The years that followed the Anglo-Zulu War became progressively harder for the Zulu people. Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, son of the Zulu king Cetshwayo who ruled during the war, had been held in exile. When Zululand was handed over to the Colony of Natal in 1897, Dinuzulu was allowed to return to his old homestead, but only as a chief and not as king.
Zululand was relatively unaffected by the Anglo-Boer war, although when one Boer Commando raided cattle and burnt the kraals of the abaQulusi, Dinuzulu protested to the British command. Potgeiter, the field cornet of the Boer Commando sent a message to the abaQulusi chief, Sikobobo, that "his people were no better than fowl-lice" and challenged him to "come to Holkrantz and retake his cattle before they were all consumed." Sikobobo rose to the challenge and on 6 May 1902 his impi attacked, killing 56 (out of 59) Boers and recapturing 380 cattle. (Unfortunately this attack lingers in the Afrikaner memory.)
After the Anglo-Boer War an increasing number of Blacks withdrew their labor from the Whites. It prompted a strong reaction, especially in Natal where agriculture was dependent on Black labor. Unfortunately for the local economy, Blacks found mine work (on the Witwatersrand) to be more lucrative and attractive - they could work for a relatively short time and then return to help support their own farmsteads.
The colonial standpoint was further aided by the effects of the rinderpest - a cattle disease which swept through southern Africa in 1895--96, killing almost 90% of the region's cattle as well as much of the indigenous game. As a result tsetse-fly infestation extended south of the Limpopo valley and tracts of land slowly returned to bush. The effect on Black society was immense, cattle was a sign of wealth, and formed an essential part of the bridewealth system -- where cattle was paid to the wife's family.
By 1905 the situation was becoming serious for both sides of the labor problem. In order to increase Black participation in the labor market the Natal government instituted a £1 poll tax on each male in Zululand increasing the financial burden on Black families and thus forcing them to earn additional funds (it would also help balance the post war recession).
Many Zulu chiefs refused to pay, others unsure of their response sent word to Dinuzulu, who they still considered king, for advice. Dinuzulu told them to pay, but still several chiefs refused. The Natal authorities sent out the police to collect the tax.
In February 1906 two white police officers were killed in the Richmond district of Natal by armed Zulus -- martial law was proclaimed and the Natal militia was mobilized, from amongst those arrested 12 men were executed. In the foment which ensued a leader emerged: Bambatha kaMancinza, one of the chiefs of the Zondi clan who lived in the Mpanza valley on the Natal side of the Tugela, in the Umvoti district (near Greytown).
Bambatha was a chief of no great rank, in his mid-forties, and with a reputation for faction fighting. He had been unable to convince his people to pay the poll tax, and had held back his own payment, refusing to go to the local magistrate when summoned, for fear of arrest. When the police were sent to arrest him he slipped across the Tugela into Zululand to consult Dinuzulu.