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  • For background on the Mthethwa-Zulu Military Reforms and the Buffalo Horns Formation of Dingiswayo andShaka Zulu – CLICK HERE
  • For the continuation of Shaka Zulu’s reign – CLICK HERE

The Zulus scramble for stability after Dingane replaces Shaka (his half-brother) as king of the Zulus, but this isn’t the only issue plaguing this young kingdom. a new threat arrives at their doorstep as Dutch speaking pastoralists migrate out of the British Cape Colony and seek independence, freedom and grazing lands within the African frontier. These ‘Boers’ are both skilled horseman and renowned marksmen, utilizing firearms and cannons far more advanced than what the Zulus can muster (the assegai [spear] and ox-hide shield) and cavalry capable of outrunning and outmaneuvering the Zulus on flat terrain. The Zulus far outnumber the Boers; with knowledge of terrain, expertly trained warriors and masterful tacticians they too pose a viable threat.


Dingane successfully assassinated Shaka he took the throne and attempted to
stabilize his rule by killing off those who remained loyal to Shaka, allowing
Zulu forces to marry as well as bribing them with cattle. Dingane
built the grand ikhanda (military
complex) of UmGungundlovu (“the secret conclave of the elephant” ,
“the place of the elephant”
) and set it up as his capital in 1829. The word Indlovu itself means
elephant, and it was a title which often referred to Zulu kings; the name of
the ikhanda could also be a reference to an area where Shaka would send
warriors to hunt for ivory, which would be sold to Port Natal traders.

^ Osprey – ‘Men-at-Arms’ series – The Zulu War – Zulu village

The Qwabe tribe
under the leadership of Chief Nqetho deserted the Zulu kingdom, among many
others. Soon another threat arose in Natal; confrontational elephant hunters
filled the land as well as Africans fleeing the Zulu Empire and allying
themselves with the Europeans, refugees with a history of distrust towards the Zulu kingdom. The Zulu
kingdom had shrank in numbers and had created many allies, now another unlikely
threat arose from the arrival of the Voortrekkers.

Cape Colony and the

In 1602 the Dutch Republic (Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden,
”Republic of the Seven United Netherlands”)
sought to expand commercially
so they formed the Dutch East India Company,
also known as the VOC (Dutch:
Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, “United East-India Company”).

^ Trade network of the Dutch East India Company (VOC)

In 1648 a party became stranded at Table Bay and there they saw a land
with the potential for great wealth and so in 1652 a party was sent with the purpose of building a fort and
vegetable gardens. 

^ Jan van Riebeeck arriving at the
Cape of Good Hope

Jan van Riebeeck (member of the VOC) had also proposed the trading of South African
animal hides to the Japanese so he sailed 3 ships named the Dromedaris, Reijger
and Goede Hoop, on the 6th of April 1652 they arrived at the
area that would later be named the Cape
of Good Hope
and established the Fort
de Goede Hoop (Fort of Good Hope);
this outpost would also provide
sailors traveling to and from Asia with provisions.

^ Fort of Good Hope

The Great Trek

On the 18th of January 1795, amid the uproar of war and
revolution, Prince William V (the last stadtholder) of
Orange fled to England and quickly instructed his Dutch colonies to relinquish
themselves over to the British where they would be safe from the French. The
French took over the Dutch Republic and soon after established it as a sister
republic client state known as the Batavian Republic.

The British now occupying the Cape Colony, guarded it against
French advances; switching hands a few more times, it was eventually under the definite
control of the British. Under
British rule the Dutch speaking inhabitants began to feel as though they were
being treated like secondhand citizens, a domino effect of circumstances led to
British rule falling out of favor and the migration of many of the Dutch into
the interior of South Africa. One event that led to this was ‘The Slachter’s Nek (“Butchers Neck”) Rebellion of 1815-1816’ which was a small uprising in which 5 Boers were charged
with treason and then sentenced to death by hanging. Four of the ropes broke so
they decided to, despite public outcry, hang them again.

^ Growth of the Cape Colony

Early on
the Kaapkolonie (“Cape Colony”) was
mostly made up of lower class Dutchmen but they began losing land to the many
migrants that flooded into South Africa. Between 1688 and 1689 a wave of French refugees surged in, as well as about
4,000 British settlers in 1820 and
slaves from India and Africa who came to incorporate more than half of the
population. In time these Boers
(Dutch “farmer” class) who were predominantly of Dutch ancestry became a mixed society which also consisted
of French Huguenots and German protestants. The Boers possessed slaves, so with the abolishment of
slavery by the British Cape Colony in 1834
(a year after the British Abolition Act
of 1833
) the Boers lost their strong labor force and weren’t sufficiently
compensated for freeing their slaves; slaves were also given equal rights.

The Boers
were semi-nomadic pastoralists and farmers that lived within the realm of the
Cape Colony, tough and rugged pioneers that were as skilled in marksmanship as they
were hunters and were said to outmatch the Brits in horsemanship. Their high
quality wine, cattle and wheat were their chief exports. In the eyes of the
Boers the (British) East India Company grew tyrannical; taking large portions
of their produce, forcing them into semi-servitude along with the outlawing of slavery
and emigration (opposite of immigration).

The Boers,
knowing that much of South Africa became depopulated under the Mfecane (“crushing, scattering, forced migration” incited by the Zulus under
Shaka, the Matabele under Mthwakazi, the Ndwandwe under Zwide and many others;
between 1-2 million people are said to have died during the Mfecane
), saw
the frontier as an opportune place to thrive as their culture and nature was
suited to an independent nomadic lifestyle (they are often compared to the
American frontiersmen and pioneers that ventured into the Old West before the
expansion of European settlement, when the lands were inhabited by natives).

^ Voortrekkers in a 1909 illustration 

“- a drifting spirit was in our
hearts, and we ourselves could not understand it. We just sold our farms and
set out north-westwards to find a new home.”
The Great Trek by Oliver Ransford

In 1899 Winston
was a war correspondent for the Morning Post during the Second Boer
War (1899-1902) and while traveling in an armored train that was ambushed by
Boers and was subsequently captured:

men they were, these Boers! I thought of them as I had seen them in the morning
riding forward through the rain—thousands of independent riflemen, thinking for
themselves, possessed of beautiful weapons, led with skill, living as they rode
without commissariat or transport or ammunition column, moving like the wind,
and supported by iron constitutions and a stern, hard Old Testament God.

The Boers, feeling
oppressed, migrated out of the British Cape Colony into South Africa’s interior
looking for pastoral lands beyond the reach of British rule, this became known
as The Great Trek. While migrating inland
they came into contact and conflict with many African peoples, one of their
major adversaries were the powerful Mthwakazi under Mzilikazi (a people that Dingane
had trouble subduing) who they defeated and drove off in 1836.

Piet Retief (Delegation)

^ Boers approaching Dingane, the Zulu chief by Severino Baraldi

In early November these Voortrekkers (pioneers, “fore–migraters, travelers, pullers”) camped by
the Drakensburg mountains and the surrounding rivers on the outskirts of
Zululand. King Dingane of the Zulu saw
them as a growing threat looming at their borders, warring with nations and ousting
them out of their lands; the inhabitants of Natal are also believed to have had
convinced their Zulu allies into killing them since they did not want them
entering Natal (It is also stated that
they believed that the Voortrekkers were tagati or umthakathi [wizards or
witches who use potions to harm and kill]
who meant them harm; according to
Zulu tradition the Zulu heard the galloping of horse hooves around the city,
this led them to believe that the Voortrekkers planned on surrounding and
ambushing them).

^ Osprey – ‘Elite’ series – Zulus – The court of Dingane 1830’s

On the 5th of November Retief visited Dingane
in order to negotiate the cession of land in Natal region of Zululand, just as
Dingane had thought, the threat he feared had now arrived at his doorstep. Just
a month earlier Dingane’s royal cattle had been robbed by men dressed as Boers
but Pit Retief accused the Tlokwa (Wild Cat people), stating their known
affection towards white man’s clothing. Dingane agreed to give them land (according to Zulu sources the giving of land permanently to a person
was not part of their custom
) in exchange for their retrieval of cattle
that was stolen by the Tlokwa,
though this mission is seen by some as Dingane’s tactical attempt at killing
off or weakening both the Boers and the Tlokwa. 

After accomplishing the task Dingane
asked them for the guns and horses that they had taken from the Tlokwa but the
Voortrekkers refused since the only thing that belonged to the king was the
cattle that were stolen (the Boer also stole from the Tlokwa, far more cattle
than necessary), Dingane was displeased by this, he invited them to a farewell
party on the 6th of January where
the Zulus danced around the unarmed visitors. Dingane then
gave out the signal ‘Bulalani abathakathi!’
(“Slay the wizards”)
and so his men captured Piet Retief and his followers,
took them to KwaMatiwane (“Matiwane’s
”) and then clubbed and impaled/skewered them to death.

^ Dingane ordering the killing Piet Retief

Piet Retief was
killed last so he could witness the deaths of his followers (his son being one
of them) and their bodies were left to be eaten by vultures, this massacre of
about 100 people (30 of which were African servants) became known as the Retief Massacre (Piet Relief’s liver
and heart were removed and presented to Dingane).

Sidenote #1: Matiwane’s Hill

chief of the amaNgwane, was a great conqueror whose people were forced out by
the Mfecane (“the crushing”). Under the rule of Matiwane the
amaNgwane conquered many peoples until eventually defeated by the Colonial
powers an fled into Zululand as an exile. Dingane would later order his execution
by having 2 pegs rammed through his nostrils and into his brain.

“This latter (Dingane) no doubt while
considering his plans, accommodated him (Matiwane) for a time with a site
nearby, over the Mkumbane on the ridge called kwa Hlomambuto (“mustering of the
soldiers”), where Retief would later lie buried.”
– Bryant, Olden Times

A common
mistake made was that kwa Hlomambuto was the execution hill but the kwa
Hlomambuto and kwaMatiwane are actually two different locations, the first
being a further location where the Zulus were usually mustered while the latter
was the execution hill.

When Owen
spoke to Dingane about the existence of a hell, Dingane replied: “The chief who lives there (pointing to a
rocky hill in the distance) is Matiwane, head of the amaNgwane. I put him to
death, and made him the devil chief of all wicked people who die. You see then,
there are but two chiefs in this country, Matiwane and myself, I am the great
chief-the God of the living, Matiwane is the great chief of the wicked”
Diary, p. 174. Hulley’s Account. V.R.S, No.

was not allowed within the kraal of Dingane so those who were to be executed
were taken to kwaMatiwane where they would be clubbed to death, impaled with a stake
(2 inches in diameter, skewered from anus
upward and left to die
) or have their skulls shattered with rocks. The corpses would lay there on the hill, being
fed on by birds and beasts alike; vultures (which
Dingane referred to as his children
) were said to fly in circles around the
trail area and the kwaMatiwane Hill (this
vulture story is sometimes attributed to Shaka instead

^ Monument commemorating the Retief delegation that was massacred by Dingane

The Bloukrans (Weenen,
Weeping”) Massacre

The Retief
party hadn’t returned and so concerned were the encamped Voortrekkers that Gert
Maritz warned the other families to form laagers (“camp”, wagons arranged into a circular
formation to act as a type of barricade or fort used to keep them, their horses
and cattle safe from enemies and animals)
but most dismissed him. After the
Piet Retief massacre Dingane sent his impis
(Zulu regiments) to destroy Voortrekker camps which sat at the western border
of the Zulu kingdom, the Drakensberg and its surrounding rivers.

midnight before the offensive the Zulus formed a giant Buffalo Horns formation
and between the 16th and 18th of
they launched their assault, The Zulu (Chest and Right Horn) flooded towards the unsuspecting Voortrekkers
in the under the cover of night, many were slain; men, woman and children. A
man by the name of Daniel Bezuidenhout was woken up by the barking of dogs and
so was able to escape westward to warn other families. Although they too were
warned, the camps still fell to the Zulus but not all was lost as many
Voortrekker camps were safely stationed beyond flooded rivers

^ Weenen massacre – Zulus killed hundreds of Boer settlers (1838)

A camp by the name of Rensburgspruit
was attacked by the Zulus (left horn) so
they fled up the Rensburgkoppie Hill where, with limited ammunition, they held
the Zulus off while safe behind a laager. Then there arrived a horseman by the
name of Marthinus Oosthuizen who rushed to their camp to retrieve ammunition
for them and then, under cover fire assisted to him by those on the hill,  broke through the enemy ranks toward the hill
where they were now able to successfully fight off the Zulus. In the end the Zulu right flankers and chest were scattered and disorganized,
carrying off loot and hindered by darkness, while the left flankers were held
off and forced to flee.

In the Bloukrans Massacre over 530 were killed, 40 Boer men and 56 Boer
women were lost but the majority of the deaths (430) were made up of native
Africans servants (over 250 Basuto and Khoikhoi) and Boer children (185).
Miraculously 2 females, Johanna Cornelia van der Merwe (girl of 12) and
Catherina Prinsloo survived the massacre but were both left with more than 40
wounds all together and were found soon after, they both lived on to old age.

“There were mutilated bodies everywhere,
blood was dripping from the ox wagons and babies were trodden on under the
wagons’ wheels-” 
– Langner

After these
massacres the Voortrekkers sought aid; namely Piet Uys and Hendrik Potgieter who met up at the Blaukraans River. Piet Uys was made leader of the commando forces but Hendrik Potgieter
argued that he wanted to lead his men and so both were set up as the leaders of
these two forces which were supposed to fight jointly. This division of command
would prove to be their undoing. 

Commando System

While other
armies of the time took a
fair amount of time to
organize and mobilize, the Boers were almost always ready; these Kommandos (“command”, Boer militia regiment) were militias that were organized
from the locals, aged between 16 and 60, they would have to supply themselves
with a gun, horse, rations and ammunition. The Kommandos were led by
Kommandants and would usually take on the names of their leaders or the regions
and settlements they were gathered from (examples: The Piet Retief Commando led
by Piet Retief and the Drakensberg Commando formed from the Drakensberg region).

of Italeni, 
April 1838

^ Osprey – ‘Men at Arms’ series –
Boer Wars 1836-98 – Voortrekkers in the Transvaal – Boer Voortrekker, the horsemen in the back was an African agterryer

“Uys at Winburg responded at
once and came riding down the Drakensberg passes with welcome reinforcements of
men and ammunition. His intense pugnacious spirit was not so much responding to
the siren song of Natalland, as pulled now by a very real concern for the
safety of his fellow countrymen. Uys was followed, with noticeably less
enthusiasm, by Hendrik Potgieter and his fighting men, muttering and fretful .
. .”
– The Great Trek by Oliver Ransford

The two commandos made up of 347 mounted men led by Piet Uys and Hendrik
Potgieter made their way to the Babanango Mountain Range and while there they
captured Zulu warriors that informed them that the main Zulu force was camped
near their capital (UmGungundlovu), they advanced toward the city. Making it to the Italeni (Little
Itala mountain) they saw there was a narrow pass between two hills which Piet Uys
decided to traverse, suddenly a group of Zulus were spotted at the other end. Piet
Uys had his men dismount (the rugged
terrain of this area took the advantage of cavalry away from the Boers; the Zulus are also noted to have been as fast on foot as the horsemen were due to the rough terrain)
fire volleys at the enemy, the first two lines of impi warriors fell rapidly,
causing the third to rout which gave the impression that the Voortrekkers had
won the skirmish; the Zulus fled and the Boers under Piet Uys pursued them.

Comrades, the soldiers of the murder are
there. Let us fall on them
.” – Piet Uys 

Suddenly two grand Zulu forces revealed themselves atop the two hills, Piet
Uys took on the one on his right while Potgeiter made a half ass attempt
against the left hill before retreating. The left hill Zulu army now swung around
and flanked Piet Uys’ force; blocking their escape and beating their ox hide
shields so loudly that the Boer horses began to panic. Seeing the Zulus
advancing at his rear he sent a messenger (Gert Rudolph) to ask Hendrik Potgieter
to return to the battle.

Pieter Uys had his men fire volleys into the Zulus blocking their exit
and then charge them, most escaped (the messenger reporting to Potgeiter, “Our road lies forward”, asking him to
protect Piet Uy’s rear flank) lest Piet Uys, his son Dirk Cornelis Uys (14
years old) and about 19 others. Hendrik Potgieter could’ve easily outflanked
the Zulu force trapping Piet Uys’ force but he instead dismissed his pleas for

^ Osprey – ‘Warrior’ series – Zulu
1816-1906 – The ‘beast’s horns’

This retreat from the field left Piet Uys and his commando alone against
an entire Zulu army of 6-8,000 men. Piet Uys and his 14 years old son charged
forward to assist comrades that had been ambushed, th ey fought bravely, loading
and firing as fast as they could but the Zulus appeared to be everywhere. Seeming
to sprouting from their very feet, jumping out from behind every bush and rock in sight, the horns
of the beast had closed in around them (Beast’s Horns Formation).

Piet Uys was attacked by a Zulu, the assegai (spear) seriously wounded him;
he withdrew the spear from his side and the blood loss was said to be heavy. Although
suffering from incredible pain, Piet Uys lifted a fellow soldier onto his horse
and yelled out, “Fight your way out, men.
I have been mortally wounded
”. Piet Uys fell off his horse so his son
rushed towards his dying father, Zulu warriors rushed towards them and young
Dirk Uys took out three of them before also falling to the Zulu spear (assegai).
Desperate attempts to flee on foot and horseback were met with savage wounds
like an account stating that a Zulu flung an assegai at Pieter Nel and the
weapon pierced his left cheek while another later struck him between the
shoulder blades, the Zulus then quickly encircled him.

^ Dirkie Uys defends his father with his own life from a panel at the Voortrekker Monument

Uys and his son died, as did many more and so when Hendrik
Potgieter returned to camp he was shamed by his community, cries of traitor and
coward were directed his way, even accusations that he purposely led Uys’ commando
into an ambush. Due to his ‘cowardly’ retreat from the battlefield his commando
became known as the Vlugkommando (Flight Commando). Though
grieved, Hendrik Potgieter saw that an advance through the enemy and to Piet
Uys was too dangerous and risky; he is noted as being of cautious mind. He was
also an open opponent of settling in the Natal region of Zululand, this battle
and the massacres were proof to him the dangers of settling in such a land.

Battle of Veglaer – 
August 13th-15th, 1838

Low sanitation, lack of reinforcements, crops and good
grazing land led to low morale and poor health among the Voortrekkers and
cattle. At this low point a force of 10,000 Zulus (ten Zulu regiments) under
the command of InKosi Ndlela kaSompisi launched an assault against the
Voortrekker Gatsrand Laager near the Bushmans river (Estcourt, Natal) under the
leadership of Johan Hendrik. The Zulus attempted to set the laager on fire but
the Boer cavalrymen rushed forward and dispersed them, on the Zulus’ second
attempt they were able to set ablaze the grass around the laager and on the
third the Zulus called off their attack as they had lost hundreds of men while
any killing one Voortrekker; however they were successful in taking most of the
Voortrekker’s livestock. This battle was yet example of how effective laagers
were against Zulu tactics, the site was later named the Veglaer (Fighting Laager).

Osprey – ‘Elite’ series – Zulus – Skirmish between Boers and Zulus, 1838

To be noted is the fact that the Zulus flung throwing
spears over and into the laager, it was Dingane himself that reintroduced these
weapons after Shaka had outlawed them. Although Shaka was innovative and a
military genius, their reemergence under Dingane shows how the Zulu army
evolved to suit the enemy they fought (this would happen once again when they
fought the British during the Anglo-Zulu War). Throwing spears could be thrown
accurately within 40 yards (120 feet or 36.57 meters) and the average Boer
firearm could shoot accurately within 100 yards (300 feet or 91.44 meters) but
took long to reload and ready for the next shot.


Now we come to Andries
, a strong figure standing 6 ft. tall, potbellied, charismatic
man called Ngalonkulu (“brawny arms”) by the Zulus; The Trekkers of Natal asked
him to leave the Cape Colony and rush to their rescue.

He brought along with him 470 “whites” and 350 “coloreds”,
sixty wagons, firearms, gunpowder, 2-3 small cannons and provisions; he quickly instilled upon his men strict discipline,
military training, and instilled in them the importance of the laager, setting
the laager formation at the end of every day and posting up lookouts. A “clergyman”
by the name of Erasmus Smit led a service in which the Voortrekkers all agreed
that a church would be built on the location that the Zulus met defeat, this
would be repeated every night until the covenant was complete. In their culture
the building of a church was a symbol of settlement.

“My brothers and fellow citizens, here we
stand in the presence of the Holy God, creator of heaven and earth, to make a
vow unto Him, that if His protection shall be with us and He give our enemy
into our hand so that we might be victorious over him, that this day and date
every year shall be spent as a memorial and a day of thanksgiving, just as a
Sabbath is spent and that we shall erect a temple to His honor wherever it will
be pleasing to Him and that we shall also instruct our children that they must
also share in it, as well as for our generations yet to come. Because the Honor
of His name shall thereby be glorified and the glory and honor of the victory
shall be given Him.“ 

of Blood River –
16 December, 1838

Instead of playing to the enemy’s strengths and fighting
their battles, as they had done before and fell victim to an ambush, Andries Pretorius
decided this time to take on a defensive position and lure the Zulus to them;
he had the Voortrekkers play to their strengths and so he trained them in the use
of the laager as a defensive tactical battle formation.

Placing the laager with the Ncome River on one side and a
deep gorge on the other, this limited the directions from which they could be
attacked. The remaining sides from which the enemy could attack were flat and
vast plains which were advantageous for firearm volleys. Each Voortrekker was
armed with 3 muskets each, being able to fire off about 3 shots per minute over
a long distance. To hinder the success of a Zulu attack by night they tied
lanterns to whips and hung them above the wagons that made up the laager (though
others dispute this saying that the light was used so the riflemen could see
and therefore aim more accurately).

^ Lagger at the Blood River

The Zulus preferred for Pretorius to attack them so they
could then lure them into an ambush but Pretorius wouldn’t fall for it so the
Zulus were forced to engage, The Zulu left horn positioned itself near the
laager while the right horn and chest were still on the other side of the Ncome
River atop the hills. The left horn was to remain steady at a safe distance and wait
until the chest and right horns crossed the Ncome River; instead they charged
forward at the sight of daylight and were repelled back, wave after wave, falling.
The left horn fled back towards a ravine and while hiding behind its steep slopes,
cramped and isolated, a band of Boers had rushed forward to the ravine and shot
down at them (like shooting fish in a barrel).

“A severe fire was opened on them. More
than 400 fell in the attack on the ravine [donga]. Then the word of the Lord
was fulfilled: ‘By one way shall your enemies come,  but by the blessings of the Lord shall they
fly before your face.” They now offered no further resistance. We were on the
right and left, and they were huddled together. We were animated by great
– Chaplain Cilliers

Now the chest and right horn had finally crossed the Ncome River and the Zulus approached the wagons and when close enough the
densely packed Zulus were shot with 3 consecutive volleys before even
initiating their charge and so they fell back to a safer position; this was to
the Voortrekkers advantage as now their cannons could cool down. The Zulus changed
their strategy, now charging in less densely packed regiments they were now
harder to hit but still sustained enough casualties to warrant another retreat.

^ Burning (1909) representing the Boer women reloading guns behind carts laager during the Battle of Blood River

The Voortrekker cannons took out two of the Zulu princes, the Zulus were being cut down volley
after volley, shredding the right horn. Still the reserved held, the chest (and
presumably the loins); the Boers were running low on ammunition so Pretorius
sent his brother (Bart) with a force of 100 horsemen forward to charge the
enemy. Several cavalry groups followed in this tactic and after several volleys
and charges they were able to cut through the enemy lines, get behind them and
flank them into a panicked rout. Upon routing the enemy the Boers continued
their pursuit, killing so many from horseback that the plain that they
traversed was named The Plain of Bones.

The Voortrekkers, with a force of over 470, suffered no
losses in this battle while the Zulus, with a force of 15,000-21,000, lost more
than 3,000 of their men. So numerous were their casualties that the river was
said to have been stained by their blood, the Boers then named the river the Slag van Bloedrivier, (“the Blood River”) and Andries Pretorius’
force was named the Wencommando (“Victory-commando”).

“Of that fight nothing remains in my
memory except shouting and tumult and lamentations, and a sea of black faces
and a dense smoke that rose straight as a plumb-line upwards from the ground.
We had scarcely time to throw a handful of powder into the gun and slip a
bullet down the barrel, without a moment even to drive it home with the ramrod.”
– Words from a Combatant 

While Andries Pretorius’ Wencommando was
faring well, another commando under the leadership of Karel Landman and a force
under Alexander Briggar were informed by a Zulu spy that all of Dingane’s
cattle were grazing in a nearby valley. This was however a trap, as the Boers
(more than 370) were ambushed by Zulus while raiding the White Mfolozi valley
on the 27th of December.

rule was shaken by the heavy loss at the Battle of Blood River so he set up a
short lived peace treaty with the Boers, allowing them to live south of the
Thukela River in the Natal area where they would establish the Boer Republic of
Natalia and set up as their capital the newly founded Pietermaritzburg (said to be
named after the earlier mentioned, Pieter Retief and Gert Maritz
). In
fear of this growing threat Dingane sought to extend his dominion over the
northern peoples known as the Swazi and reestablish his kingdom there, he asked
his half-brother Mpande to assist him on this campaign but he refused. After
some successes in this winter campaign the tide turned against Dingane in June-July of 1839 when he was defeated by a Swazi army at Lubuye.


became unhappy with Dingane’s rule so to solidify his reign he was intent on
assassinating his half-brother Mpande;
who could be a possible contender for the throne as well as having a son named Cetshwayo who could serve as an heir to
his dynasty. In
September Mpande fled to the
Republic of Natalia with 17,000 followers and allied himself with the Boers to overthrow
Dingane in exchange for lands south of the Thukela River along with St. Lucia
Bay; although he did not want to be king, he felt as though he was pushed and
pressured into it. To the Zulus this
discord was labeled “the breaking of the rope that held the nation together”.

things couldn’t be worse for Dingane, he was supposed to grant the Boers a gift
of 40,000 cattle as part of the earlier treaty (of March 25 1839) but in the
opinion of the Boers Dingane had taken too long so they dismissed the treaty and
launched a military campaign against him. A
commando force of about 800 (500 being African slave agterryers, “after-riders”) under Commandant Andries
Pretorius and a Zulu force of about 5,000 under Mpande and his general Nongalaza
KaNondela journeyed northward to war against Dingane (the Beestekommando, “cattle
”, saw this situation more so as an opportunity to capture enemy

Side Note: Slavery

Even after
the abolishment of slavery in the British Cape Colony the Boers owned slaves
(Blacks and Malays), these slaves were used for manual labor, hunting, driving
the wagons and in some circumstances they were also used as soldiers
(agterryers, “after-riders”). While in captivity, Winston
Churchill was told by a Boer: 

Educate a Kaffir!? (racial
slur against blacks; from Arabic kafir “infidel, unbeliever”) Ah, that’s you English all over. No, no, old
chappie. We educate ’em with a stick. Treat ’em with humanity and
consideration—I like that. They were put here by the God Almighty to work for
us. We’ll stand no damned nonsense from them.

Battle of Maqongqo – 29 January, 1840

general, Ndlela kaSompisi, assembled his force on the Maqongqo hills; Mpande’s
rebel army was close behind, rushing into battle while their Boer allies were
far behind, they sought to gain victory over them without aid from the Boers. Both
Zulu forces met with nearly equal forces and the battle should’ve been a
stalemate but Dingane’s forces began to defect over to Mpande’s side. Mpande’s impis
made Dingane’s forces believe that the Boers had arrived to aid them so Dingane’s
general Ndlela kaSompisi ordered his men to retreat from the field of battle and in anger over
this order Dingane strangled him (or put out his eyes).

^ Osprey – ‘Warrior’ series – Zulu 1816-1906 – Hand-to-hand fighting

Dingane had
lost the battle and most of his men so he fled northward seeking refuge to the
northeast towards the Lubombo
Mountains with the Nyawo people who conspired with a
Swazi patrol which executed him. The Boer Beestekommando arrived on the 6th of February under heavy downpour of
rain and sickness devastating their horses, they decided to return home with
their 36,000 cattle. On the 10th of February Mpande was recognized
as King of the Zulus and modified the treaty of October 27th 1839 by granting
the Boers even more lands.

Dingane before him, he grew fearful of the Boers of Natalia and decided to
expand into Swaziland so if they ever came to conflict with the Boers again, they
could have a safe
haven and breathing room. After succeeding in conquering Swaziland the Brits
pressured him to withdraw. Although
Dingane is often seen as the prime reason that the Zulu kingdom collapsed, the
reality is that it was somewhat inevitable and it might’ve even happened under
the rule of Shaka. An increase of hostile neighbors who were far more
technologically advanced and insatiable in terms of their hunger to expand and
dominate the people, the land and resources.


  1. Osprey – ‘Men at Arms’ series – Boer Wars 1836-98 by Ian Knight and Gerry
  2. Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars
    By John Laband
  3. Historical Dictionary of the British
    Empire, Volume 1
    by James Stuart Olson, Robert Shadle
    by George Chadwick
  5. The Washing of the Spears: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation by Donald R. Morris
  6. Osprey – ‘Warrior’ series – Zulu 1816-1906 by Ian Knight and Angus McBride
  7. Osprey – ‘Elite’ series – The Zulus by Ian Knight and Angus McBride
  8. Osprey – ‘Men-at-Arms’ series – The Zulu War by Angus McBride
  9. The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation, Arms & Armor Press by John Laband
  10. The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History by Carolyn Hamilton

Possible Future Post:

  • Mpande and his son Cetshwayo: The Anglo-Zulu War – the Zulus fight the strongest empire of the day, the British Empire. “If we are to maintain our position as a first-rate power, we must with our Indian Empire and large Colonies, be prepared for attacks and wars, somewhere or other, CONTINUALLY.” – Queen Victoria 

Thank you for reading, if there are any errors please privately inbox me so I can update it. As always, if you’d like to read or learn about any specific historical subjects just let me know what they are and I will take note of it.


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