army in South Africa while the Zulu army was limited.
Loss of life
The Anglo-Zulu War cost the British taxpayers a huge amount of money led and to the death of many Zulu and British soldiers. More than 9 000 Zulu warriors died, while the British forces suffered much smaller losses. In destroying Zulu independence the war led indirectly to the downfall of the once-proud Zulu nation. It also saddled Natal with a large war debt.
For a listing of all the British soldiers who died in the Zulu British War .
Cetshwayo’s exile and eventual death
When the British defeated the Zulu at Ulundi many chiefs surrendered. Cetshwayo fled and was pursued by Sir Garnet Wolseley, who was the commander of the British army in South Africa after Lord Chelmsford and the new high commissioner in the region. Cetshwayo was captured on 27 August 1879 and exiled to Cape Town.
After a visit to England to see Queen Victoria, the British decided to reinstate Cetshwayo as king of the Zulus in 1882, but in 1883 he was attacked by an opposing chief, Usibepu, and fled. He died shortly after that in February 1884.
The division of Zululand and blood feuds between the new chiefs
After the war, Zululand was divided into 13 regions under the supervision of among 11 Zulu chiefs, 2 Basuto and Hlubi chiefs, who had served the British, and John Dunn, a former friend of Cetshwayo. It still took months to stop all Zulu resistance. A British resident was put in place to be the communication channel between the British and the Zulu chiefs. This arrangement was not successful because the chiefs started fighting among themselves. Usibepu or Zibebu and Hamu came into conflict with the Usutu, who were Cetshwayo’s supporters. There was a lot of bloodshed and the British government decided to make Cetshwayo the king again in 1882.
When Cetshwayo returned to Ulundi, Usibepu owned his land. The land that had been given to John Dunn and the Basuto chief lay between the Tugela and Umhlatuzi Rivers and was made available to Zulus who did not want to serve Cetshwayo. Usibepu attacked Ulundi because he was unhappy that his territory was being taken away. He destroyed the city and Cetshwayo fled to the reserved area owned by John Dunn and the Basuto chief. He died in February 1884.
The annexation of Zululand to Natal
In 1887 Zululand was annexed to Natal, which means that it became part of the British colony. Britain had expanded its control in South Africa even more, and now it bordered on the independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Transvaal had regained its independence in the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880-1881 and now the British army had easier access to the Transvaal where gold had just been discovered.