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Jabulani Maphalala recalls the calamatious effects of a white man's war on the Zulu people caught between them.

THE ANGLO-BOER WAR is often described as `a domestic quarrel of the white people', as the two independent Boer republics (the South African Republic or Transvaal and the Orange Free State Republic) in the north fought against Great Britain and its two colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal) in the south of what in 1910 became known as South Africa. The African people, including the Zulu people, had long been subjugated. They had no right to vote, and resided in the `native reserves', on farms of the white people and on Crown land in Natal. Their involvement in the hostilities was not of their own choosing.

In December 1838 Boer Voortrekkers, or emigrants from the Cape Colony, had defeated the Zulu King Dingane at Ncome or Blood River, and established the Republic of Natalia, with Pietermaritzburg as its capital. They enslaved the Zulu people, used their children as slaves on the farms and forcibly evicted hundreds of Zulus from arable land. The British government was concerned about possible disturbance of the peace in the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony caused by fleeing Zulu people, and in May 1842 British forces defeated the Boers at the Battle of Khangela (Congella). The Boers then went across the Khahlamba (Drakensberg) mountains and the Republic of Natalia became the British colony of Natal in 1843, with its boundaries as the Thukela river in the north, the Indian Ocean in the east, the Mthavuna river in the south and the Khahlamba Mountains in the west. North of the Thukela river there was a sovereign Zulu state under King Mpande (r. 1840-72) and later Cetshwayo (r. 1873-79).

The British handled the land issue in Natal less brutally than the Boers had done. In 1846 the Land Boundary Commission was instituted by Governor West. This recommended the establishment of `native reserves' for the Zulu people under amakhosi (chiefs or traditional leaders), while the rest of the land was mainly set aside for the white colonists. In the reserves the Zulu governance was left intact. Amakhosi were even allowed to try civil and criminal cases. But the reports of these cases had to be presented to the magistrates and appeals against amakhosi judgements were permitted. The native reserves therefore combined the traditional Zulu system of governance with the general British law affecting the whole colony.

The traditional authority of the Zulu king was incorporated into a chain of authority that reached from the British governor, through the minister for native affairs, secretary and under-secretary for native affairs and magistrates to the amakhosi, the izinduna (headmen) and imindeni (extended families). The Boers had introduced no equivalent structure, and were only greedy for arable land and livestock. The British also undertook missionary activities which resulted in the establishment of mission stations at Groutville (Stanger), Driefontein (Ladysmith), Edendale (Pietermaritzburg) and several other places in the colony. Mission schools were made available for Christian Zulus. It can therefore fairly be argued, that at least in terms of `Western civilisation', the Zulu people in the Natal colony were ahead of their compatriots under the independent kings Mpande and Cetshwayo.

Following the annexation of Transvaal by the British in 1877, an increase in tension between the British, the Boers and Zulus led to the Anglo-Zulu War. Despite the dramatic Zulu victory at Isandhlwana, the British defeated their army at Ulundi and Cetshwayo was captured. On September 1st, 1879, the Zulu leaders surrendered. The Zulu people were placed in reserves and most arable land was given to the white people. Adopting a classic policy of divide-and-rule, the British established thirteen subkingdoms; Cetshwayo himself was banished. The Zulu people lost their unifying figure and were divided into warring factions, and from 1880 to 1889 the Zulu people north of the Thukela river were engaged in a civil war. Cetshwayo, having visited Britain and met Queen Victoria the previous year, was allowed to return in January 1883, but was given only a small portion of his old kingdom; the largest part was controlled by Prince Zibhebhu, leader of the Mandlakazi. Zibhebhu, whom the British supported, burned Cetshwayo's palace in July 1883, inflicting wounds on the King, who died a few months later.

In 1884, however, a group of about 200 Boers under Lucas Meyer supported the uSuthu faction under King Dinuzulu; this defeated Zibhebhu at the Battle of eTshaneni, north of the Mkhuze river, on June 5th, 1884. The Boers used this as an excuse to take most of the best Zulu grazing land of eBaqulusini and establish the so-called New Republic. They produced a `treaty', signed by Dinuzulu, ceding the territory. This action was condemned by the British government, which knew from its land commission of November 1878 regarding the disputed ZuluBoer territory west of Mzinyathi (Buffalo) and Ncome (Blood) rivers, that the Zulu king was only the custodian of the land and had no right in Zulu law to cede it. But the British did not immediately intervene, as they saw the Boer-Zulu land issue as one of Christianity against paganism. Instead, on October 22nd, 1886, they recognised the New Republic, and the following year Britain also annexed the Zulu territory north of the Thukela river, establishing magistracies for its administration.

Following the annexation of what remained of the Zulu territory north of the Thukela river and the defeat of the Zulu uprising led by Dinuzulu in June 1888, Dinuzulu was tried for high treason in eShowe and found guilty. In 1890 he was banished to St Helena by the British, together with his uncles, princes Ndabuko and Shingana. In January 1898 Dinuzulu was released from exile but demoted to local government induna with a small reserve of his own in the Ndwandwe magisterial division. His status was similar to that of all Zulu amakhosi in the areas under British rule; he was allowed to try civil and criminal cases but had to present his reports to white magistrates.

In the New Republic, though, hundreds of Zulus were forcibly evicted from their land by the Boers who, unlike the British, did not first establish land commissions to investigate the issues. Thus, six amakhosi who remained in the New Republic lived on Boer farms and had no rights to treat civil and criminal cases. The Zulu people worked on the farms like slaves (according to Colonel G. A. Mills's Commission of October-December 1902). Tension between the Zulu people and the Boers in the New Republic was very high by the outbreak of the AngloBoer War in 1899. The attitude of the British government to Zulu involvement in the coming conflict was clear as early as September 1899. Mr C. Bird, principal under-secretary for native affairs, made it known that, if war broke out between the British and the Boer republics, the British government wished the Zulu people to remain neutral. They were to defend themselves only if attacked by the Boers.

Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, the Boers sent Coenraad Meyer to Dinuzulu's oSuthu umuzi waseBukhosini (palace), requesting the Zulu people to be passive in the war and let the white people fight each other. Thus both white cultural groups agreed that the Zulu people should be neutral. They also agreed, however, that the Zulu people could be used as non-combatants, as scouts, drivers of wagons and leaders of teams of oxen. The numbers involved in the war are not known, but casualties were certainly far higher than the figure of thirty Zulu dead officially given to Dinuzulu.

Many amakhosi from the New Republic fled to Dinuzulu's palace in oSuthu at the outbreak of war, returning only in March 1902. The British military authorities now wanted to restore Dinuzulu to the status he had enjoyed as Zulu king, seeing this as a way of extending his activities beyond his small uSuthu reserve and helping to bring the war to a speedy end. This was not done, however, until after March 1901 when British military law was imposed on the region and the Zulu people were armed by the British.

In June 1900 the British forces occupied the town of Vryheid, capital of the New Republic. A.J. Shepstone, patriotic son of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the former secretary for native affairs in Natal, was shortly afterwards stationed there, where he worked closely with J. Roberts, the assistant British military intelligence officer. Shepstone and Roberts carefully selected Zulu scouts among the aBaqulusi people and armed them with guns. The Zulu scouts had strict orders to report only to Shepstone and Roberts. Subsequently the Zulu scouts became an effective component in the British war machine. In confrontation with Boer fighters in Schurweberg, near Vryheid, they injured two Boers and brought them back as prisoners of war. Thus, even before March 1901 when the British declared martial law in the region, Zulu scouts were already armed with guns and militarily engaging Boer fighters.

In fact, the British had broken the agreement concerning Zulu neutrality before the occupation of Vryheid. Funamalungelo, the first Zulu political organisation, had been set up demanding the franchise and equal political rights with white people in the colony. Though Christian, it seems to have been behind an incident at Krantzkloof near Pinetown, south of the Thukela river in February 1900, in which Zulus, who were already in possession of British arms, dug trenches and fired on British troops. Then, when the Boer troops captured the Nquthu district in January 1900, they captured armed Zulu policemen who had been guarding the Nquthu magistracy. Boer president Paul Kruger ordered their release, and he sent three of them to King Dinuzulu with a message that if the Boers had confiscated Zulu property they would always return it.

Following these incidents, Governor H.E. McCallum asked the Natal government to consider arming the Zulu people north of the Thukela river as active combatants under `white officers'. He was concerned that Kruger's propaganda message would be detrimental to the British military position. He pointed out that the fact the Zulu people had fired on British troops at Krantzkloof showed that they needed military control, and that the abaThembu (who were related to the Zulu people) had been armed as active combatants in the Transkei since January 1900 or earlier, and had succeeded in warding off a Boer invasion of that territory.

The Natal government turned down this request, arguing initially that Zulu methods of warfare since the days of King Shaka in the 1820s had been savage, and that women and children were always killed. This was inaccurate since warriors who surrendered were spared in Zulu warfare and the term Malushu! means `I surrender!' The elders, women and children were never killed, as is illustrated in Shaka's poem:
   The old women will remain in residential sites. The old men will remain in
   battle route

The Natal government feared that the arming of the Zulus would have dangerous consequences for the whites after the Boers were defeated, since the Zulu people would no longer fear British might. They also argued that the Zulu people south of the Thukela river were more `civilised' and `Christian' and could understand methods of civilised warfare. These Zulu, the Natal government reiterated, would feel offended by being left out when their `uncivilised' compatriots north of the Thukela were armed. There was some truth in this since `Zulu Christians' had been used against iNkosi (traditional leader) Langalibalele in 1873 and against Cetshwayo in January 1879. The Natal government was also convinced that the arming of Zulu people as active combatants would be a deviation from the agreement with the Boers before the outbreak of the war.

Towards the end of 1900 the Boer troops launched their campaign of guerrilla warfare. The British forces found it difficult to pin them down, especially in the Vryheid district, which was regarded as the best grazing land in KwaZulu-Natal. To bring the war to a speedy end the British military authorities declared martial law north of the Thukela river on March 25th, 1901. All the Zulu people residing in the magisterial districts adjoining the Vryheid district -- Nquthu, Nkandla, Mthonjaneni, Mahlabathini, Ndwandwe, Bombo and Ngwavuma -- were ordered to arm under the command of Col. H.B. Bottomley of the Imperial White Horse, and his `white officers'. The Zulu warriors were to go across the Zulu-Vryheid border, raid Boer stock, force the Boers to surrender their arms and drive the livestock to the Zulu side of the border. They were promised ten per cent of the stock looted; the British government was to get twenty-five per cent of the stock while the remaining sixty-five per cent was to be taken by Bottomley and his agents. These last were described by Charles Saunders, chief magistrate and civil commissioner, as the `dregs of humanity': some were ex-convicts.

For the military operation to succeed, the Zulu people had to be provided with guns and ammunition. Saunders argued that it would be unfair to expect the brave Zulu fighters to face Boer marksmen, while armed only with assegai spears and shields. Guns and ammunition were therefore supplied. A fortress was built about a kilometre from oSuthu. It served as a military storage depot and armoury for King Dinuzulu, and was guarded by British troops.

Dinuzulu was also issued with 3,000 rifles and revolver ammunition. The British elevated his status to that of a king for the sake of defeating their foe. He was advised to create a small western-trained military group of Zulu people known as iNkomendala. The members of this group were selected from among trusted Zulu princes and carefully chosen Zulu warriors.

A Zulu force of 6,000 men was assembled by Dinuzulu and Bottomley at oSuthu on April 4th. It was ordered to advance against the Boers who had fled with their cattle to the Dleke hill about forty kilometers from Nongoma magistracy northwards towards the Nkunzana river. The military engagement lasted for a week, April 4th-9th, and ended in a Boer defeat. Thousands of cattle, guns and ammunition left on the wagons by the fleeing Boers were captured.

The arming of the Zulu people was called off on June 2nd, 1901. But Dinuzulu was ordered to keep 3,000 armed Zulu men at oSuthu in case the military situation changed. Thus, on March 8th, 1902, the King was again ordered to send 250 armed men into the Vryheid district to assist General Bruce Hamilton remove Boer cattle from the bush. By the time the Zulu army reached Vryheid on March 22nd, 1902, its numbers had increased to 1,000 men. A force of aBaqulusi men under Sikhobobo Sibiya took up arms and joined the British against the Boers. The three-pronged attack resulted in hundreds of head of cattle collected and some Boers surrendering their arms.

Under South African Republic (Transvaal) law, any Zulus who joined the British were liable to have their property confiscated and their families sent to the British lines. There was, however, no mention in this law about the burning of imizi (thatched huts). On April 23rd, 1902, in exasperation at the prospect of losing the war and before his departure for the peace negotiations at Vereeniging, the Boer General Louis Botha ordered General M.W. Myburgh and C.F. Meyer to burn down all the huts of the aBaqulusi people under Sikhobobo and Sidunge, confiscate their cattle and send women and children to Vryheid. Thus at midnight on May 1st, 1902, Zulu women and children were dragged out of their huts to witness them razed to the ground. Their grain was burnt or confiscated and their livestock driven to Mthashan (Holkrantz).

When the half-naked women and children arrived in Vryheid, where Sikhobobo and the aBaqulusi men were accommodated at the Station Building, Sikhobobo's men vowed to teach the Boers a lesson. Shepstone and General Bruce Hamilton did not prevent Sikhobobo from recapturing his stock from Mthashana. Then on May 6th, 1902, a pitched battle took place between the Boers and Sikhobobo's men, which resulted in fifty-six Boers killed and three taken prisoner. On the Zulu side, fifty-two men died while forty-eight were wounded.

After the war ended, the British government's primary concern was reconciliation with the Boers. This is understandable in cultural terms. The New Republic was renamed `New Territories, Vryheid District', and so on. An effort was made to help the Boers rebuild their farms, while the Zulu people -- who had suffered untold misery in that district -- were told to work on the farms as they had been doing, and were given no financial assistance to rebuild their homes. The Boers objected to working with amakhosi who had taken up arms against them on the British side. The British therefore demoted the most militant amakhosi (for example Sikhobobo and Mabhekeshiya) and replaced them with more acceptable ones. There was no compensation for the aBaqulusi imizi which had been burned by the Boers.

King Dinuzulu was given a hundred head of cattle as a reward for having sent 250 armed men to assist General Bruce Hamilton. All guns and ammunition supplied to him were seized. He was prohibited from visiting the Vryheid district and restricted to his uSuthu district and subjected to the same demotion as the local government induna. From 1903 onwards rumours were circulated by government agents that he had not surrendered all the guns and that he wanted to take up arms against the Natal government. This, combined with the Bhambatha or Poll Tax uprising in 1906, resulted in his arrest in December 1907. Though released after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, he was stigmatised as a troublemaker by the whites and he died in banishment on the Farm Uitkyk on October 18th, 1913. No other amakhosi in Natal was ever compensated, despite having been promised ten per cent of the livestock that their subjects looted under the orders of Colonel Bottomley. The Zulu Christians also lost out, because they were refused silver medals for their military sacrifices. The fort built by the British near oSuthu as Dinuzulu's armoury remained until April 1910, when it was finally demolished by the Natal government.

As a result of these grievances, when the Poll Tax uprising occurred in 1906 most Zulu people were determined not to be conciliatory to the English-speaking community, feeling they had been cheated.

The Zulu desire to see the Boers defeated was primarily motivated by resentment at their cruel treatment at the hands of the Boers and by hopes for the return of their ancestral land under Boer occupation. Yet the amakhosi who fought on the British side in the Vryheid district were repaid by betrayal. Reconciliation between the Boers and British was speeded up, but for the Zulu people and their king, Dinuzulu, the oppressive status quo ante was reestablished. Ultimately, the Zulu people were in a worse position than before the outbreak of the war.


JF Maurice, History of the War in S.A. 1899-1902, (London, 1906.); R. Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray: The Story of the Boer War, (London, 1960.); J. Selby, The Boer War: A Story in Cowardice and Courage, (London, 1969); L.S. Amery, The Times History of the War in S.A., (Vols. 1-VIII, London, 1900-1909).

S. J. Maphalala is Professor in the Department of History, University of Zululand.
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Author:Maphalala, Jabulani
Publication:History Today
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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