Causes of the Mfecane

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Topic – Discuss the causes of the Mfecane, taking into consideration the variety of historiography on this event. Although no one can pinpoint exactly what caused the Mfecane, most believe the causes emerged at the end of the eighteenth and the start of the nineteenth centuries. Based on the historiography covering this event, historians believed many elements caused the Mfecane. Originally, everyone believed it was exclusively due to the rise and expansion of the Zulu nation under the rule of Shaka, but more recently, historians believe that although this played a major role in the cause of the Mfecane, it was by no means the sole cause. There are now many additional theories on what else contributed to the Mfecane. The primary theories are outlined below. One of the prominent theories today is that when the Portuguese introduced the maize they had brought from America, this food source caused a massive increase in population in many Southern African tribes, especially the Zulu tribe, which in turn was a significant factor in why Shaka was able to build up such a large army. Furthermore, with such an increase in population, the Zulus had to expand their territory to accommodate their larger numbers. A further cause theory is that when drought hit Southern Africa in the early nineteenth century, expanding tribes had to relocate to search for fertile land. This often resulted in battles between different tribes over the same land. Another problem was that the newly introduced maize crop required more water than the previous local crops and therefore the need and constant search for fertile land became more pressing. More recent historians, like Julian Cobbing, believe that the influence of white colonisers and slave traders in Southern Africa caused indigenous tribes to flee and compete for land as they crossed each other’s paths while on the run from terror of the ‘white man’. He was not saying that it was purely the European influence that started the Mfecane...
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