Though southern Africa was a region marked by frequent conflict between its diverse peoples
throughout the 19th century, the proud martial traditions of the Zulu people made them effective
military contenders, and the Zulu Wars had a serious impact on all the groups of the area. It was
King Shaka who perfected the Zulu's brilliant military organization, dominating or dispersing several
other Bantu peoples as he did so. Shaka defeated both the Mthethwa and the Ndwandwe during his
rise to power and continued to expand the Zulu Empire in northern Natal until his death in 1828.
His successor King Dingane, however, faced a more complicated situation in the 1830s as both the
Boers and the British developed an interest in Natal. As the Boers undertook their Great Trek into the
South African interior to establish their own states away from British rule, they crossed the territory of
and engaged in military conflict with various African peoples whom they defeated. In February 1838,
near their settlement at Durban, several Boer leaders and many settlers were massacred by the
forces of Dingane. In December of that year, at the Battle of Blood River, the Boers retaliated and
decisively defeated Dingane, and after another battle at Magango in January 1840, Dingane's brother
Mpande made peace with the Boers and granted them the southern area of Natal.
In the following years, the Zulu resisted Boer efforts to further expand their territory and remained one
of the few South African peoples whose territory had not been annexed by the British government in
the Cape Colony. After the British annexed the Boer's South African Republic, Zulu king Cetshwayo
in 1878 demanded arbitration over a land dispute that had been dragging on for years over frontier
lands in the Transvaal. The arbitration commission found in Cetshwayo's favor but demanded that in
return for the territory the Zulu disarm themselves, break up their military organizations, and accept a
British resident to control their affairs. Cetshwayo refused. The British invaded in January 1879 and
were slaughtered by Cetshwayo's army at the Battle of Isandhlwana. Six months later, however, the
British reversed that loss, triumphing through epic defense and superior technology, finally defeating
the Zulus at the Battle of Ulundi in July 1879.
Edgerton, Robert B. Like Lions They Fought: The Zulu War and the Last Black Empire in South Africa. New York: Free Press,
1988; Guy, Jeff. The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom: The Civil War in Zululand, 1879–1884. London: Longman, 1979; Laband,
John. The Rise & Fall of the Zulu Nation. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1997; Taylor, Stephen. Shaka's Children: A History
of the Zulu People. London: HarperCollins, 1994.
CITATION: MLA STYLE
"Zulu Wars." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 9 Feb. 2010. <http://www.worldhistory.abc-clio.com>.