The Zulu (Zulu: amaZulu) are the largest South African ethnic group, with an estimated 10–11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup. The Zulu Kingdom played a major role in South African history during the 19th and 20th centuries. Under apartheid, Zulu people were classed as third-class citizens and suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination. They remain today the most numerous ethnic group in South Africa, and now have equal rights along with all other citizens.
The Zulu were originally a major clan in what is today Northern KwaZulu-Natal, founded ca. 1709 by Zulu kaNtombhela. In the Nguni languages, iZulu/iliZulu/liTulu means heaven, or sky. At that time, the area was occupied by many large Nguni communities and clans (also called isizwe=nation, people or isibongo=clan).
Historical Origins of Zulu people
Around the Great Lake regions of Central and East Africa lived the Bantu, which in the language of the Zulus is a collective noun for ‘people’. The Nguni people also lived in this region and they were the direct ancestors of the Zulu people. They were called Zulu after the individual who headed a migration from Egypt to the Great Lakes via the corridor of the Red Sea.
Zulu women of the Masai Mara. Circa 1910
In Zulu folklore links are said to exist between the Zulu people, Egypt, the Old Testament and Israel. The new home land of the Ngumi people was called Embo. Contemporary Zulu story tellers still refer to this mystical land of Embo. The Ngumi people existed as pastoralists and subsistence farmers. Wealth was measured in cattle. A practice still kept up to this present day and a custom which still exists in many regions of Africa.
Zulu Maiden at Reed Dance
During the Iron Age there was a large increase in the population and in cattle. This led to a mass migration of the Nguni people. Their chiefs started to move their people east and south east to the rich arable areas
which existed along the Indian Ocean coastline. The Karanga people went south to what is now Zambia and Zimbabwe. Because of internal strife and tension amongst the Karanga people they migrated even further south. Approximately 700 years ago the Lala people met up with the stone age bushmen.
Initially the Lala people and the Bushmen benefited from their shared existence and knowledge. For instance the Bushman began to use arrow heads when they went out hunting and specific tools when out foraging and harvesting crops. The Lala people started to form static communities in what was once Bushmen territory. Crops were grown and their animals had fixed grazing areas. Trade relationships developed between the two groups and for two centuries they lived in peaceful coexistence before tensions developed and the Bushmen were forced to go to land further south in order to maintain their sense of identity and lifestyle.
Zulu Dancer,Kwa-Zulu Natal
The San or Bushmen who live a hunter and gather existence are said to be the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa. These were the people responsible for the cave paintings and rock engravings found in this region of Africa and bear similarities to the rock paintings found in the Sahara and from Ethiopia down all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. The language of the San people has a distinctive click, a manner of speech which has survived in some Bantu languages. The San people are small in stature and live close to nature. They used stone age tools and weapons. Their tools consisted of items such as flint scrapers with wooden handles, bows and arrows with wooden or bone arrow heads and quite often were often dipped in poison.
The Khoikhoi or Hottenots have ancestral links to the San people. They are the offspring of Bantu farmers and pastoralists and San women. Within their culture they had many stories which were similar to that of Aesop fables. They are also said to have worshiped Pleides. The women are said to have climbed hills with their children to praise the ‘6 Sisters’ as they rose in the night sky.
During the 16th Century there was a continuation of the exodus from the Great Lakes of Central and East Africa. Large masses of Ngumi people headed towards the sea from the Lebombo Mountains. Women carried their possessions on their heads. Young boys urged the stock forward with small sticks in their hand. Many of the migrating clans settled on this fertile coastal strip and they called the region Maputaland after their king. Later on there was a further migration southwards to more fertile land in a landscape which had powerful flowing rivers. These new arrivals put more pressure on the Bushmen communities and the Lala people were faced with the stark choice of either integrating or moving on.
Zulu Motor cab. Circa 1910
Maladela or The Follower was the chief of one group. He had discovered an idyllic fertile valley which he occupied with his numerous wives and the rest of his clan. No form of central authority existed. Clans consisted of patriarchal social units and the chiefdoms were ruled over by the most powerful clan. These cohesive groups varied in size from around a thousand people to much greater numbers where groups of chiefs were governed by an Overlord. Spheres of influence and alliances were in a constant state of flux.
Malendala’s son was called Zulu which means Heaven. Zulu’s wives travelled with him to a fresh area south of the Mkhumbane river basin where very tall euphorbia trees grew. These trees became the symbol of Zulu chiefs. This became known as the first Kwazulu or Place of Heaven. Zulu built his new home based upon traditional designs. This consisted of a central and circular cattle fold. A pole and thatched bee hive huts for family members arranged in a crescent at the high sloping area of land. The floors of the huts were made up of a mix of anthill sand and cattle dung and polished to look like green marble. The round houses which were formed around the cattle units were placed in a strict hierarchical order. Each house to the left was allocated for the men folk while the houses on the right were for the women folk. The fronts of each dwelling place represented the public arena. A public space where the whole community could meet while at the back of each house private religious ceremonies took place.
SA president,Jacob Zumu doing his Zulu tribe`s ancient marriage dance with his new bride
Zulu Mythology on Creation
Zulu mythological God Mvelinqangi is believed to reside in the sky. Hence the name Lord of the Sky (Inkosi Yezulu). It is said that Mvelinqangi was relaxing when it was reported to him that one of the young men had played a mischief. He had decided to ride Mvelinqangi`s sacred white horse. The young man was instantly expelled from heaven. He was brought down on earth through a hole in the sky. A cord was tied around his waist and was brought down. He arrived on earth and a reed was used to cut the cord.
Zulu man and his wife. Circa 1910
Later Mvelinqangi saw the boy lonely and suffering on earth. Mvelinqangi had compassion on him and sent a beautiful woman through the same process. That is how man and woman came to be on earth as two multiply.
Beautiful Zulu lady in traditional attire
This myth indicates that humans originated from the Lord of the sky and before the white man brought his christian God and Islamic Allah, the black African Zulu knows about the ancient God. He is the source of life to the Zulu. Perhaps that is why the Zulu people are referred to as AMAZULU (People of the Sky). It is because the sky is their place of origin, (Berglund 1973:36).
Another Zulu mythology associates the origin of human life with the bed of reeds. Male Zulu greet one another cordially with words like: “Wena Wohlanga” (You of Reeds).
Zulu drummers and dancers
Rise of the Zulu people under King Shaka Zulu during the “Mfecane / Difaqane” war.
The rise of the Zulu people under their King Shaka Zulu during the “Mfecane / Difaqane” war was one of the most significant historical occurrences in the early history of South Africa. The term Mfecane (Nguni languages) means “destroyed in total war”.The Sotho speaking people on the highveld used the term Difaqane, which means”hammering” or “forced migration/removal.”
The Mfecane / Difaqane war,..
Zulu man at Reed Dance
Whole communities of peoples were displaced in their flight from larger warring tribes. The winning tribes would often incorporate the losers into their tribes. Three key figures in this all out battle for power among the African tribes in Southern Africa were Dingiswayo (leader of the Mtethwa tribe), Zwide (leader of the Ndandwe tribe) and of course King Shaka.
The Mfecane had a great influence on the history of South Africa. Large parts of the country in Natal, the Transvaal and Free State were largely depopulated because people fled in droves to safer areas such as the Transkei, the edge of the Kalahari, the Soutpansberg and the present day Lesotho. In consequence, these areas could not cope with the sudden influx and became overpopulated.
Enlargement of a section of a 1885 map of South Africa showing geographical details of Zululand and Natal
Rise of the Zulu people under King Shaka Zulu
After the Mfecane, the Black peoples were living in an area shaped like a horseshoe. The Tswana and Pedi lived in the west and the Venda, Shangaan, Tsonga and Swazi lived in the north. The Zulu people lived in the eastern part of the country, as did the Sotho and the inhabitants of both Transkei and Ciskei. The whites took advantage of this situation by moving into the empty areas and in this way the ethnic map of South Africa was changed completely.
Many people died during the Mfecane. Violence and starvation were rampant, because the livestock was stolen and people could not stay long enough in one place to cultivate crops. Although hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives, it also gave rise to the formation of big new nations such as the Sotho. The tribes of leaders such as Dingane, Shaka, Mzilikazi and Soshangane were significantly strengthened and changed.
Dingiswayo chief of the Mthethwa,…
When Dingiswayo became leader of the Mthethwa, his main concern was to improve the military system of his tribe. Young men of a similar age were divided into regiments. Each regiment had its own name, colour and weapons. The young men were even required to remain celibate until such time when they had proven themselves worthy of the name “warrior”.
Dingiswayo’s army soon went from strength to strength and was employed in an attempt to expand his territory. The army attacked smaller tribes which were allowed to continue their existence as tribes, but only if they agreed to recognise him as their paramount chief. Some of the tribes which were dominated in this way were the Thembu, Qwabe, Mshali Mngadi and the Zulus.
Zulu army on the attack
Zulu kidsWith a regiment borrowed from Dingiswayo, Shaka made himself chief of the Zulus. Shaka was an exceptional military leader and organised his armies with military precision. All the men younger than forty were divided into regiments, based on their age. Shaka built his capital at Bulawayo and, although he recognised Dingiswayo as paramount chief, started incorporating smaller tribes into the Zulu nation.
In 1819, when war broke out between the Ndwandwe and Mthethwa, Dingiswayo was killed by Zwide, after which the defeated Mthethwa tribe was incorporated into Shaka’s tribe. In time, Shaka destroyed the Ndwandwe tribe completely.
Only known drawing of King Shaka standing with the long throwing assegai and the heavy shield in 1824 – four years before his death
Rise of the Zulu people under King Shaka Zulu
He employed cunning military techniques such as the following: when Zwide sent the Ndwandwe to attack Shaka, the latter hid the food and led his people and cattle further and further away from the capital. Zwide’s army followed and Shaka’s soldiers waited until night fell to attack them, when they were exhausted and hungry.
The Ndwandwe army turned back, after which Shaka attacked and destroyed them. A second attempt was made by Zwide later in 1819 to destroy Shaka, but once again the Ndwandwe had no luck. After this attempt, Shaka ordered the complete destruction of the Ndwandwe people.
Warrior Utimuni, nephew of King Shaka, commander of one of Shaka’s regiments
Shaka went on destroying several smaller tribes until Natal was practically depopulated. The Zulus eventually grew into a mighty nation when Shaka succeeded in uniting all the people in his chiefdom under his rule. In 1828, two of Shaka’s half-brothers, Dingane and Mahlangane, murdered him and Dingane took his place as leader.
Dingane, Shaka’s successor,…Dingane’s capital was built at Umgungundlovu. He was not as good a soldier as Shaka and this caused his defeat in many of his wars. In order to combat the decline of his kingdom, Dingane decided to kill a few important leaders.One of these leaders, Ngeto (of the Qwabe tribe), realised that his life was in danger and, after gathering his people and livestock, fled southwards and settled in the Mpondo district, from which he himself started to attack other tribes. Dingane soon sent soldiers to fight the Mpondo people but he also launched attacks against Mzilikazi and the Voortrekkers.
Sketch of King Dingane at the murder of PietRetief and his men.
Rise of the Zulu people under King Shaka Zulu
On 3 February 1838, Dingane’s tribesmen killed Piet Retief, together with 67 of his followers, during an ambush. Retief had an agreement with Dingane that if he succeeded in returning Dingane’s cattle that had been stolen by Sikonyela, the Voortrekkers would be allowed to buy land from him and his people.
When the Voortrekkers returned with the stolen cattle, they were killed. The Voortrekkers swore vengeance and Dingane’s army was defeated at Blood River on 16 December 1838 by Andries Pretorius. Dingane’s death brought with it an end to the extermination wars waged by him and his armies. However, in other parts of the country, the Mfecane continued under leaders such as Msilikazi, Soshangane and Sikonyela.
Mzilikazi king of the Matabele,…Another small Nguni tribe that was forced to join Zwide’s Ndwandwe tribe was called the Khumalo. The Khumalo tribe was suspected of treachery during the war against Dingiswayo’s Mthethwa and its leader, Mashobane, was summoned to Zwide’s kraal and killed. Zwide appointed Mzilikazi as the new leader of the Khumalo.He was an intelligent leader who knew how to gain the trust of the tribes that had been incorporated into his own. Trouble started when Mzilikazi began to suspect that Zwide wanted to kill him. In preparation, Mzilikazi formed an alliance with Shaka, who allowed him to be the leader of one of his regiments.
Watercolour sketch of Mzilikazi, chief of the Khumalo tribe and later king of the Matabele
In 1821, Mzilikazi felt strong enough to become independent. Shaka sent him to attack a small Sotho tribe northwest of Zululand and, as always, he brought back with him a number of cattle taken during the battle. However, this time he did not hand them over to Shaka as he had done before. When Shaka sent his messengers to collect the cattle, Mzilikazi refused to return them. After this, he was attacked by Shaka’s army and had no option but to flee with his people.
Mzilikazi trekked northwards with his people until he reached the Olifants (Elephants) River. He was now in the territory of powerful Sotho tribes, which he attacked, taking their women, children and livestock. He attacked tribes as far as Tswanaland and overpowered them by the military tactics perfected by the Zulus. His tribe eventually became known as the Matabele.
Mzilikazi decided to trek to the central Transvaal and he eventually settled in the vicinity of what is today known as Pretoria. He moved because he needed to put even more distance between himself and Shaka and he was also in need of more grazing land. After this move, his tribe became even more bloodthirsty.
When the Voortrekkers came on the scene in 1836, Mzilikazi once again went on the attack. At Vegkop, the Voortrekkers succeeded in defeating the Matebele, but they lost all their cattle. In 1837, the Voortrekkers once again succeeded in defeating the Matebele at Mosega and the Voortrekkers, under the leadership of Potgieter, recovered some of their stolen cattle.
The Matabele then moved away only to be defeated by the Zulus. In an attempt to get away from his enemies, Mzilikazi crossed the Soutpansberg Mountains and the Limpopo River into which is today known as Zimbabwe in 1868. He died there a some years later.
Induna in full regalia, name for a chief or a commander of a group of Zulu warriors appointed by the king
Rise of the Zulu people under King Shaka ZuluChief Soshangane,…
After the tribes of Zwide, Soshangane, Zwangendaba and Nxaba,had been defeated by Shaka, they fled to Mozambique. There, they destroyed the Portuguese settlement at Delagoa Bay.
As the Mfecane continued, the land was devastated and tribes were attacked. Much damage was done. Soshangane’s capital was near the modern day Maputo and Shaka attacked him here in the campaign that cost Shaka’s life. Soshangane then moved on to Middle Sabie and settled near Zwangendaba and his people.
The tribes of Soshangane and Zwangendaba coexisted in harmony until 1831, when they went to war. Zwangendaba had to flee before Soshangane, after which Soshangane, went on to attack Nxaba, who responded by fleeing with his followers to the present-day Tanzania.
With Soshangane’s biggest enemies out of the way, he began building his Gaza Kingdom. From his capital, Chaimite, soldiers were sent in all directions to attack other tribes. Even the Portuguese were forced to accept him as paramount chief.
His kingdom stretched from the Zambezi to the Limpopo Rivers and his army resembled that of the Zulus in its military strategies. As Soshangane grew older, he began to believe that the Matshangano had bewitched him. In retaliation, he attacked them and many fled to the Transvaal where their descendants still live today. Soshangane died around the year 1826.
A painting of Cetshwayo kaMpande (circa 1826 – February 8, 1884) who was the king of the Zulus from 1872 to 1879 and their leader during the Anglo / Zulu War.Sikonyela and his mother Mmantatise,…
During the early 19th century, two of the biggest Nguni tribes, the Hlubi and the Ngwane, lived near the present-day Wakkerstroom. The Hlubi were under the leadership of Mpangazita and Matiwane was the leader of the Ngwane. The Zulus had forced these two tribes across the Drakensberg Mountains into Sotho territory, which meant the start of the Mfecane for the Sotho tribes.
The first tribe to be attacked was the Batlokwa. The tribe’s chief had just died and his successor, Sikonyela, was still too young to rule. His mother, Mmantatise was a strong leader and ruled in his place. After the Hlubi tribe defeated the Batlokwa, they took to wandering around and attacking other tribes and tribes such as the Bafokeng were forced to flee. The Batlokwa eventually settled at Butha-Buthe, a mountain stronghold.
Zulus warriors on a post card from the late 1800s
Rise of the Zulu people under King Shaka Zulu
Moshweshwe was living on the mountain with his small tribe and after repeatedly attacking Mmantatise, Moshweshwe’s tribe moved to Peka. There they continued the Mfecane and defeated the Hlubi. Sikonyela was by now old enough to lead the Batlokwa in battle and, in 1824, they made another attempt to re-conquer Moshweshwe’s mountain stronghold at Butha Buthe.
The mountain was surrounded in order to stop the Sotho people from obtaining food. After two months, a Nguni tribe came to Moshweshwe’s rescue and the Batlokwa were forced to leave. The Batlokwa subsequently went to settle on two other mountains. In 1852, Moshweshwe finally drove the Batlokwa away. Moshweshwe builder of the Sotho empire,…
Moshweshwe, the builder of the Sotho empire, was born in 1793. His mother belonged to the Bafokeng tribe and his father was chief of the Bakwena tribe. When the Mfecane began in 1816, Moshweshwe was 23 years old. During the early years of his chieftainship, leaders such as Shaka, Dingane and Mzilikazi were waging the destructive wars of the Mfecane.
1885 map of Southern Africa showing the British possessions
Many of the people who got caught up in these wars turned to Moshweshwe for refuge. He took them all in and his tribe grew bigger and stronger. In 1823, Moshweshwe established Butha-Buthe as the capital of his chiefdom. A year later, he established a safer stronghold at Thaba Bosigo.
This mountain stronghold was so secure that when Mzilikazi attacked it in 1831, he had to turn back without accomplishing anything. Moshweshwe was a diplomatic and powerful leader and was too clever to try to expand his territory northwards because he knew that this would incur the wrath of strong leaders such as Mzilikazi, Shaka and Dingane.
Ceshtwayo kaMpande, former King of the ZuluLanguageThe language of the Zulu people is “isiZulu”, a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup. Zulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa, where it is an official language. More than half of the South African population are able to understand it, with over 9 million first-language and over 15 million second-language speakers. Many Zulu people also speak Afrikaans, English, Portuguese, Xitsonga, Sesotho and others from among South Africa’s 11 official languages.Zulu DancerEconomyTraditionally, the Zulu economy depended upon cattle and a considerable amount of agriculture. Villages were economically self-sufficient. Agriculture was the sphere of women, whereas cattle were tended by the men. Crops grown were mealies, Kaffir maize, pumpkins, watermelons, calabashes, native sugar reeds, and various kinds of tubers and beans. Although there was considerable ritual and magic associated with agriculture, the most impressive agricultural ceremonial was the First Fruits ceremony. This was held late in December, and in it the king partook of the new crops. The ceremony also included a magical strengthening of the king and a general military review.A man’s wealth was counted in cattle. Cattle provided the mainstays of the diet (meat and amasi, a form of soured milk), hides for clothing and shields, as well as the means of acquiring wives through lobola, or bride-price. In addition, cattle had enormous ritual value. Cattle in Zululand The Sacrifice of cattle was the central religious rite and the means of propitiating ancestors. Zulu life has changed substantially in modern South Africa. The Zulu like most rural black South Africans are poor. Traditional economic patterns do not generate adequate income. The women continue to remain at home and pursue subsistence agriculture. The men seek work in the cities, but because their educational achievements are commonly limited, the opportunities are commonly limited to low paying jobs. Cattle continue to be the primary symbol of wealth, although modern Zulus often have only a few herds. As a result, they now rarely slaughter cow for meat, but primarily for ritual purposes. Zulu men doing their traditional war dance
Commercial Activities. A dual economy of subsistence horticulture and a market economy was characteristic of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. This situation gradually changed when the Zulu were crowded onto insufficient land and forced to work for money in order to pay taxes.
The Zulu engage in small-scale trading as part of the informal sector to supplement the money that members of the household earn by working in cities and small towns. Few Zulu people engage in serious commercial activities. Professional jobs are the main avenue for economic development. Although horticulture is still practiced in rural areas, there is general dependence on the commercial market for food. Small-scale agriculture merely supplements a family’s income.