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Zulus and the Boer War

Jabulani Maphalala recalls the calamatious effects of a white man’s war on the Zulu people caught between them.

The Anglo-Boer War is often described as ‘a domestic quarrel of the white people’, as the two independent Boer republics (the South African Republic or Transvaal and the Orange Free State Republic) in the north fought against Great Britain and its two colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal) in the south of what in 1910 became known as South Africa. The African people, including the Zulu people, had long been subjugated. They had no right to vote, and resided in the ‘native reserves’, on farms of the white people and on Crown land in Natal. Their involvement in the hostilities was not of their own choosing.

In December 1838 Boer Voortrekkers, or emigrants from the Cape Colony, had defeated the Zulu King Dingane at Ncome or Blood River, and established the Republic of Natalia, with Pietermaritzburg as its capital. They enslaved the Zulu people, used their children as slaves on the farms and forcibly evicted hundreds of Zulus from arable land. The British government was concerned about possible disturbance of the peace in the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony caused by fleeing Zulu people, and in May 1842 British forces defeated the Boers at the Battle of Khangela (Congella). The Boers then went across the Khahlamba (Drakensberg) mountains and the Republic of Natalia became the British colony of Natal in 1843, with its boundaries as the Thukela river in the north, the Indian Ocean in the east, the Mthavuna river in the south and the Khahlamba Mountains in the west. North of the Thukela river there was a sovereign Zulu state under King Mpande (r.1840-72) and later Cetshwayo (r.1873-79).

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