KwaZulu-Natal is the smallest province in South Africa, yet it contains the remnants of the once powerful Zulu tribe. The history of the Zulu people is rather short in comparison to other tribes in Africa. In this essay I hope to briefly discuss the Zulu history, what makes them unique, the Zulu religion, the interaction with the British colonial groups, how the Zulu nation came to come into power, and where the present day Zulu people stand in society today.
It is not known exactly when or how the Zulu tribe came into existence, but it is thought it originated around the 1620’s. Because there is no real evidence that describes the origin of the Zulu people, one has to filter through some of the local folklore of the native people of what is now Natal. It is said that a man named Malandela and his wife, Nozinja, are said to have lived a nomadic life in the Babanango which is located in the northern part of Natal. In their search for grazing land for their cattle and better hunting grounds, Malandela and Nozinja eventually came upon an area of Natal where thy discovered the Mandawe Hill. This hill lies a few miles outside the present day town of Eshowe and provided an excellent view of his grazing cattle and an incredible amount of wild game. This legend continues with Malandela leaving the Mandawe Hill and going back to the Babanango to “join his ancestors.” 1
After Malandela’s death, Nozinja decided to immigrate north and take her son, Zulu. As the little household belonged to a patriarchal society, Zulu became its head, for a woman is considered to be subservient to the senior man in the family2. Zulu eventually took a wife, and his mother found the lobola or “dowry” to be given to the bride’s father from her little heard of white cattle. The marriage of Zulu and his bride marked the beginning of the Zulu clan, and it also laid the foundations for what was to become the Zulu nation. To this day the Zulu lineage consists of the royal house among the nation’s numerous clans3. Since Malandela, the realm has had some 15 rulers including the present king, Zwelethini Goodwill4.
At the turn of the 19th century, the Nguni people were made up of a number of sparse clans or tribes including the Ngwane, the Zulu, the Mthethwa, the Pondo, the Tembu, the Xhosa, and the Gona. Dingiswayo, chief of the Mthethwa, had set up a standing army, each with its own uniforms and colors, and then incorporated conquered tribes into his army as allies, rather than taking them into slavery. This included the Zulu tribe that numbered about 2,0005.
Zulu’s successors consist of men by the name of Punga, Mageba, Ndaba, and Jama6. Towards the end of the 18th century, Jama was succeeded by Senzangakona, who became involved in an “illicit” love affair with a young girl by the name of Nandi. Around 1787 Nandi bore the chief a son, and named him Shaka7. Young Shaka’s childhood was not happy, and he and his mother were banished by Senzangkona, and they left to make a living as best they could. This had a dramatic effect on the life of Shaka and greatly influenced his very productive life. Shaka was highly intelligent, extremely strong, and ambitious. These were very lucrative attributes to have to be considered a great solider. The Dingiswayo, the chief of the Mthethwa, encouraged Shaka to join his army. When Shaka’s father died, Dingiswayo supported Shaka in overthrowing Shaka’s half-brother and natural heir to the throne8.
Shaka refined Dingiswayo’s methods. He split up the age regiments by district. Warriors were ordered to live in special camps under their commanders, and were not allowed to marry before the age of 409. The traditional throwing spear was replaced by the short spear used for stabbing called the “iklwa” by the Zulu because of the sound it made when pulled out of the enemy’s body10. Shaka’s soldiers were trained constantly, becoming so fit that they were able to...