Cetshwayo: Did a Zulu King Beat the British Army?
Editor’s note: For those who are wondering about the retro title of this black-history series, please take a moment to learn about historian Joel A. Rogers, author of the 1934 book 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof, to whom these “amazing facts” are an homage.
Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 84: Which Zulu king led his men to victory over British invaders and mounted warfare that killed a French “prince”?
“The distress, anxiety, and humiliation felt here are indescribable,” a correspondent for the Irish Times wrote from Cape Town, South Africa, on Jan. 24, 1879. Here’s the surprise: He wasn’t referring to the subjugation of the South African people by the powers of Europe, but to the British army, which two days earlier had suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Zulu warriors on the borderland between the Zulu kingdom and Natal. However short-lived the Zulus’ victory was, the Battle of Isandlwana remains one of the all-time David versus Goliath stories.
The leader of the Zulus was King Cetshwayo, the nephew-successor of the legendary Shaka Zulu (ca. 1787-1828), who, early in the 19th century, had united scores of disparate chiefdoms to form his kingdom. Cetshwayo had inherited Shaka’s boldness, and the rout of the British at Isandlwana by his army at the start of the Anglo-Zulu War shocked the world. That it would soon prove to be only a temporary setback to the British, an aberrant prequel to an age of colonial conquest in southern Africa, makes it all the more fascinating and poignant.
Cetshwayo’s Early Years and Rise to the Zulu Throne
Cetshwayo kaMpande was born in emLambongwenya in South Africa around 1826. His uncle Shaka presided over the Zulu Kingdom from 1816 until his death in 1828. His father, Mpande kaSenzangakhona, was Shaka’s half-brother and became king of the Zulus in 1840, initially naming Cetshwayo his successor. Mpande, however, had 29 wives and, as time passed, considered naming a different wife, Monase, as “chief wife,” which would have made her son, Mublazi, his heir. That wasn’t all, as Michael Mahoney writes in the Dictionary of African Biography. Mpande also was jealous that Cetshwayo was becoming more popular than he. When it came to choosing sides, as John Laband writes in his 1995 book Rope of Sand: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Kingdom in the Nineteenth Century, most stood with Cetshwayo, and at the 1856 battle of Ndondakusuka, his side triumphed and his rival heir, Mublazi, was killed. From then on, Cetshwayo’s father was a leader in name only, while Cetshwayo was regarded as the Zulus’ true king. In 1872, it became official.
READ MORE via Cetshwayo: Did a Zulu King Beat the British Army? – The Root.
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