iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for The Zulu Nation's Rise and Fall

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player

The Zulu Nation's Rise and Fall

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 15 April 2010

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise and fall of the Zulu Nation.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Zulus were a small pastoral community of a bare few thousand people in the eastern part of what is now South Africa. Their territory was limited to about ten square miles.

But within a decade, led by their warrior king, Shaka, they had managed to carve out an empire with a population of many tens of thousands.

Shaka was a skilled politician, successfully co-opting many neighbouring peoples into his kingdom as his conquests advanced its borders.

He remains best known as a world-class military strategist, who deployed new weapons, and a devastatingly effective technique of encircling enemy troops.

But the ground for the Zulus' breathtaking expansion was shaped in part by the destabilising advance of European settlers.

It eventually brought the Zulu into confrontation both with the Afrikaners, as at the Battle of Blood River in 1838, and with the British.

In the mid-19th century, the Zulu and the British achieved a sustained period of peaceful co-existence.

But, especially after the discovery of diamonds began to transform the southern African economy, British priorities changed, and they began to push for a single confederation of the various provinces and colonies.

Zululand's independence became an obstacle, and in 1879 the British invaded.

On 22 January 1879, the Zulu were unable to overrun a tiny garrison of invaders at Rorke's Drift.

Yet on the same day, at the Battle of Isandhlwana, they inflicted a shocking defeat on the well-armed forces of the British Empire - all the more impressive given that the Zulu soldiers were predominantly armed with spears.

Nonetheless, the British invasion of Zululand was ultimately successful, and precipitated first annexation, then the kingdom's absorption into the province of Natal (today, KwaZulu-Natal).

During their heyday and in the wake of their decline alike, the Zulu became the subject of much myth-making.

To the British, the 'Black Napoleon' figure of Shaka, and the vivid image of a proud warrior race, made the Zulu an object of admiration, fear, and appalled fascination, even as the Army moved to subjugate them.

And in the decades since the demise of their independent kingdom, the triumphs of the 19th century long remained an important element of the Zulus' collective self-image.

With:

Saul David
Professor of War Studies at the University of Buckingham

Saul Dubow
Professor of History at the University of Sussex

Shula Marks
Emeritus Professor of History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Producer: Phil Tinline.

  • FURTHER READING

    Cope, Richard, ‘Ploughshare of War: The Origins of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879’ (Pietermartzburg: Natal University Press, 1999)

    David, Saul, ‘Victoria’s Wars: The Rise of Empire’ (Penguin, 2007)

    David, Saul, ‘Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879’ (Penguin, 2005)

    Dubow, Saul, ‘A Commonwealth of Knowledge: Science, Sensibility, and White South Africa 1820-2000’ (Oxford University Press, 2006)

    Guy, Jeff, ‘The View Across the River: Harriette Colenso and the Zulu Struggle Against Imperialism’ (Oxford: James Currey et al, 2002)

    Hamilton, Carolyn, ‘Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Historical Invention’ (University of Harvard Press, 1998)

    Laband, John, ‘Rope of Sand: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century’ (Johannesburg: John Ball Publishers, 1995)

    Laband, John, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997)

    Marks, Shula, ‘Reluctant Rebellion: An Assessment of the 1906-08 Disturbance in Natal’ (Clarendon Press, 1970)

    Marks, Shula, ‘Africa and Empire: W.M. Macmillan, Historian and Social Critic’ (Dartmouth Publishing Co, 1989)

    Morris, D.R., ‘The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879’ (Pocket Books; Reprinted edition, 1986)

    Wylie, Dan, ‘Myth of Iron: Shaka in History’ (Oxford: James Currey Ltd, 2006)

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • 19th Century

    Browse the 19th Century era within the In Our Time archive.

  • History archive

    Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

In Our Time Downloads

melvyn-bragg.jpg

Every episode of In Our Time - available to download to listen to when & where you want.

Free downloads

  1. Image for In Our Time Archive: Culture

    In Our Time Archive: Culture

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas as it applies to culture - from literature…

  2. Image for In Our Time Archive: History

    In Our Time Archive: History

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the people, conflicts and events that have shaped the world.

  3. Image for In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of philosophy - from ancient Greek thinkers to the…

  4. Image for In Our Time Archive: Religion

    In Our Time Archive: Religion

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of religious ideas - from the faith systems of…

  5. Image for In Our Time Archive: Science

    In Our Time Archive: Science

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas and the evolution of the sciences - from…

  6. Image for In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas - including topics drawn from philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss