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The Fallen Zulu Kingdom and the Present

By Hadebe Hadebe

King Zwelithini, Nyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

When police minister Bheki Cele visited the community of Normandien in northern KwaZulu-Natal, he thought he was attending to an ordinary crime scene. To his surprise, the area buries the part of history that no one ever talks about. This is where the once mysterious Nieuwe Republic (or “New Republic”) once stood. Although this state was short lived, it is necessary to revisit its making and its possible long-term implications on African people just over one hundred years after its demise.

Cele’s meeting with farm dwellers (Africans) and farm owners (European settler community) opened a paradox of buried racial tensions as the people “complained about ongoing issues of stock theft and allegations of assault.” Not that the issues affecting black farm dwellers are new and or are unique only to northern KZN, but such things as forced evictions, inhumane treatment and even killings of Africans are prevalent all-over South Africa. However, it needs to be stressed that the power relations in farms favour landowners who have more resources, friends and relatives in high places.

The white landowners have used this strength to promote one side of the story that farm murders are rife, but they make no reference to the heinous crimes they commit against their black workers. The farm murders narrative has the ear of anyone who matters, locally and abroad. In 2013, the Afrikaner lobby group AfriForum was given an opportunity to address the United Nation’s Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva, Switzerland. The wealthy owners of land followed up their international voyage with a complaint in January 2020 against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government to the UNHCR’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.

US president Donald Trump also got the message that farmers were allegedly being killed; and as it was to be expected South Africa was a target of twinging fingers on Twitter. In addition, the Dutch Parliament in July 2019 passed a motion to condemn “the policy of South Africa’s government favouring expropriation without compensation as being contrary to international human rights.” With the country, it appears that government is prioritizing the matter of plaasmoorde although the violation of farmworkers’ rights have been a problem in the democratic South Africa for a longest while to date.

This has led to one farm dweller to ask Cele: “Nibasabani abelungu?” This question is telling because the screams of suffering African workers do not reach anywhere. This article traces the African problem in northern KZN farms. Normandien was possibly part of the Niewe Republic which existed between 1884 and 1888. It is a known fact that the Zulu kingdom under Cetshwayo fell in a battle with the British in 1879. It is for the reason that historian CT Binns in his book ‘The Last Zulu King: The Life and Death of Cetshwayo’ (1963) refers to Cetshwayo as “the last king”.

Now the question that would probably be asked is: if the Zulu kingdom ended with Cetshwayo, what then? That is probably the gap in the romanticized history of the Zulu that is often skipped for political expediency. Hopefully, this article will assist to in explaining how the Zulu kingdom was recreated to the present. Furthermore, it will present the historical events that have generally complicated land discussions in the province. The author takes a considered position that the recreated monarch has not made things easy for the people of KZN.

A brief history of north-western Natal and the Zulu entanglement with the Boers

When Cetshwayo came back from prison, the kingdom was broken into 13 sections ruled by “kinglets”, and Zibhebhu ka Maphitha of the Mandlakazi was running the show. On 14 August 1882 Cetshwayo undertook the trip to request that he should be restored as a king of the Zulu kingdom. He also committed not to go to war with the British ever again. In a typical British game of double-crossing, the Queen granted him his wish and allowed him to return to his motherland to be a ruler of a small portion of the Zulu kingdom. On his return from the Great Britain, a civil war had erupted between the royalists on his side and the Mandlakazi under Zibhebhu.

Prior to this, the Zulu people had, over the years, fought gallantly to stop the advancing British imperial forces but their efforts were all in vain. The British on their end were hungry for resources and cheap labour “trapped” in areas that they did not yet control, hence the fielding of Zibhebhu as a potent vassal that would not only deliver African labour under British control but would also serve as a first line of defense in stopping the expansion of the Boer-led Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek. Boers responded by getting directly involved in the matters of Zululand.

In his article ‘The New Republicans: A Centennial Reappraisal of the ‘Nieuwe Republiek’ (1884-1888)’ (1984), Graham Dominy claims, “Early in 1884 Boers from the Wakkerstroom and Utrecht districts offered their support to the defeated Cetshwayo in return for grants of land, but their overtures were apparently rebuffed by the king.” Unfortunately for Cetshwayo, he was completely destroyed by the Mandlakazi, and fled to die in Eshowe soon thereafter.

Cetshwayo’s surviving councilors treated his eldest son, Dinuzulu who was a boy of sixteen years of age – as his heir. On 1 May 1884, a contingent of about 400 Boers crowned the young Dinuzulu as Zulu king in an effort to gain an ally against the British. According to Dominy, “Andreas Laas anointed Dinuzulu’s head with castor oil, presumably the only unction available to the Boers at the time… The members of the Boer committee (the ‘Comite van Bestuur’) then placed their hands on Dinuzulu’s head and swore to uphold him as king and keep the peace in Zululand.”

The Natal Witness (29 May 1889) remarked, “That the Boers should intervene in the character of peace-makers and protectors of native rights will seem to many one of the oddest features of the whole affair.” The event thrusted the Boers in a pivotal position in Zulu affairs. Subsequently, the astute Transvaal negotiators, Jacobus van Staden and Koenraad Meyer, offered a lifeline to the Zulu royalists by presenting Boers as their saviours.


Zulu warriors, Nyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

The Boers were not really interested in saving African peoples from the British rule, but they were focused on building or extending their frontiers to keep the British at bay. In this regard, the Boers were available to resuscitate the fallen Zulu state to counter the spread of British power through Zibhebhu ka Maphitha and other installed chiefs. In brief, the British unleashed Zibhebhu to “dismantle the power of the Zulu royal house” as it did with other kingdoms across southern Africa, from the Cape to Kenya.

Dominy suggests, “From the first it was clear that the prospect of land was the principal motivation for the volunteers [Boers], although whether or not there was a clear plan to take over the whole of Zululand and establish a harbour at St Lucia Bay is debatable.” The Boer commandos arrived from different places including Vrystaat and Transvaal. They were also joined by the German settlers from the Luneberg area. The Boers were in a pole position to direct the courses in Zululand in an occurrence in history that is least referred to by Zulu historians and nationalists alike. The contribution of Dinuzulu and others who followed him to the liberation of Africans may need to be retold.

Historical records suggest that Paul Kruger’s government in Transvaal may have “lacked any knowledge of the course of events in Zululand.” But Dominy doubts if that was the case for two reasons. Firstly, top civil servants of the Transvaal government left their jobs to join the expedition. Secondly, the Zululand project also included many rich and notable individuals such as General Louis Botha whose main object was to acquire farms in a “country of undoubted richness and suitability for stock.”

Based on this, it is doubtful that Kruger may have not known. Also, this was a volatile period which preceded the Anglo-Boer war. Hence, Dominy mentions that by acting innocent, the South African Republic “was merely being careful not to offend the British.” At the time Britain was a global superpower which did not hide its political ambition of adding Boer republics (Vrystaat and Transvaal) under its control. The British threat was more real than imagined.

Nevertheless, the expedition to Zululand was never going to be free of charge. They would help Dinuzulu to defeat Zibhebhu and obtain large acres of land in return. Indeed, the Boer farmers in March 1884 came to his rescue, and defeated Zibhebhu. According to Simon Jabulani Maphalala, in unpublished thesis titled ‘The participation of the Zulus in the Anglo-Boer War 1889-1902’ (1978), the Afrikaners (Boers) “for their help rendered to Dinuzulu proclaimed a “Nieuwe Republiek” over a large area of North-western Zululand and claimed that the rest of the country except of the Zulu reserve adjacent to Natal was subject to their protection.” They then made the town of Vryheid as the capital of the new political entity, which later became part of the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek in 1888.

Political implications of Zulus choosing a ‘better devil’

The brutal British were not in a business of playing hide and seek with natives, but they were fixated on their goal. The bigger picture was consolidating their power in southern Africa, and nothing or no one could stop them. So, they were not pleased with Dinuzulu’s politics antics, especially his close relationship with arch enemies in the Boers. Immediately after his installation by the Boers, Dinuzulu had “ignored the magistrates who summoned him and fined him for continuing to administer the affairs of the nation as if his authority was supreme.” This led to a direct confrontation with the British, and these developments excited the Boers who were about to lock horns with the British in a brutal war from 1889 to 1902.

Nevertheless, the British later detained Dinuzulu in 1890 for treasonous acts and exiled him to the remote British island of St. Helena in mid-south Atlantic Ocean. This was the same place where the French hero Napoleon Bonaparte was also imprisoned after the Battle of Waterloo. In the middle of the Anglo-Boer Zululand was formally incorporated into Natal in 1897 and that is when Dinuzulu was freed to become an ordinary man. What was significant though is that the land had been lost and the British were about to enter into a peace deal with the Boers a few years later. The two perennial rivals signed the Treaty of Vereeniging on 31 May 1902 to end the war in which Africans were mere hewers of wood and drawers of water in either side of the warring sides.

It is in St. Helena that Dinuzulu was ‘sanitized’ (brought under control), which helped him and Zulu kingdom to become major beneficiaries from the British-Boer political agreement which created the Union of South Africa in 1910. No other traditional authority was restored in Natal but the Zulu monarch, albeit, only somewhat. This went hand-in-hand with political sharing agreement of the European settlers.

Prior to the unification of South Africa, however, Dinuzulu was humiliated by the British again when he was accused of supporting the 1906 Bhambatha rebellion. This event signalled that the threat of a native revolt in Natal Colony had not been completely eradicated. Dinuzulu was fortunate that his old friend General Louis Botha became a prime minister of South Africa in 1910. Botha directed Dinuzulu’s release from prison to a farm in Transvaal where he died in 1913. The lands taken by the Boers were forever lost and the Zulu kingdom presided over nothing; political power was now with London. Dinuzulu’s son Solomon, who was born in exile in St. Helena, took over the reigns over a non-existent entity, meaning he was never recognized by the South African authorities as the Zulu king. His father’s friends in Boers had new friends in the British, together with whom they were co-ruling South Africa.

The status of the Zulu kingdom was forever gone, perhaps, at the insistence of the British who had annihilated Cetshwayo in 1879. The implication of this was that no lands that previously belonged to the Zulus were going to be restored; the Afrikaners had gotten the land they wanted and were not interested to upset their new allies. In 1924, Solomon’s son Cyprian Bhekuzulu became the leader of a wrecked Zulu nation which only existed in dreams. He was officially recognized as the paramount chief of the Zulu people (natives in reserves), almost thirty years later, in December 1951 until his death in 1968. The real power over Zulu people lay with white South African officials working through local chiefs “who could be removed from office for failure to cooperate.”

It is rather unfortunate that the present Zulu monarch prevents other equally broken kingdoms within the KwaZulu-Natal province from getting their statuses restored. These include the Tembe, Hlubi, and Nhlangwini. Nevertheless, Zwelithini became the eighth Zulu monarch following the death of his father Cyprian, but there was a short-term regency of Prince Israel Mcwayizeni kaSolomon until 1971.

From native reserves to the Bantustan of KwaZulu

When Zwelithini rose to preside over his Zulu people, the apartheid state was in the ascendency. The Afrikaners had declared South Africa’s total independence from Britain ten years earlier on 31 May 1961. Now fully in charge, the Boers had better ideas of re-arranging the South African territory through segregationist laws that sought to separate the country according to races and ethnic groups. British colonial administrations in the 19th century, and subsequent unified government (Union of South Africa), had created “native reserves” in 1913 and 1936, with the intention of segregating Africans from European settlers. Without any exception, the Zulu people were destined to having their own “homeland”. Zwelithini was a paramount chief of the Zulu like his father.

In the early days of the KwaZulu homeland, which governed over native reserves in Natal, Zwelithini was a member of the Zulu legislative assembly. On the other hand, Mangosuthu Buthelezi was a chief minister of a fragmented, quasi black state within the borders of Natal. Herman Giliomee and Bernard Mbenga, in ‘New History of South Africa’ (2007), describe human dump as “consisting of 29 major and minor enclaves.” Also, “its resources were poor, with most of the territory hilly and lacking in any mineral deposits.” The Africans in former Natal Colony were truly defeated, including the Zulus and people from other destroyed kingdoms. However, Buthelezi maintained, and still does, a straight face as if, in that situation, everything was normal. This has been his storyline through out, but this fallacy deserves to be exposed to streamline the historical account.

Building a bogus state for the Zulus (natives) involved serious treachery by Buthelezi with the help of the apartheid government. In ‘Buthelezi and the “Zulu Kingdom”’ (1993), Cassius Lubisi argues that Buthelezi deliberately conflated the history of the fallen Zulu kingdom to legitimize apartheid creation called KwaZulu. To do this, he needed to have the descendant of the defeated Zulu royal family on board. Buthelezi and Zwelithini forged an uneasy relationship which historians characterize as “tumultuous” for the better part of the 1970s. At some point, Buthelezi “accused Zwelithini of interfering in party politics in violation of his role as a ceremonial head of KwaZulu.” Apparently, Zwelithini was involved in the Inala party, a royalist political organization spearheaded by Chief Mhlabunzima Maphumulo in the homeland to oppose Inkatha. In 1979, Buthelezi also claimed that Zwelithini was working with the Mozambican government to topple the KwaZulu government.


A white zulu warrior, Nyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma 2009. PIC: Mdu Ndzingi

However, Zwelithini had to stick around since he also needed Buthelezi to parade him as the legitimate leader of Zulus, now referring to every African who resided in the homeland as well as anyone who spoke Zulu. Also, Buthelezi paid his salary, and this gave him unfettered powers to manipulate the young monarch. In ‘The emperor has no clothes’ (2018), Liz Timbs mentions that at the height of their disagreements, Buthelezi “moved to lower his annual salary from R21,000 to R8,000.” In his book ‘The Eight Zulu Kings: From Shaka to Goodwill Zwelithini’ (2018), veteran historian John Laband suggests that though being bullied Zwelithini enjoyed “a lavish lifestyle paid for by the KwaZulu administration.”

Throughout, it was clear who was calling the shots in the new, makeshift Zulu empire. There are reports that Zwelithini even considered joining the attempted army in 1980, a move that Buthelezi immediately blocked. This led to Mzala Nxumalo, in ‘Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda’ (1988) (a book banned at Buthelezi’s insistence) to comment how Buthelezi abused his position as the homeland leader, especially in relation to the young monarch. Nevertheless, Buthelezi secured a safe passage for Zwelithini’s transition from being a paramount chief to an eminent king in the democratic South Africa, and the only recognised one in KZN and possibly the entirety of South Africa.

Buthelezi also managed to twist the apartheid government’s arm in its last days. It agreed on securing lands that previously fell under the Bantustan through the Ingonyama Trust Act. Carolyn Hamilton, in ‘Terrific Majesty’ (1998), commented “With this transfer, Zwelithini was, for the first time in his reign, freed from direct financial dependence on the local authority headed by Buthelezi or his predecessors.” Limbs put it differently, “South Africa’s most famous monarch holds fast to power and prestige at no cost to himself.” It is regrettable that the monarch is the only one that is currently being afforded a political high chair in the democratic South Africa. The likes of the African National Congress (ANC) are forever under Buthelezi’s spell while they completely abandon “the historical mission”. The African people of KZN, as in other parts of South Africa, continue to wait for their true freedom.


What Buthelezi managed to do with the KwaZulu homeland was to grossly mislead the people who lost their lands to both the British and Boers to believe that the Bantustan was a restoration of the Zulu kingdom. Not only is this false, the Bantustan covered areas that were previously declared native reserves as well as places that never fell under the kingdom. At worst, good arable land in Zululand remained in the hands of settlers who continue, unashamedly, to abuse Africans in their land of birth. Unsurprisingly, Buthelezi’s deceit continues to this day in the form of Ingonyama Trust, a modern officialdom of the awful native reserves in the democratic South Africa. Today, Zwelithini also unfairly extracts benefits from “Zulus who pay tax.”

The Zulu monarch has done little or nothing to fight for the restoration of African dignity in KZN, and beyond. Not only does Zwelithini oppose other kingships in the province, his voice is silent on the bogus Zulu identity that was manufactured over the past century. The monarch has been mum on the lands it gave away to the Boers at the end of the 19th century. Instead, Zwelithini invited oppositionist Afrikaner groups to help with agricultural development in dead native lands. The king has not raised his voice to rebuke the farmers who disregard the rights and welfare of Africans. In 2017, he said, “the ongoing killings of white farmers should not only be condemned by the white community but should be the concern of the entire nation.” Farm dwellers will never get a word of support from him. The bonds created between the recreated Zulu monarch and Boers continue to exist at the expense of Africans in KZN. The tensions in Normandien in northern KwaZulu-Natal is just a reminder of the blank pages in the history that is yet to be retold on how Africans have been neglected in the hands of the ‘saviours’ of a refurbished monarch. Whose heritage is being celebrated when Africans do not live in land of their birth?

Siyayibanga le economy!

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