Cetshwayo kaMpande, heir to the Zulu throne had defeated his rival and brother Mbuyazi at the Battle of Ndondakusuka. In 1875 he came to terms with his father Mpande -- he would have effective control of the Zulu nation, whilst Mpande remained titular king. When Mpande died in 1872, Cetshwayo took the throne, but his kingdom was under threat from the Boers and the British.
British Threat to Independence
The arrival in March 1877 of Sir Bartle Frere, British High Commissioner for South Africa and Commander-in-Chief of all British forces, brought a new threat to Zulu independence. The Zulu nation was now considered a threat to plans to confederate the whole of southern Africa under the British sphere of influence. Propaganda portrayed Cetshwayo as a military dictator who posed a threat to white-ruled Natal, and who prevented his people from leaving the kingdom to come and work for the whites. Unfortunately events conspired against Cetshwayo. A raid was carried out across the border into Natal by a small Zulu force to seize two women -- both wives of Cetshwayo's favourite chief, Sihayo. White settlers were furious. Additionally a couple of surveyors were assaulted whilst working near the border in Zululand, and hunts by an iButho near Rorke's Drift panicked settlers across the Buffalo River.
Ultimatum to War
On 11 December 1978 Sir Theophilus Shepstone, on Frere's behalf, presented Cetshwayo's deputation with an ultimatum. The two brothers who led the raid across the Thukela were to be handed over for trial, with an additional payment of 500 cattle for failing to do so earlier, a British Resident was to be stationed in Zululand, and the Zulu army was to be disbanded. The deadline was one month later, 11 January 1879. The ultimatum was deliberately severe, specifically written so that Cetshwayo could not possibly comply. War between Britain and the Zulu nation was now inevitable.
Lieutenant-General Sir Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, led the invasion of Zululand on 11 January, with British centre column crossing at Rorke's Drift. Additional British forces massed at Lower Drift on the Thukela River, near the coast, and on the north-western border near Utrecht.
Isandlawana and Rorke's Drift
Despite an early success at Isandlwana (22 January) where 24,000 Zulu warriors overran the British camp of 1,700 -- over 1,300 British and Imperial troops were annihilated (only 60 of the survivors were Europeans). That evening the small garrison at Rorke's Drift regained British self-respect by defending the (hospital) station against a force of more than 3,000 Zulu warriors.
Defeat at Ulundi
Cetshwayo's army was finally defeated at oNdini (Ulundi) on 4 July 1879 and his royal homestead burnt to the ground. Although Cetshwayo escaped from oNdini, he was soon captured in the Ngome Forest by British dragoons (28 August). He was informed by Shepstone that he was to be exiled from Zululand and that the nation would be divided into 13 independent chiefdoms under the authority of the British.
On 15 September 1879 Cetshwayo was dispatched to Cape Town. He was held as a prisoner of war until February 1881 when he was transferred from the castle to Oude Molen, a farm on the Cape Flats.
In 1882 Cetshwayo was permitted to travel to England for audience with Queen Victoria -- he petitioned for his return to Zululand as ruler. He was a hit amongst London society and became a favorite of the public.
Cetshwayo was returned in secret to Zululand on 10 January 1883. He was met at Port Durnford by Sir Theophilus Shepstone (who was brought out of retirement for the process). Shepstone arranged the details of Cetshwayo's restoration (29 January), but he was not permitted an army to defend his somewhat reduced 'nation' -- part of the arrangement was that the north of Zululand was to be put under the control of his rival, Zibhebhu kaMaphitha.
Defeat and Retreat
By March 1883 Zibhebhu was moving against Cetshwayo's supporters in his assigned northern territory and Cetshwayo's uSuthu marched against him. The uSuthu were defeated and driven into Transvaal and back south to oNdini. The civil war between Cetshwayo and Zibhebhu ranged across the Mahlabathini plain and the uSuthu was once again defeated. Whilst Cetshwayo and his 15-year old heir, Dinizulu, were able to escape the capital of oNdini and hide out in the Nkandla forest, the uSuthu leadership was decimated. Cetshwayo was escorted to Eshowe by Henry Francis Fynn jr, the British Resident in Zululand, on the 15 October 1883.
A Disputed Cause of Death
On the afternoon of 8 February 1884 Cetshwayo died. Although officially recorded as a heart attack (Surgeon Scott, the resident military medical officer, was refused permission to do an autopsy and so could record no other cause). However an abortive assassination attempt (by poison) was made against Mnyamana kaNgqengelele, chief of the Buthelezi and Cetshwayo's chief inDuna, around the same so time it seems likely that Cetshwayo was also poisoned.
Cetshwayo's body was returned to the Nkandla Forest for burial, and the war between his uSuthu and Zibhebhu continued. Cetshwayo's son Dinizulu, as heir to the throne, was proclaimed king on 20 May 1884.
John Laband, Rope of Sand, Jonathan Ball Publishers, South Africa, ©1995.
Donald R Morris, The Washing of the Spears, Jonathan Cape, South Africa, © 1965.
Ian Knight, The Zulus, Osprey Publishing, London, © 1989.