Zulu Rise & Mfecane
THE RISE OF SHAKA
In the first two decades of the 19th century,
the Zulu people grew in power and expanded their
This expansion, was in some measure a response to drought, putting pressure
on the Zulus to find new land.
In addition, the movement of Europeans into new territory, which was not theirs, contributed to a situation of flux of which the Zulus took advantage. However, the Zulu expansion and the defeat of rival Nguni kingdoms is hard to imagine without Shaka's hugely forceful personality and exacting military discipline.
EMPEROR SHAKA THE GREAT
From the tales of the war and their fame in Nguniland,
the Zulus knew how popular their fight was against Zwide.
Shaka, proud of these achievements and eager to encourage his army, addressed the regiment:
"Great nation of Zulu,
You have shown courage against a superior enemy.
The nations that spoke of you with contempt are chilled by your songs.
Kings and princes shiver in their little thrones.
Enemies flee to hide in the mountain caves."
excerpt celebrates Shaka's victory against King Zwide of the Ndwandwe
Kingdom, in 1818 at the Mhalatuse River. Taken from Zulu epic poem, Emperor
Shaka the Great, translated by Mazisi Kunene, drawing on a number of Zulu oral historians.
Shaka created a standing army of 40,000 warriors, made up of regiments separated out into age groups. The communities he defeated were plundered for cattle and grain. These attacks were not free for alls, with Zulu soldiers taking what they wanted, but highly organised raids, with all the booty becoming the property of Shaka.
EFFECTS OF ZULU EXPANSION
- The Ngwane moved northwards in response to form the Swazi kingdom.
- The Ndwandwe also went north to establish the Gaza kingdom.
- The Ndebele moved in 1840 to what
is now south western Zimbabwe.
More destruction was caused
by those whom Shaka defeated, than by his own forces. Such was the case
of the Hlubi and the Ngwane. Bereft of all social order, these refugees
took to looting and pillaging wherever they went. They reduced the landscape
in the Natal and much of the Orange Free State into a wasteland. This
period of change became known as the Mfecane,
which is said to derive originally from a Zulu word meaning "crushing".
For the past ten years the word and ideas behind it have aroused much
debate and argument.
Many South African historians now believe
that Europeans, and slave traders in particular, played a much larger
part in upheaval in the region in the first quarter of the 19th century
than was previously thought, and that too much emphasis has been put on
The black south African writer and journalist Sol Plaatje
wrote movingly about this period after Shaka's death, in a novel. Entitled
Mhudi, it focussed on the Ndebele defeat of the Barolong in the 1830's.
This is believed to be the first novel written in English by an African.
THE ADVANCE OF THE NDEBELE
"Mzilikazi's tribe (the Ndbele) originally was
a branch of the Zulu nation which Shaka once ruled with an iron rod. Irritated
by the stern rule of that monarch, Mzilikazi led out his own people who
thereupon broke away from Shaka's rule and turned their faces westward.
Sweeping through the northern areas of Port Natal, they advanced along
both banks of the Vaal River, driving terror into man and beast with whom
they came into contact.
They continued their march very much like a swarm of locusts; scattering
the Swazis, terrifying the Basuto and Bapedi on their outposts; they drove
them back to the mountains at the point of the assegai; and, trekking
through the heart of the Transvaal, they eventually invaded Bechuanaland
where they reduced the Natives to submission."
Taken from Sol Tshekisho Plaatje's
Other people profited from the chaos, and
new kingdoms arose, notably the kingdoms of Gaza and Swaziland. The Sotho
under the canny leadership of King Moshoeshoe, retreated to the mountain
of Thaba Bosiu. Here he built a mountain kingdom (modern Lesotho) that
was easy to defend against invaders.
He also cultivated the friendship of missionaries as a way of purchasing
guns and horses. But he remained in danger of being swallowed up by the
Afrikaners of Natal Province. For this reason, he agreed to become a Protectorate
under the British (Basotholand), forfeiting some of his land in the process.