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Zibhebhu kaMaphitha and the Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom

By Hadebe Hadebe

King Zwelithini forming part of Ibutho during the Zulu Royal First Fruits Festival, Nyokeni Royal Palce, Nongoma, 2009. PHOTO: Mdu Ndzingi

When Cetshwayo returned to his kingdom he found that Zibhebhu ka Maphitha had taken his place, with the support of the British. Consequently, an internal war ensued between those who supported Cetshwayo (Usuthu) and those who backed Zibhebhu (Mandlakazi). The war not only led to Cetshwayo’s death in 1884, but it is also significant in that it marked the end of journey for the Zulu kingdom as an independent, sovereign state.

In his paper ‘The Anglo Zulu War unnecessarily destroyed the Zulu nation’, David Glyn-Fox maintains, “After the war, Zululand was divided into thirteen separate chiefdoms, handed out to high-ranking Zulu indunas who had capitulated early in the conflict or actually helped the British in some way or another.” Thus, this article brings back the role of Zibhebhu in the centerfold of South African history to explain the present and future, especially in KwaZulu-Natal.

Zibhebhu kaMaphitha, his descendants and the fall of a kingdom

Some sources claim that some of the families of Zibhebhu are in Malawi and Zambia; they apparently ran away fearing that they will be murdered. This piece of information would need to be corroborated to verify its authenticity. However, it would be pointless to dismiss it as an outright fabrication considering that the British moved people around its colonies around Southern Africa. In this regard, the so-called AmaMfengu were moved from the Cape Colony to South Rhodesia. Also, the black elites of the time including Albert Luthuli, Thomas Nkobi (both born in South Rhodesia) and Clemens Kadalie (Nyasaland) ended up in South Africa, and later became leaders in politics.

Evidence suggests that the rest of the descendants of Zibhebhu preside over the Mandlakazi clan in an area between Nongoma and Mkhuze. Bhekintitha is the leader of the much-forgotten side of the Zulu royal household. The house of Mandlakazi are now just a small, junior tribe without any status in a fabrication of Zuluness in KZN. The creation of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, modelled on Cetshwayo’s Usuthu, enjoys dominance not just over the Zulu affairs but also over the affairs of other African kingdoms and clans in the KwaZulu-Natal geographical landmass.

The rise of Zibhebhu in the affairs of a defeated Zulu kingdom deserves a full treatment in order to understand some of inexplicable manipulations of the so-called Zulu identity as it is understood today. One source claims that Zibhebhu was forever angry because they believed that they should be rightful Zulu house to rule as his grandfather Sojiyisa Kajama was the first son of Jama before Senzangakhona. However, people did not allow it to happen as the Thonga woman came pregnant already. This narrative puts Zibhebhu’s grandfather as non-Zulu but as person of Thonga extraction. Nonetheless, John Dunn, the first and only white chief in Zululand, described Zibhebhu as “one of the smartest generals he ever came across.” Albeit, a controversial figure with political ambitions that the Zulu kingdom could not curb.

On 22 January 1879, the Anglo-Zulu war led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza, Vumindaba kaNthati, Mavumengwana kaNdlela and Zibhebhu himself, under Inkosi Cetshwayo, defeated a British army of invaders. But Zibhebhu later sided with the British to fulfil his political dream. This led to the division between the Zulus into the Usuthu royal house (Cetshwayo/ Dinizulu) and the Mandlakazi royal house (under Zibhebhu). Following Cetshwayo’s defeat, the British commander had left the political hierarchy of Zululand virtually untouched.

Zibhebhu decimated the other Zulu faction, killing the men upon whose authority Usuthu dominance depended. As already mentioned, Cetshwayo also died shortly after this defeat. Even Dinizulu who succeeded his father, Cetshwayo, to the throne, could not stem the tide of the internal destruction of the Zulu kingdom. A weakened Zulu kingdom under Dinizulu reached out to the Boers to help fight Zibhebhu. In a speech by the then Inkatha leader Buthelezi, he concedes that Dinizulu “welcomed the assistance of the Boer mercenaries. He regarded Afrikaners as friends of his grandfather, King Mpande, for they had helped him in the battle against King Dingane.”

Indeed, General Louis Botha led ‘Dinuzulu’s Volunteers’ (or land hungry farmers), a group of Boers who supported Dinizulu in the defeat of Zibhebhu in 1884. In return, Boers claimed large swathes of land. And most of the formerly Zulu-held land was taken by European settlers after the creation of British Zululand in 1887. The barren tracts of land occupied by Zulu and other African indigenous people were called a ‘Native Reserve’.

As the story goes, the aim of the British administrators “was, on the one hand, [hell-bent] to demolish the Zulu state and impress upon the Zulu that the powers and pretentions of the Zulu royal family had permanently expired, and, on the other, to replace the rule of the Zulu king with that of a number of independent chiefs appointed over resuscitated pre- Shakan chiefdoms.” In his thesis titled ‘The Zulu royal family under the South African government, 1910-1933: Solomon kaDinizulu, Inkatha and Zulu Nationalism’ (1985), Nicholas Lidbrook Griffin Cope states that the significant turning point was “the appointment of Zibhebhu and Hamu, two restless members of the Zulu royal lineage who had exploited the events of 1879 to pursue their own separate ambitions.”

He adds that the two men had been “closely  connected with the colonial world before the war through the media of trade, labour recruiting, and European advisors, and after the war were eager to collaborate with the victors to consolidate their positions.” Zulu leaders from Dinizulu onwards were largely ceremonial because they had been stripped of the last vestiges of the powers of those who had ruled before 1879. Dinizulu himself became a subject of the Governor of Natal in his capacity as Paramount Chief, without land or subjects. In effect, the Zulu kingdom existed for a mere sixty years. Zulu royalists continued, however, to show allegiance to the ‘king’, but merely for ritualistic reasons.

Members of the SAPS following behind the members of Ibutho during the Zulu Royal First Fruits Festival, Enyokeno Royal Palace, Nongoma. 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

The myth of an invincible Zulu kingdom and British power

As such, Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s claims about the invincibility of the Zulu kingdom are flawed. He in fact stole the torch from the descendants of the fallen kings to install himself a leader of a fictitious Zulu kingdom, which Zwelithini supposedly presides over today. In ‘Brothers Born of Warrior Blood’ (1992), historian Gerhard Maré contends, “the politicisation of Zulu ethnicity during the 1970s and 1980s occurred within the political boundaries created by apartheid.”

The manipulation of Zulu ethnicity was therefore Verwoerdian in that it perpetuated ‘apartness’ and pseudo-nationhood for Zulu speaking people, who are not in any way a homogeneous group. Cope suggests that the British authorities were not in favour of the recognition of traditional rule in Natal. This was after the European settlers had overran and destroyed traditional societies in the Cape. However, Cope asserts that in 1833 Sir Benjamin D’Urban made an agreement with chiefs in the Port Natal region that “were to be subjects of the king of England and were to abide by the general laws of the Colony.”

This form of indirect rule was later referred to as ‘Shepstonism’ after Natal governor, Sir Theophilus Shepstone. In his days in the army, D’Urban brutally killed Maqoma in the eastern Cape to destroy his kingdom. The relevance Shepstonism in this discussion will shape the understanding why traditional rule appears more potent in KZN than in other parts of South Africa, and how Buthelezi generally took advantage of this arrangement for his political benefit. Although Shepstone supported the 1833 agreement, he created ‘Shepstone system’, which was “a policy of legal, political and territorial segregation, under an umbrella of white dominance.”

Although Port Natal never had a paramount chief like in Basutoland, the British created one in Zululand after their full incorporation of the area in 1887. As such, Dinizulu was not going to be a king but a mere traditional head just like Zibhebhu under the Natal authorities. In terms of this model of governance, Shepstonism “imposed two duties on chiefs. On the one hand chiefs were to function as cheap civil servants who were ultimately responsible to the Supreme Chief; on the other they were to act out their traditional role in presiding over, guiding and coordinating the activities of their ‘tribes’ in accordance with customary law and usage.”

That is basically how the Zulu gained eminence over other Africans in the Natal Colony. This statement therefore removes the falsehood that the other clans and kingdoms were defeated by Shaka. Also, the entire system of traditional rule as it is understood today has nothing to do with pre-colonial societies, but it was manufactured to support the colonial rule through institutions, traditions, and rules.

Among a number of laws created in this regard was the Zululand Proclamation No.VI of 1894. In the main, as Cope argues, “the position and status of the Zulu royal family during the period of Natal Colonial rule (1897-1910) was uncertain.” Nonetheless, Dinizulu worked tirelessly to gain favour with the British by assisting them to infiltrate Boers through Zulu spies during the Anglo-Boer War, especially in the New Republic, and later part of the Zuid-Afrikaans Republic. The Zulu chief was told in no uncertain terms that he had “no political influence over that district” as well that that he had nothing whatever to do with Vryheid and other natives in the colony.

Dinizulu’s imprisonment for the 1906 Bhambatha rebellion, however, marked inconsistencies in this policy. The Natal administration felt that it was Dinuzulu’s duty “to use his influence to halt the rebellion and was keenly aware how hostilities throughout the colony would escalate should he do otherwise.” At the same time, the colonial authorities were mindful to allow Dinizulu’s influence to go beyond the demarcated role within Usuthu. Dinizulu on his part became a vassal that was always available to support the European settlers, which included fighting rebels within the Natal Colony.

The Zulu dominion after 1910 and the rise of a Zulu leader, a chief manipulator

The uncertainty in Natal continued even after 1910 and this led to the Union of South Africa giving more powers to the Natal Administration in the same way the post-apartheid arrangement did. The first prime minister of the Union of South Africa. Botha and Dinizulu had “fought alongside one another during the Boer-Zulu alliance of 1884 against Zibhebhu…” Botha was said to look upon Dinizulu as friend rather than a rebel. But the Natal Administration continued to treat him with disdain and suspicion.

The Boers had a soft spot for the Zulu monarch and its status, especially after Act of Union of 1909. Even after his death on 18 October 1913, Pretoria arranged for Dinizulu’s burial in Zululand, a move which did not please the Natal Administration. The rise of Solomon was a non-event really as the 1913 Natives Land Act accelerated segregationist policies of land tenure which impacted Africans in Natal as it did in other provinces. Cope suggests, “As the Union Government’s first step towards a uniform South African ‘native policy’, the 1913 Act established the principle of territorial segregation.” As a result, one headman, “the Zulu country is being taken up by farms. We are living on the edge of cliffs”.

It was on top of these dispossessions that the KwaZulu homeland would be built, amongst others. Buthelezi was not going to be bothered as he pushed hard to attain his political ambitions within a segregated society many decades later. The recreated Zulu kingdom could only be accommodated in Bantustan, or in native reserves. Buthelezi’s ambitions reflected the rise of Zibhebhu as he sidelined young Zwelithini in his push to control the Zulu narrative in support of apartheid policies that favoured ethnicity (mega-tribes) at all cost. The present Zulu kingdom itself is therefore also a creation of Buthelezi and apartheid government.

It represents natives who were placed in dead lands by the Natal Colony, and later constituted as a Bantustan of Kwazulu. Buthelezi once claimed that with the Bantustan he “I protected not only the Zulu people from becoming foreigners in our own country, but I protected the citizenship of all Black South Africans.” This is a white lie because he entrenched the exclusion of Africans as envisaged by the British and Boers. The reality is that the people of KwaZulu-Natal are not Zulus, but conquered people drawn from large groups such as AmaHlubi, AmaBhaca, AmaThonga, AmaZizi, BaTlokoa, AmaNdwandwe, etc. These people do not only live in abject poverty and hardship, but they have lived under extreme violence and harassment from Buthelezi’s autocratic, illegitimate rule which has since been inherited by Zwelthini.

Nonetheless, Buthelezi’s attempts to adorn himself with the mantle of the Zulu kingdom are flawed in many ways. In the first place, glorification of some timeless and monolithic Zulu kingdom is far from representing reality. The Zulu kingdom stopped existing in 1879, and like other self-governing African polities it was completely annihilated. It is therefore not the only kingdom that got destroyed, starting with Kings, Maqoma and Langalibalele in the south to Kings, Sekhukhune and Lobengula in the north, Africans lost freedoms one by one. For some reason, Bhuthelezi, Zwelithini and other Zulu nationalists pretend that colonialism affected the Zulu people least compared to other Africans. Again, this is manipulation of history with the help of historians who were behind Buthelezi’s consolidation of political power within a bogus Zulu state, the KwaZulu homeland.

It needs to be reiterated that the KwaZulu homeland and the Zulu kingdom (ruled by Shaka, Mpande, Dingane and Cetshwayo) do not mean the same thing. Also, Shaka did not rule over as many people as Eurocentric historians want us to believe. The Mfecane-Difaqane mythology, which has Shaka as starring of this badly written movie, assisted Buthelezi to recreate people’s identities using force and manipulation of a highest degree. The same strategies were used to manufacture identities of the Tswana speaking groups in the North West to create yet another bogus political entity called Bophuthatswana.

But Buthelezi succeeded where other Bantustani leaders failed: he transposed his lie to shape the post-apartheid South African state. It looks like the former ANC Midlands leader Harry Gwala was not entirely correct when he predicted in The Natal Witness (24/03/94), “the IFP and its so-called Zuluness will wither away with apartheid.” The remnants of Bantustani thinking in the post-1994 period creates a conundrum that not so many people are prepared to talk about, hence the strong reactions to kingship claims in KZN and to the findings of the Motlanthe commission. In his unpublished thesis ‘The Politics of Zuluness in the Transition to a Democratic South Africa’ (1998), Laurence Piper concludes, “not only is Zulu nationalism dead for the foreseeable future, but the evidence suggests that most Zulu people see themselves in ways not inconsistent with a multi-cultural or ‘rainbow’ South African nation.”

The current name isiduko for the province of KwaZulu-Natal, “kingdom of the Zulu”, is flawed and ahistorical. This implies that Zwelithini’s status is limited only where his forefathers ruled. The Zulu clan does not have many subjects, even in the northern parts of the province. There is now a belief that a European creation in the Natal Colony shared exactly the same borders with a smallish Zulu kingdom. KwaZulu-Natal is therefore built on the ashes of the Natal Colony, and not the Zulu kingdom. So, the people living within the Natal Colony had been resoundingly defeated by the British, including the Zulu people.

President Zuma attending the Zulu Royal First Fruits Festival, Nyokeni Royal Palce, Nongoma, 2009. PHOTO: Mdu Ndzingi

Misguided Zulu nationalism and the post-apartheid democratization project

The problem lies in the gross misinterpretation of history by Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo, whose findings were unfortunately accepted by both presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma as legit to appease a secessionist-driven Buthelezi. The African National Congress (ANC) with its pseudo-intellectualism dismally failed to draw lessons from the post-colonial states of Tanzania, Mozambique, and Nigeria. Tanzania and Mozambique hasted to ban traditional rule in the name of building new states.

On the other hand, Nigeria promoted tribal divisions which resulted in the Biafra war in 1967 to 1970. Post-apartheid South Africa opted for the same line followed by the OAU in 1963 when it resolved to leave the colonial borders untouched. This was notwithstanding the fact that, according to Marco Zoppi in ‘The OAU and the question of borders’ (2013), borders, as a source for determining who belongs to a community and who does not, was “an alien criterion in respect to the African tradition.” As a result, the post-colonial African state was built on rubble and this has been its downfall.

The end of apartheid in 1994 followed this route and also added a monster in Zulu nationalism. The ANC’s much acclaimed historical mission died as soon as they were content with leaving all the mess colonialism and apartheid had created untouched, including the economy and the recreated Zulu state which ensured that Africans retained the demeaning status of surplus labour in KwaZulu-Natal. It is unlikely that KwaZulu-Natal would ever find peace and stability based on the half-cooked political arrangement agreed to between the ANC, Boers and Zulu nationalists. The face of violence in KZN evolves from ‘izimpi zesigodi’, ANC versus IFP political violence and the complex violence of today.

Unless the figure of Zibhebhu ka Maphitha and how it ended the little that remained of the Zulu kingdom after the 1979 defeat of the Zulu by the British is not properly inserted in the historiography of South Africa, the perpetual falsehood of a resurrected kingdom will persist. As the English saying goes, “lies have short legs”; the mess Buthelezi created in KZN will haunt South Africa well into the future. Piper is correct to point out, “post-apartheid political conditions mean that a Zulu nationalism driven by élite manipulation has little prospect for the foreseeable future.”

In the end, it was the European settlers who triumphed in Natal, not the Zulu. The economy and land are fully in their hands while Africans squabble over useless rural land under Ingonyama Trust and refurbishing palaces at eNyokeni.

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