Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Legacy of Shaka

How can we hope to understand the world of affairs around us if we do not know how it came to be what it is. A.L.Rowse

Our knowledge of Natal in its early days has been gained from the diaries of ship wreck survivors dating back to the sixteenth century. They tell mostly a story of a fairly peaceful existence. There were occasions when they were attacked and killed, robbed of what little they had but most often they seemed to have been helped on their way to Delogoa Bay, and the survivors were able to barter for food. On many occasions survivors decided rather than carry on with the arduous journey to Delagoa Bay, settled in with the local tribes, took wives or husbands and were fruitful. Later survivors attested to this. White genes were therefore spread thinly through the tribes of the Transkei and Natal.

This somewhat peaceful situation came to an end at the beginning of the nineteenth century with the ascendancy of Tshaka. What occurred has been very well documented by the earliest white traders and adventurers that had come to reside at Port Natal. They regularly had contact with Tshaka and kept diaries of the goings on. The brutality of that time is indescribable and frightening and it was carried on by Dingane after Tshaka’s murder,then through to Cetshwayo, only to cease with the latter’s defeat by the British at Ulundi in 1879.

The acceptance that the Blacks have been suppressed by the Whites for 300 or 400 years is ludicrous and if it hadn’t been for them the fighting and slaughter would have just carried on. It is just not recognized what benefits the whites brought to the eastern side of southern Africa by suppressing the mayhem started by Tshaka. Tshaka legacy is that he started a system of murder and destruction, a way of life, that seems to be a mind set of many blacks today.

Let us go back to what the diarists saw and wrote about. Mackeurtan in his book ‘The Cradle Days of Natal’ summerises,
’And yet when the nineteenth century was still young she was in the throes of grievous travail. Her happy streams were red with blood; her amiable hills a smoking shambles. Tshaka, King of the Zulus, had chosen systematically to obliterate the Bantu nation as far as his lithe and swinging regiments could carry the deadly stabbing spears. The pleasant pastoral people of Natal were decimated; they laughed and hunted and counted their herds no more’.

Already when Francis Farwell, Capt King and Henry Francis Fynn arrived, the land between the Tugela and the Umzimvubu rivers was empty of people. The small tribes had been destroyed or driven away. And when the Voortrekers crossed the Drakensburg the land was also devoid of happy tribal life.

The repercussions of Tshaka’s reign of terror spread far and wide. As tribes retreated from Tshaks’s hoards they in turn fell upon their neighbours and so there was a domino effect which spread through the Free State,
‘plundering and looting that spread back and forth across the country, a chain reaction of events that was to have a profound effect on the history of Southern Africa.’(1)

Tshaka’s barbarity was inherited by Dingane and then by Cetshwayo who sent his warriors to battle with his rival brother, Mbuyazi. They were all ‘tarred with the same brush’. Cetshwayo’s rival brother had interests in the succession to the throne of his father Mpanda, which were of course challenged by Cetshwayo. The latter settle the score by annihilating the whole tribe. Witnessed by John Dunn, ‘in just over an hours fighting, Cetshwayo’s uSutus killed some 23000 men women and children’.

The mayhem sown by Tshaka eventually resulted in the complete destruction of the Zulu nation. That was part of his legacy. The other part of his legacy was that over the sixty odd years of the dominance of the three Zulu Kings,Tshaka, Dingane, and Cetshwayo, a way of thinking that life was cheap was instilled in the people. Its was this that became part of the peoples consciousness that is still evident to this day.

After the battle of Blood River and Dingane's defeat, the Voortrekkers spread throughout the land between the Tugela and Umzimvubu Rivers. As a consequence of the peace that temporally reigned the Zulu families that had been displaced by Tshaka started to return to their former tribal lands as it had now become safe. And some 50000 crossed the border to avoid Mpanda's new form of inhumane cruelty reminiscent of Shaka and Dingane, which had up till then been relatively benign. He once said to John W Shepstone 'You don't kill as we do, and the only way to govern a Zulu is to kill him .

The battle of Ulundi was only 129 years ago. My grandfather was a young man at the time and I knew him. It was not so long ago certainly not three or four hundred years ago.

The Cradle days of Natal by Graham Mackeurtan
Zulus at Bay by D. W Barker.(1)
The Mfecane or Difaqane by Ruth Edgecombe
The Griquas of Qriqualand by S.J.Halford


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