Browse content similar to The Zulu Kingdom. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
The mountain of Isandlwana in eastern South Africa.
On the 22nd of January, 1879, this was
the site of one of the most humiliating defeats
ever suffered by the British Army.
In just three hours, over 1,200 British troops,
armed with state-of-the-art weapons, were annihilated by an African army,
equipped only with shields, spears, and a collection of old muskets.
The enemy responsible captured the British imagination,
and went down in history as one of the most fearsome
and powerful kingdoms in Africa.
We know less about Africa's past than almost anywhere else on Earth,
but the scarcity of written records doesn't mean Africa lacks history.
In this series, I'm exploring some of the richest
and most vibrant histories in the world.
I'm travelling across South Africa
through some of the country's most spectacular landscapes
to discover how a tiny ethnic group born in a period of turmoil
could become one of the most famous and celebrated kingdoms in history.
Every February, a few thousand people
gather to celebrate contemporary Zulu identity
by taking part in a traditional South African ceremony.
This First Fruits Festival is dedicated to the small, yellow marula fruit
native to the country.
The crowds have come here to present the first harvest of the marula
to their leader King Goodwill Zwelithini.
According to tradition, the king must be the first to taste the fruit
before the people can harvest their crops.
What's happening here is more than just a celebration of Zulu culture,
it's an affirmation of the power of the king,
the king who's the embodiment of the state
and a connection to the great monarchs
who founded the Zulu nation.
Zulu identity was shaped by a series of powerful kings.
According to oral tradition,
the original Zulu chiefdom was established in the 17th century
by the founding patriarch, Malandela.
It was his son, Zulu, who gave his name to the people.
Zulu means heaven.
They became known as the Amazulu, the people of heaven.
They settled in a region
that would eventually become known as KwaZulu-Natal.
Bounded by the Drakensberg Mountains in the west
and the Indian Ocean in the East,
it's a landscape of rolling hills,
deep river gorges, and fertile grasslands.
I do love this bit of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal.
There's something about it that feels very authentic.
I mean, so much of South Africa is so like Europe
but this feels really like Africa.
At the end of the 18th century,
the Zulu were just one of a patchwork of small chiefdoms
that occupied this region.
For over a hundred years, they lived in relative peace,
raising cattle and cultivating their fields
but then everything began to change.
Trade was the catalyst for the transformation of the Zulu people
from a small local chiefdom into a major regional power.
Europeans had been trading in Southern Africa
since the 16th century.
On the West Coast, the Dutch and later the British
controlled the city of Cape Town.
While closer to Zulu territory,
the Portuguese had a trading post at Delagoa Bay.
In exchange for ivory, cattle and slaves,
the Portuguese and other European traders supplied copper, brass,
textiles and beads,
but trouble's brewing.
By the end of the 18th century,
rival ethnic groups were competing more and more aggressively
for access to trade routes that linked to Delagoa Bay.
Trade with the Portuguese was vital for local power and influence
but not everyone would get access.
Small chiefdoms were in danger of being crushed by their larger rivals
in the fight for goods to trade with the Europeans.
The small Zulu chiefdom was suddenly vulnerable.
But out of that turmoil would emerge a man
who would change Zulu history forever -
his name, Shaka.
Shaka was a king and a soldier and a founder of the Zulu nation.
In the space of 12 years, in the early 19th century,
he transformed the small Zulu chiefdom
into a large and powerful military force.
Although he became an icon of the Zulu people,
Shaka's legacy remains deeply contentious,
something not helped by the myths that surround his biography.
What's really frustrating about Shaka's life
is that are hardly any contemporaneous written records.
We have to rely on second-hand written material
and oral testimonies, most of which is conflicting.
The lack of reliable evidence
has left room for multiple interpretations of Shaka,
many of them highly romanticised.
Respected sources suggest that he was born in the 1780s,
the eldest son of a Zulu chief.
For reasons unknown, he was raised in a neighbouring chiefdom
where he learned the skills of statecraft and soldiering.
As inter-ethnic conflict erupted,
he returned to the Zulus, seized the chieftaincy
and transformed the lives of his people.
One legend portrays Shaka as a benevolent patriarch.
As a young man, he is said to have worked as a herdsman.
One day he was out in the fields when he was distracted.
As a result he lost his herd.
The shame he felt had a profound effect according to the story.
Shaka learned from his early experience as a herdsman
that it was important to look after every single member of your flock.
He spent the rest of his life trying to compensate, making sure
that security and discipline were the central focus of Zulu life.
To explore one view of how Shaka built the Zulu kingdom
I'm meeting a descendent of Shaka himself.
Before Shaka there was no Zulu empire.
Shaka, through his intelligence, is the one who created the Zulu empire.
After he came to the throne, he said, "OK, now what I'm going to do
"I will go from glen to glen.
"I will approach each and every chief
"and I will just unite people using the spear.
"I united them in order for me to establish the great Zulu empire."
But were people scared of him
or did they respect him, or was there a mixture of the two?
A mixture of the two. Some feared him.
It was for those who refused to join his faction,
you know, they knew very well what would happen to them,
a spear would be put into you.
There are so many people who said "We can not tolerate this,
"we can not live under your control."
But there must have been good reasons why people stayed
within the Zulu nation.
What was so attractive about the Zulu state that Shaka was building?
What were the wonderful things that he was giving to the people
that they didn't have before?
Well, the thing that people never had, they were not united.
They were, like, having small glens here and here.
He was emphasising unity, no separation, no isolation,
He was trying to unite the people.
He was trying to create our identity as Zulu people.
Many Zulu today venerate Shaka as a protector
and defender of the people.
They give him credit
for reforming an institution that shaped Zulu identity
and transformed its fortunes, the army.
These warriors are members of a ceremonial Zulu regiment.
Today, they perform on formal occasions
but in Shaka's time, regiments were the backbone of Zulu society.
When Shaka assumed the throne in 1816,
he decided to build upon recent innovations of local chiefs.
He introduced a system of conscription,
divided his soldiers into regiments called Amabutu
and these were to revolutionise Zulu society.
Under the Amabutu system, young men left their families
around the age of 14, to work and fight in regiments.
Separating young men from the rest of Zulu society
was a way of shifting their loyalty
from local chiefs to the Amabutu and their king.
One of the leaders of the regiment is Ungu Mizi.
So the military system, it's actually part of the culture
and the culture is part of the military system that,
in a way, it's absolutely fundamental to Zulu culture.
Under Shaka, young men in the Amabutu were not allowed to marry
and set up their own homesteads.
Marriage rights could only be earned once soldiers had reached maturity
and distinguished themselves in battle,
normally around the age of 35.
By making marriage a reward for military service,
Shaka ensured the loyalty of his men.
Shaka's also credited with introducing new fighting techniques,
including a new battle formation that proved brilliantly effective.
It became known as The Horns Of The Buffalo.
Simon, could you tell me about the battle formation that the Zulu used?
'Regiment leader Simon is giving me a demonstration.'
So this is the enemy, here?
How would the horns of the buffalo actually work,
if that was the enemy that was approaching the Zulu line?
-Can I draw it down?
-Yes, please do.
Yes. The buffalo, whole shape, it's like this.
What, they would engage with this group here?
This is the chest...
This is the chest.
..of the warriors, were the very strong
and the strongest men, used to standing.
All these youngsters, all this, round left and right,
they surrounded enemy and then the enemy will be in the middle now.
They will kill them dead.
To illustrate the battle technique more clearly,
Simon's arranging his warriors into the attack formation.
This is what I'm talking about.
So this is the strategy that Shaka actually invented?
They would form the horns of a buffalo.
At the actual head are the strongest men
and that they would hit the enemy really hard.
Hit the enemy really hard.
And then whilst the enemy's trying to deal with these big guys,
-the two horns come round and they enclose you.
-And they finish you off.
-They finish off.
This how he conquered so many tribes
and make it one big tribe - Zulu nation.
So they're actually singing
"We are the bull, but we will destroy you."
I mean, that metaphor of cattle,
it's obviously so deeply infused to the Zulu
and it's just amazing to see it brought to life
in these kinds of performances.
Shaka also transformed Zulu weaponry,
preferring a short-handled stabbing spear, used like a dagger,
to the older, long-handled throwing spear.
What is so much better about this than what went before?
Why is this such a good piece of weaponry?
Before, they used the long spears.
When they just throw these long spears like that,
it was a waste of energy,
because while they throw, missing an enemy,
the enemy will take those spears and face you again.
It was a waste.
Now that's why Shaka invented these.
Money where your mouth is, Simon.
Are you ready for this?
Yes, I'm ready.
'Shaka's warriors were instructed
'to fight their enemies to the death.'
'If they lost their spears, they weren't only vulnerable
'to the enemy, they were treated by their own leaders as cowards.'
This your spear - it's your life.
If you lose your short spear, you dead.
What you can say?
Where is your spear?
You lost it running?
You must be taken to the place called Kwa Nkata.
What would happen to you at Kwa Nkata?
If someone has done wrong, like you lost this short spear,
that's a serious case.
You'll be taken by the very strong men -
you'll be struck in the head, dead.
In that place, always the vultures are turning around that place.
As soon as you has been killed,
the vultures will get into you, take some eyes out, you know?
It's how is.
With the creation of his powerful army,
Shaka had transformed the Zulu people from a small chiefdom
into a powerful, militaristic state.
The army became the focus of Zulu life.
And, as chiefdoms started fighting each other
for access to the trade routes,
Shaka's soldiers prepared for conflict.
The early Zulu kingdom wasn't like a European kingdom
with palaces, crown jewels and a civil service.
Rather, it was a web of small communities ruled by the king
through a network of local chiefs.
It was these communities that Shaka's army was defending.
They lived in clusters of small houses
whose layout has changed little since King Shaka's time.
This is the Nkana Valley in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal.
This whole area is peppered with traditional Zulu homesteads.
I'm about to visit one.
'While the designs have changed over the years,
'the homestead remains the focal point of Zulu society.'
'I've been invited to meet the lady who lives here.'
DOGS BARK, CATTLE LOW
What a welcome!
It's a beautiful place you have here.
How many people live in a homestead of this size?
'The layout of the homestead
'reflects the structure of Zulu society as a whole.'
How beautiful. Just look at this.
'Zulu culture was patriarchal and polygamous.'
'Each house in the homestead functioned like an individual room,
'with the married man's house at the rear
'surrounded on both sides by those of his wives,
'children and extended family.
'This domestic structure was the same throughout Zulu society,
'making the homestead the smallest building block of Shaka's empire.
'And at the centre of the homestead is its most important feature.'
This is a traditional Zulu cattle corral
and they were usually placed right in the centre of a Zulu village
and that was partially for security,
but it's also a measure of the importance of cattle.
They are the central focus of Zulu society.
They were actually used as part of the Zulu economy
and they were also used for bartering.
Traditionally, a man who wished to marry
had to provide his bride's father with a gift of cattle
to compensate him for the loss of his daughter.
The distribution of cattle was both a source of conflict
and one of the ways in which warring factions made peace.
Only men were allowed in the cattle pen
and the pen itself had a spiritual status within the homestead.
The circular shape of both the cattle pen and the homestead
is not an accident.
It's a design that's both protective and defensive,
embodying the promise of security
and belonging upon which the Zulu kingdom was founded.
But for Shaka, it wasn't enough just to protect his own people.
The Zulu were just one
of a number of chiefdoms
competing for power
in a period of turmoil.
For many, it was a case of conquer or be conquered.
With his powerful new army, Shaka was able to set about
turning his Zulu chiefdom into an empire.
For four years,
Shaka then embarked on a period of aggressive regional expansion.
He annihilated his enemies and forced people off of their land.
It was a period that became known as "Mfecane" - the crushing.
Shaka built the Zulu nation by conquering these chiefdoms
and incorporating them into the larger Zulu kingdom.
Those who refused to co-operate had two options -
death or exile.
As the Zulu kingdom expanded southward,
many fled to the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains
on the fringes of Zulu territory.
Here, in this remote landscape, archaeologist Benjamin Smith
has traced the impact of Shaka's conquests.
This is on the periphery of the Mfecane main area
and what happened is that many groups fled the Mfecane
and came out into the mountains as places of refuge
to get away from Zulu imperialism
and the domination of the Zulu royal family.
And so chiefs that still wanted to retain independence
or were kicked out for some reason or another
ended up in these kind of areas
and they would come here for security and safety
and to get away from the things that are happening
in the main centre of Mfecane activity.
But before the refugees of warfare came here,
this region was already inhabited.
It was home to hunter-gathers known as the sand people.
Hardly any traces of the Mfecane remain,
but one remarkable piece of evidence survives.
Benjamin's taking me to see a tiny fragment of a sand rock painting
depicting a warrior, perhaps a refugee, from Shaka's conquests.
OK, so here we are.
There is the...
great painting of a man carrying a shield.
Probably painted in the 1810s or, reflecting on things, from 1810-1820,
exactly the time of the Mfecane.
What are we actually seeing here, Benjamin?
You can see here a human figure - back leg, front leg.
In his left arm, you can see a long spear with a long metal tip.
In his right arm, he's holding a slightly exaggerated shield
and what's noticeable about it is it's not the classic Zulu shape -
a lozenge - but it's slightly indented in the middle
and one of the things that we recognise now
is this is not a typical Zulu shield.
It's probably someone escaping from the Zulu kingdom
and coming into no-man's-land as a place of refuge.
So the person who created this may well have lived
-in the period of Shaka?
-Very, very likely.
One of these groups is fleeing from the direct rule and might of Shaka.
The Mfacane transformed southern Africa.
It was swift and uncompromising and, as a result, the Zulu nation
expanded from around 3,000 people to over quarter of a million.
For those who didn't resist, Shaka offered security,
a collective identity
and the promise of a future for their children.
But around the Zulu kingdom, southern Africa was changing.
In 1824, a group of British traders
landed in a small lagoon on the east coast of southern Africa.
Today, it's Durban, the largest city of KwaZulu-Natal.
The traders established a base
and quickly made contact with King Shaka.
Their arrival would have profound consequences for the Zulu kingdom.
This is Francis Farewell Square,
the location of Britain's first trading post in the town.
From a collection of huts on this site,
Britain traded with the Zulu in textiles and metals
and they exchanged those goods for animal hides and ivory
and those first traders' accounts
would shape the reputation of Shaka for decades.
Shaka continues to be remembered by many Zulus
as a heroic warrior statesmen
whose military conquests created a proud nation.
But 19th century British accounts of Shaka offer a darker view.
They wrote of a brutal despot who maintained internal control
by terrorising his own people.
While these accounts of Shaka are savage,
they may have been an alibi for Britain's colonial ambitions.
They cast a long shadow over his reputation.
To explore that legacy, I'm visiting the Killie Campbell Library
to meet historian, Siyabonga Mkhize.
In the early 20th century,
a British colonial official named James Stuart
recorded oral testimonies from Zulu elders,
many of them first- or second-hand accounts of Shaka's life.
They provide some of the most important historical evidence
of Shaka's biography.
Siyabonga, could you explain to me a little about James Stuart
in these archives?
Yeah. Most of the informants of James Stuart, erm,
were people who have seen Shaka or people that have seen people
that were living during Shaka's time.
For example, if you can find that we go to the information
that was given by Baleka.
Baleka was a man from the Qwabe glen.
"Shaka did many evil things to people.
"Seeing a woman who was pregnant, though she'd done him no harm,
"he ordered her to be caught, killed and cut open
"so that it could be seen in what position her child was lying."
It's shocking. Are there other negative accounts?
I'm just interested to find out that side of him.
If you can turn to this page, page ten,
you find Baleka here still talking about King Shaka.
"Baleka says that Shaka once asked a woman who was drawing water
"in an earthen pot from a stream for a drink of water.
"The woman not knowing Shaka said, 'Why don't you lap up the water
"'as the other dogs do', thereby refusing him the drink.
"Shaka marked her down.
"He then directed that she was to be put to death in order
"that he might see what kind of heart so inhospitable a person had."
Sounds like quite a ruthless picture of almost a despot.
It might be true...it might be true, it might not be true
because, during Shaka's time,
people were making a lot of stories about him.
Those stories were constructed by different people
because they wanted to find... so that others believe
that I've seen Shaka, or I've been in Shaka's court,
Then people will tell a lot of lies.
But it seems like Baleka is not a fan of Shaka
whichever way we cut it.
These are a variety of fairly awful things
that Baleka feels that Shaka has done
but are there views, by contrast, that are very positive?
He talks about Shaka as a good character or as a good king.
"My father said Shaka was a great king and very clever
"because he defeated all the chiefs in every direction.
"He was very resourceful."
You remember that clans were living independently
all over the country,
then they managed to defeat them and make them one nation.
I found that really fascinating.
There's obviously a broad range of different interpretations of Shaka.
Erm, but you know this material
probably better than anyone.
Who do you feel Shaka was? How do you feel about him?
If I can say, let's bring back Shaka now,
he can make a good politician.
For me, that's how I see Shaka.
It was just a game of the day that they could kill other people
to get what they wanted to get, but he was a great politician.
Shaka died in 1828 in his early 40s.
He'd been assassinated by his half-brothers
who seized the Zulu throne.
As happens so often with historical research,
when you get close to the subject
they seem almost to dissolve in ambiguity.
I mean, Shaka is a very complicated man. He's part despotic leader,
but, at the same time, he's a very charismatic individual
who transforms Zulu society
and one has to think that he left huge shoes to fill.
The legacy of this man is enormous.
Shaka's death marked a break with the past.
His successor King Dingane decided to build a new royal residence
in the heart of Zulu territory - the Emakhosini Valley.
This is uMgungundlovu - the site of Dingane's royal compound.
When it was built in 1829, this compound would have contained
around 1,500 small beehive-shaped houses,
clustered eight deep around a central cattle pen.
Between 5,000 and 7,000 people lived on this site.
When Dingane seized control of the Zulu throne,
he took control of a nation at its absolute zenith.
During his 12 years of rule,
Shaka had expanded Zulu territory from ten square miles
to over 12,000.
He left a standing army of more than 40,000 men
who ruled over a population of more than 250,000 people.
But the Zulu faced a new threat, and that was to come to a head here.
Beginning in 1836, groups of Boer settlers -
descendants of Dutch, German and French farmers -
set off from the Cape colony in search of new land.
Their leader was Piet Retief.
In late 1837, they arrived in Zulu territory.
After a series of skirmishes,
Dingane agreed to give them land in exchange for cattle.
To seal the deal, some 70 Boer farmers
travelled to Dingane's royal residence.
The Boers' arrival was provocative.
They rode into the royal enclosure on horseback, firing their weapons.
It was a display that Dingane interpreted
as insulting and aggressive.
Before their departure,
the Boers were invited to Dingane's homestead for a final leave-taking.
As was traditional, they were asked to leave their weapons outside.
Whilst two Zulu regiments did a ceremonial dance,
Dingane stood up, and he shouted, "Seize the wizards!"
and the Boer were taken away,
and one by one, they were clubbed to death.
The Boers were executed on a hill,
just outside the royal Zulu compound.
Their leader Piet Retief was forced to witness their deaths.
He was the last to die.
The 70 Boers were buried on this site.
The manner of the Boers' deaths only helped to reinforce their view
that the Zulu were treacherous and barbaric.
This was an act that would be avenged.
Nine months after the massacre of the Boers,
their compatriots appointed a new leader, Andreas Pretorias.
He organised a commando of 470 Boers to take the fight to the Zulu.
By the 15th of December 1838,
the Boer party had advanced towards the banks of the Ncome River.
They halted their wagons and set up camp.
The day commemorated by this monument on the spot.
What happened next would become a turning point in Zulu history.
The Boers developed a defensive strategy for dealing with attacks
from the indigenous population they encountered on their treks.
They'd circle wagons and place between them wooden fences,
and pack these spaces with straw.
This allowed for a large space in the centre
in which they could protect their families and livestock.
They called this a laager.
The Zulus attacked at dawn, but the Boers' improvised fortification
gave them a crucial tactical advantage.
The circular shape of the laager
meant that the Zulus had no clear point of attack.
In their confusion, the Zulus made a crucial tactical error.
The left horn of the Zulu army
attacked before the chest, or the right horn, were ready.
They came under sustained Boer gunfire.
They were forced to retreat, and many of them ended up in the river.
The Boers advanced,
and fired down onto the Zulus massing in the river bed.
The Zulu were unable to engage in close combat
with their short spears.
Around 3,000 Zulus were killed.
Their bodies filled the river bed, and turned the water red.
The battle became known as Blood River.
'Historian Ken Gillings has studied the impact
'of Blood River on the Zulu.'
So, Ken, what were the consequences of the loss here at Blood River?
For the first time, the Zulu had now come up against
a western method of fighting, if you like.
Volley fire, gunfire - no longer was there that close combat
which they were so used to, and they were successful with
-against indigenous opponents, if you like.
-So the precedent -
the potential vulnerability - of the Zulu strategy,
it was actually here at Blood River that that was actually found out.
-They were found wanting.
because the traditional method of Zulu attack
was one of close combat, and here it was a fortified position,
and it was simply impossible for them with the weaponry
at their disposal to break into a defensive position such as this.
The defeat at Blood River split the Zulu kingdom in two,
and plunged it into civil war.
Three decades of instability followed.
The Zulu were only just recovering,
when an event 800 miles away, deep in Boer territory
destabilised the Zulu kingdom even further.
In 1871, a labourer on a farm near the modern town of Kimberley
discovered a small white stone that caused an international sensation.
Within two years,
tens of thousands of people had descended on the area
to seek their fortunes.
And this is what they came for.
The De Beer brothers become the luckiest farmers in history,
and their land became the largest diamond mine in the world.
By the mid-1870s, the town of Kimberley had become
the African equivalent of the Klondike
filled with prospectors, speculators,
powerful European financiers.
Together with vast amounts of gold discovered in the 1880s,
diamonds would transform South Africa.
This is the big hole -
the site of the original De Beers diamond mines.
Before it was exhausted,
the mine was excavated to a depth of 1,097 metres.
The first 240 metres were dug by hand with picks and shovels,
making this one of the world's biggest man-made excavations.
It also meant, to accomplish this, the mine owners developed
a near-insatiable need for one thing - labour.
They turned to local African men, but here they encountered a problem.
The increasingly complex mining operations
required a consistent labour force,
but African workers, many from traditional chiefdoms,
tended to work in the mines for short periods and then return home,
leaving their employers in the lurch.
To control their black labour force,
the mine owners introduced barrack-style compounds.
Migrant workers had to sign up to six-month contracts,
during which they were forced to live in the compounds,
surrendering all personal freedoms.
The impact on the traditional way of life was devastating.
Young men who'd only ever experienced a barter economy
suddenly had cash in their pockets.
Ancient cultures that had endured for generations
were suddenly under attack.
Although Kimberley was 800 miles from Zulu territory,
a number of Zulu men ended up working on the diamond fields.
The McGregor Museum in Kimberley holds a remarkable collection
of photographs of those Zulu migrant workers,
dating from the earliest 20th century.
They were taken by a compound guard and amateur photographer,
'Robert Hart is the curator.'
Here's one of Duggan-Cronin's original photograph albums.
'Rather than photograph the Zulu workers in their mining clothes,
'Duggan-Cronin encouraged them to dress in their traditional costumes
'and pose in elaborate tableau.'
He took some quite startling photographs,
for example this one, which he has called A Zulu Impi On The March.
It's these mine workers in their traditional dress on a mine dam.
Here's another study. This is a portrait of a Zulu warrior.
The man's in his traditional attire.
He's obviously a very good photographer,
and they are beautiful things.
Here's another one.
"Instructions from the chief" -
the Zulu scouts.
Again, the most startling thing is the mine dam in the background.
On the part of the mine owners, there was a curiosity
for the other - they used to take visitors to see them on Sundays,
and they used to actually ask them to dress up and do these war dances.
But it is a bit like animals in the zoo,
for these people, who are so fiercely independent.
For them to then see their identity becoming something which is
just worthy of being photographed, or captured by people
on a Sunday afternoon as something that's exotic and wonderful.
It must have been humiliating at some level.
It must have been - to be reduced to a curiosity.
It's a sad story, but... beautifully illustrated.
The colonial mindset that viewed the Zulu as a exotic curiosity
contributed to what happened next.
Before the discovery of diamonds,
South Africa was an economic backwater -
now it was a source of untold wealth.
At the end of the 1870s,
the lands that contained such abundant mineral resources
were located in a patchwork of independent Boer, British
and African-controlled territories.
With so much money at stake,
and with other European powers scrambling for a piece of the action
it was a situation that British authorities were keen to regularise.
So they hatched a plan.
By drawing the different states of South Africa
into a single British-controlled territory,
the British hoped to consolidate their power, develop the economy
and suppress the growing resistance from African chiefdoms -
among them, the Zulu.
In 1878, a number of minor Zulu infringements on the border
of the colony of Natal were cited by the British authorities
as evidence of the Zulu kingdom's aggressive intentions.
The British mischievously hinted
that a Zulu invasion of Natal was imminent.
And so, on the 11th December 1878,
under a fig tree on the banks of the Tugela River,
the Zulu were issued with an ultimatum.
The ultimatum comprised a number of key demands -
the end of the Zulu army, the dismantling
of the old regiment system, and the presence of a colonial administrator
deep in the heart of Zulu territory.
Effectively, these would have combined
to mean the end of the Zulu empire.
The new leader of the Zulu nation was Cetshwayo -
he'd become king in 1872.
During his reign, he'd built relationships with the British
and reunified the Zulu nation after decades of trauma and infighting.
By 1878, only a small number of Zulu men
had gone to work on the diamond fields.
The Zulu kingdom was once again a powerful military force.
King Cetshwayo was not about to give away his empire without a fight.
On the 11th January 1879, three columns of British soldiers,
led by lieutenant-general Lord Chelmsford moved into Zululand.
The invasion force consisted of around 12,000 men,
made up of British soldiers and African support troops.
On the 20th of January, the central column set up camp,
deep inside Zulu territory.
They chose a wide expanse of land beneath a rocky outcrop,
The British troops remarked
that the distinctive mountain resembled the Egyptian Sphinx.
Lord Chelmsford believed the Zulu would employ guerrilla tactics,
rather than engage in a single large battle,
so he decided to take the fight to them.
But he was mistaken.
In what can only be described as a catastrophic mistake,
Lord Chelmsford decided to split his troops,
leading the bulk of his men down through that V in the mountains,
right deep into Zulu territory,
but what he didn't know, at that very moment,
massing on the other side of those adjacent mountains
were 20,000 Zulu troops.
Later that morning, a British patrol was out on the hills
close to Isandlwana.
They came over a ridge, and saw an astonishing sight.
Thousands of Zulu warriors, sitting on the ground in complete silence.
With the main body of the British army many miles away,
the troops at the base camp were dangerously exposed.
When the Zulu spotted the British patrol, they launched their attack.
As the British started firing their weapons,
the Zulu took on their traditional "horns of the buffalo" formation.
The toughest troops in the chest took on the British infantry.
The two horns spread out to fully surround the British positions.
The Zulu descended in their thousands,
using their short stabbing spears to attack the British
in the hand-to-hand fighting style that King Shaka had favoured.
The result was carnage.
The British were completely overwhelmed
and their camp was totally destroyed.
Over 1,200 British and African support troops were killed.
The white cairns that dot the battlefield at Isandlwana
mark the burial places of the British soldiers.
This man is the great-great grandson of one of the Zulu warriors
who fought at Isandlwana.
How does it make you feel having that personal connection
-to what happened here?
-It makes me feel proud.
Here now the Zulus are fighting within their kingdom and also
they are now aware that the British want to do away with their kingdom.
They do not want to lose it. They fight and die for it.
And do you feel that those people who died, that they died
for something which was worthwhile?
I think so.
It is the only Zulu kingdom of God, nothing else.
Losing this one, we've got nowhere to go.
Today we're here, we're proud of what they did.
It was not nice, but they did it for those descendants.
Today, it's like this, we're very proud.
Many Zulu today celebrate the Zulu military
and remember Isandlwana
as the kingdom's finest hour.
The Zulu nation had been threatened with destruction,
but its army had responded
with focus and discipline.
Their victory had embarrassed and shaken the British,
but it was a victory that would be short-lived.
Before the two horns of the Zulu army met
and fully enveloped the British,
a small band of survivors attempted to retreat.
They were trying to make their way to a small British garrison
and field hospital eight miles away.
It was known as Rorke's Drift.
At the time, it was occupied by around 150 British troops.
The field hospital here at Rorke's Drift sits on the banks
of the Buffalo River,
in what was then the British-run territory of Natal.
Now, Cetshwayo had expressly forbidden his troops
from entering the British colony, but in defiance of their king,
4,000 men, the men who made up the rump
of the earlier battle formation at Isandlwana,
entered this area with the express idea of attacking the hospital.
This was going to be a repeat of their earlier victory.
The British realised there was no point in trying to flee.
They barricaded themselves in,
and turned their buildings into a fortification.
In the late afternoon, the Zulu attacked.
They laid siege for over five hours, and at one point
actually broke through the British perimeter,
but remarkably, the British prevailed.
With thousands of rounds of ammunition
and state-of-the-art weapons,
the British were able to see off the Zulu.
The Zulu withdrew, but not before over 500 of their men were killed.
Rorke's Drift went down in history as a legendary British success.
11 of the soldiers who defended the site
received Victoria Crosses for bravery -
the highest number ever awarded to a regiment for a single battle.
But an event that went down in history
as a triumph for the British was a catastrophe for the Zulu.
Rob Caskie is an expert on the battle of Rorke's Drift.
So, Rob, why did the Zulu fail here at Rorke's Drift?
There are a number of factors as to why they lost here at Rorke's Drift.
The fact that it was a prepared defensive position.
The fact that the Zulus were over-confident
and didn't have a battle plan as to how they would attack this place.
When the initial attacks were repulsed here,
I think a huge amount of the fight was knocked out of the Zulu.
What was the Zulu's attitude to modern weaponry?
The Zulus hitherto had not really come up against
sustained modern firepower from rifles like the Martini Henry
or the Gatling gun, and I don't think they really knew
quite what to expect, and just how devastating this weapon
would be - at close range it would kill three men in a line,
and the Zulus up to that point hadn't faced weaponry of that power.
So what were the repercussions of Rorke's Drift for the Zulu?
Obviously the repercussions continued to fold out
over months and years?
Well, they did. The repercussions were enormous.
The Zulus, I think, realise now
that the British would be almost impossible to attack
if they were behind prepared positions,
and the fact that they had crossed the Buffalo River into Natal
gave the British reason to re-invade Zululand
and smash the Zulu order forever.
Five months after Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift,
the British Army returned to Zululand 25,000 strong.
This time, they were determined to finish the job.
After a series of battles, the decisive Anglo-Zulu clash
came at the town of Ulundi -
a few miles from Cetshwayo's royal compound.
This monument marks the site of the battle.
The British arranged their troops into a hollow square,
firing out from all sides.
It was the kind of fixed fortification
that had proved so successful at Rorke's Drift.
The sweeping horns of the buffalo were no match
for the British block formation,
particularly when backed by serious artillery.
The Zulu lost 1,500 men.
The British, by comparison, 13.
This was the end of the Zulu empire.
Using a well-tried divide-and-rule strategy,
the British sliced up the kingdom into 13 individual chieftaincies
each led by an enemy of King Cetshwayo.
The kingdom was plunged into a bitter civil war
in which more Zulus died than in the whole of the Anglo-Zulu conflict.
Cetshwayo was captured and imprisoned.
He eventually made his way to England to plead his case
to Queen Victoria, but he died in 1884.
The glorious kingdom that Shaka had built
had been systematically destroyed.
Despite the destruction of the independent Zulu kingdom
in the late 19th century, the Zulu nation lives on.
Though it is no longer a sovereign state with a standing army,
the Zulu people remain the largest ethnic group in South Africa.
Over the years, the Zulu military past has been glorified,
interpreted and used by different factions
for their own political purposes,
especially in South Africa's recent history.
Sometimes the portrayal of Shaka and the Zulu past
has obscured the truth, but it's served to maintain Zulu pride.
The history of the Zulu could be read as one of defeat
and disaster, but there's something else.
There's the triumph against adversity.
There's a sense of unity.
Things which continue to bind and endure.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
We know less about Africa's distant past than almost anywhere else on Earth. But the scarcity of written records doesn't mean that Africa lacks history - it is found instead in the culture, artefacts and traditions of the people. In this series, art historian Dr Gus Casely-Hayford explores some of the richest and most vibrant histories in the world, revealing fascinating stories of four complex and sophisticated civilisations: the Kingdom of Asante, the Zulu Kingdom, the Berber Kingdom of Morocco and the Kingdoms of Bunyoro & Buganda.
In this episode, Dr Casely-Hayford travels to South Africa to explore the history of one of Africa's most famous kingdoms. Visiting some of the most evocative sites in Zulu history, he examines the origins of the Zulu in the 17th century, their expansion under controversial military leader King Shaka and their brutal encounters with the Boers and the British. He also searches for the secrets behind the Zulu's cultural power and legendary military strength, and why Zulu identity continues to endure.