Le Cetshwayo

Cetshwayo’s place of birth was his father’s kraal of Mlambongwenya, near Eshowe. He was born in a very troubled period in the history of the Zulu kingdom. At time of his birth, Shaka Zulu was wielding a very powerful command of the Zulu nation. Cetshwayo’s father was Mpande, half brother to Shaka Zulu. Though Cetshwayo was not heir to the throne, a turn of events at his early years would put him in the path to becoming the next Zulu king. Shaka Zulu was in conflict with Shoshangane, a leader of a breakaway faction that had fled the Zulu kingdom and had established their kingdom near Delagoa Bay. Cetshwayo’s father was sent to demand tribute and annex the newly established kingdom into the Zulu Kingdom. Mpande’s forces were defeated by Shoshangane’s force and he was forced to retreat. On his retreat he learned about the assassination of the King Shaka. Fearing that the same fate might befall him, he moved to Engakavini where Cetshwayo grew up. At the age of fifteen he became heir apparent. His father had become King of the Zulus following his defeat and surrender of King Dingaan’s army to Mpande in 1840.
He succeeded his father as king from 1872. Initially supported by the likes of Theophilus Shepstone but as soon as the Zulu nation became a threat to British confederation of South Africa, under the British flag, Cetshwayo became a menace. Sir Frere orchestrated a campaign to annex the Zulu kingdom even though British policy at the time was to avoid war with the Zulu kingdom. Without the full backing of the British parliament, Frere went ahead with his war plans against the Zulu kingdom. He first issued an ultimatum to King Cetshwayo to surrender his army and submit to British authority. King Cetshwayo rejected the ultimatum and war broke out between the two nations.
The Zulus won the Battle of Isandlwana, but they lost the crucial Battle of Ulundi. Cetshwayo was imprisoned and sent into exile in the Cape. He was allowed to travel to London and even met Queen Victoria, who allowed his return to rule a portion of the former Zulu kingdom. On his return, a civil war had erupted in the kingdom; Cetshwayo was forced to flee to Eshowe where he died in 1884. The doctor who examined him to determine the cause of death suspected that he was poisoned because in the early morning he was in good health and he was seeing taking his usual early morning walks. He was prevented from conducting a post mortem inquiry into the King’s cause of death by the relatives of the King when he told them that the procedure of this inquiry would involve dissecting his body. As a result, the doctor certified the cause of death as. “syncope, the result of disease of the heart”
English Heritage have added a blue plaque to 18 Melbury Road, London – the house where King Cetshwayo stayed during his brief visit to London in August 1882. The plaque was proposed by archaeologist Dr Tony Pollard, who directed the Isandlwana battlefield dig in 2000. King Cetshwayo visited England in the aftermath of the Anglo-Zulu War to argue his case for restoration; during his visit he became a firm favourite with London crowds who gathered outside 18 Melbury Road in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. He also met Queen Victoria at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight – she presented him with a silver mug, now in the KwaZulu Cultural Museum at oNdini. Partly as a result of his visit the king was restored with limited powers in 1883.
Lekker Links
South African History Online Date of Birth: 1826, emLambongwenya, South-east Zululand
Date of Death: 8 February 1884, Eshowe
Following Shaka’s assassination by Dingane (28 September 1828) and Dingane’s removal by Mpande (1839–40), the Zulu nation was fraught with uncertainty over the succession to the throne: Mpande however had legitimate sons. Succession of the Zulu monarchy was based on the first-born son of the great wife. However, in order to maintain his hold on the throne, a Zulu king quite often married his great wife late in life, or assigned the position to an existing wife late on.
Cetshwayo was born to the Zulu prince Mpande and his wife Ngqumbazi in 1826 at Mpande’s homestead, emLambongwenya, in South-east Zululand. At the time, the Zulu nation was ruled by Mpande’s brother Dingane. Cetshwayo’s name means ‘the Slandered One’ possibly referring to a rumour over his legitimacy spread by Dingane. Although Dingane had eliminated all of his other brothers, Mpande was allowed to live: he had produced two sons thus ensuring a continuation of the royal line. Neither Dingane, or Shaka his predecessor, had produced offspring.
Mpande had announced his heir at an unusually early stage – even taking the step of introducing his son, Cetshwayo, to the Boer Volksraad at Pietermaritzburg in 1839. (The Boers took a nick out of Cetshwayo’s ear to aid identification in later life – in a similar fashion to the tagging of cattle.) The Boers were aiding Mpande in his offensive against Dingane, and the provision of an heir gave him more credibility for continued good relations between Boers and the Zulu nation.
However, as Mpande aged, he became worried that Cetshwayo was gaining too much influence. Accordingly, Mpande encouraged Cetshwayo’s brother Mbuyazi with the possibility of being made heir. This was perhaps justified, since in the resultant civil war (1856) Cetshwayo retained a considerable following amongst Mpande’s izikhulu (council of elders); despite Mpande’s outspoken support for Mbuyazi.
Drought and famine hit the Zulu nation in the summer of 1852–3 and various factions looked towards civil war as an opportunity to gain cattle. As the situation worsened, Mpande made more of his support for Mbuyazi. In November 1856 Mpande granted Mbuyazi a large tract of land in south-east Zululand; at the same time he refused to meet with Cetshwayo to discuss the succession question. Conflict became inevitable when Mbuyazi and his supporters, the iziGqoza, moved to their lands just north of the Thukela River, clearing the area of Cetshwayo’s supporters.
Cetshwayo mobilised his forces, known as the uSuthu, against Mbuyazi, and the two sides met at the Thukela, near the border with Natal. Colonial traders in the area, worried by the impending conflict, sent word to Natal. John Dunn, an administrative assistant to the Natal Border Agent rushed north with 35 Frontier Policemen and a hundred African hunters. John Dunn’s force (known as iziNqobo, the Crushers) moved to ‘negotiate’ between Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi, but motivated by personal gain he offered the services of his heavily armed force to Mbuyazi.
Despite the advantage of firearms provided by John Dunn’s iziNqobo, the overwhelming numbers of the uSuthu (between 15,000 and 20,000 warriors) forced the battle held on 2 December, and Mbuyazi’s iziGqoza were driven towards the Thukela. Only about 2,000 of Mbuyazi’s 7,000 warriors survived the crossing, with a similar proportion of losses amongst the accompanying women and children.
In 1857 Cetshwayo and Mpanda came to terms: Cetshwayo would have effective control of the nation whilst Mapande would retain ‘ultimate’ authority and the title of king. That same year, Cetshwayo sought out the Colonial hunter-traders who he had fought against at Ndondakusuka. It is recorded that he desired ‘a white man as a friend to live near him and advise him’1 and someone who could provide modern firearms – the one thing his side lacked in the battle. Dunn was settled with a tract of coastal land just north of the Thukela River where he became an influential chief, and acted as the main means of communication with the British authorities and settlers of Natal.
Over the next 15 years Cetshwayo took control of the nation, re-energising the amabutho system and trying to stem the diffusion of power away from the crown and out to the izikhulu (territorial chiefs). During this period Zululand was repeatedly invaded by Boers from the South African Republic (Transvaal) who were seeking land. Cetshwayo looked for additional help against the Boers from the British in Natal.
Mpande is recorded as having died on 18 October 1872, although this was an estimate by the Colonial administrator and Secretary for Native Affairs, Sir Theophilus Shepstone. Mpande was buried with several of his servants – it was a ancient tradition for servants, wives and girls from the isigodlo (royal enclosure) to be killed and buried with the king in order to serve him in the spirit world. (Zulu tradition has it that Mpande’s grave was desecrated by British soldiers after the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 and his bones removed for display in Britain.)
Cetshwayo was crowned at a gathering at kwaNodwengu on the 22 October. This was an important pre-emptive move to maintain his independent rule of the Zulu nation. Shepstone had let it be known that as part of the British support for Cetshwayo, he would travel north from Natal and carry out a coronation with full pomp and circumstance. Shepstone and his entourage travelled to oNdini on the Mahlabathini plain for the official event on 1 September 1873. He was incensed by Cetshwayo’s earlier coronation by the izikhulu.
In 1875 Boers flooded across into Zululand, claiming land south of the Phongol River as well as attempting to tax Zulu homesteads in the north-west. Several thousand warriors were sent to the border and the Boers eventually retreated. The situation was finally alleviated when the British annexed the South African Republic in April 1877
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.
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 to be 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.
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.
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 despatched 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 favourite 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 Zibhebhu kaMaphitha.
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.
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.

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