Cetshwayo, heir to the Zulu throne had his father, Mpande, worried over his rapid gain of influence amongst the Zulu. Mpande decided therefore to encourage the rivalry between Cetshwayo and his brother Mbuyazi by suggesting Mbuyazi could be chosen instead as the royal heir. The situation became fraught, and when John Dunn, who came to negotiate a peace between the brothers, offered his services to Mbuyazi, battle was inevitable.
The Battle of Ndondakusuka
Despite the advantage of firearms provided by John Dunn's iziNqobo, the overwhelming numbers of Cetshwayo's uSuthu (between 15,000 and 20,000 warriors) forced the battle held on 2 December 1856, and Mbuyazi's iziGqoza were driven towards the Thukela. Only about 2,000 of Mbuyazi's 7,000 warriors survived the crossing, with a similar proportion of losses amongst the accompanying women and children.
Cetshwayo Takes Power
In 1857 Cetshwayo and Mpanda came to terms. Cetshwayo would have effective control of the nation whilst Mapande would retain 'ultimate' authority and the title of king. That same year, Cetshwayo sought out John Dunn and the Colonial hunter-traders who he had fought against at Ndondakusuka. It is recorded that he desired "a white man as a friend to live near him and advise him"1 and someone who could provide modern firearms -- the one thing his side lacked in the battle. Dunn was settled with a tract of coastal land just north of the Thukela River where he became an influential chief, and acted as the main means of communication with the British authorities and settlers of Natal.
Over the next 15 years Cetshwayo took control of the nation, re-energising the amaButho system and trying to stem the diffusion of power away from the crown and out to the iziKhulu (territorial chiefs). During this period Zululand was repeatedly invaded by Boers from the South African Republic (Transvaal) who were seeking land. Cetshwayo looked for additional help against the Boers from the British in Natal.
Cetshwayo King of the Zulu
Mpande is recorded as having died on 18 October 1872, although this was an estimate by the Colonial administrator and Secretary for Native Affairs, Sir Theophilus Shepstone. Mpande was buried with several of his servants -- it was a ancient tradition for servants, wives, and girls from the isiGodlo (royal enclosure) to be killed and buried with the king in order to serve him in the spirit world. (Zulu tradition has it that Mpande's grave was desecrated by British soldiers after the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 and his bones removed for display in Britain.)
Cetshwayo was crowned at a gathering at kwaNodwengu on the 22 October. This was an important pre-emptive move to maintain his independent rule of the Zulu nation. Shepstone had let it be known that as part of the British support for Cetshwayo, he would travel north from Natal and carry out a coronation with full pomp and circumstance. Shepstone and his entourage traveled to oNdini on the Mahlabathini plain for the official event on 1 September 1873. He was incensed by Cetshwayo's earlier coronation by the iziKhulu.
Boers and British
In 1875 Boers flooded across into Zululand, claiming land south of the Phongol River as well as attempting to tax Zulu homesteads in the north-west. Several thousand warriors were sent to the border and the Boers eventually retreated. The situation was finally alleviated when the British annexed the South African Republic in April 1877.
Cetshwayo and the Zulu nation now faced a new threat, British plans to confederate the whole of Southern Africa. War between the Zulu and British was looming.
1 John Laband, Rope of Sand, Jonathan Ball, p158, © 1995.