Actually, the Zulu Tribe occupies the eastern part of South Africa which is between the Drakensburg Mountain and the Indian Ocean. In this valley appears many hills, too many to count, and that is why this area is referred to as the Valley of One Thousand Hills.
SIZE OF THE ZULU TRIBE
According to 2011 South Africa’s census, there were about 10 million Zulus living in South Africa which works out to be a fifth of the whole of the country’s population. Of course, the Zulus would also be identified in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Lesotho as a minor tribe as part of their respective countries’ population. The tribe originally sprang from the Nguni speaking people who had migrated from the North during the “Bantu Migration” some centuries ago. From the north, the Nguni pushed southwards conquering smaller tribes until they reached South Africa. They found the original inhabitants who were the San or Bushmen and displaced them.
SHAKA AS THE FOUNDER OF THE ZULU KINGDOM
Shaka kaSenzangakhona founded the Zulu Kingdom between 1816 and 1827 through a power struggle. His late father did not appoint him to be the heir, but because of the support he received from King Dingizwayo of the Mthethwa Tribe, where he had proved himself as a formidable soldier, he enthroned himself as the Zulu King. The ill-treatment his mother and he endured in his childhood turned him into a ruthless ruler. He had a spectacular physical appearance and was ambitious enough to see his kingdom expand from a minor kingdom with few hills to the kingdom of one thousand hills. He became a bloody thirsty dictator who instilled fear in his people. For instance, if his soldier (impi) returned without his fighting spear from a battle, he humiliated him publicly by thrusting his spear onto the foot of his soldier, wounding him badly.
FACTIONS OF THE ZULU AND RUN AWAY TRIBES
Shaka’s military tactics made it easy for him to expand his kingdom quickly. Each tribe he defeated in battle was incorporated into his kingdom by only allowing women because men and male children were killed. Those who were spared were incorporated into his fighting unit. This made some people who did not want these dictatorial tendencies leave his kingdom and heard northwards to eventually go and settle in the present-day Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi. Other tribes in the region heard of Shaka’s brutality and ran away on their own before his impis reached their kingdoms. In this way, the land of the Zulus in South Africa was expanded to the land of one thousand hills during this period of upheavals referred to as the “Mfecane.”
SHAKA’S SUCCESSES IN BATTLES
Shaka’s military successes were mainly attributed to his military changes from the traditional methods his people had implemented. He changed the long fighting spear to a short one so that his soldiers would get close to the enemy and stab him in the chest. It was possible to do so because of the enlarged shield that was used for protection as the soldier moved forward to attack his enemy. The third method he used was to harden the soldiers’ feet by not wearing any footwear, but be able to put out fire with bare feet and step on thorns. The fourth one was to attack the enemy using the horn formation. The enemy would only see one group of soldiers approaching them not knowing that others had branched off from the main group to go and encircle the enemy and surprise them. In this way, many defeated groups left an empty wasteland for the Zulus to enjoy grazing their captured cattle without any threats from any tribe or grouping.
BRITISH SOLDIERS DEFEATED AT THE BATTLE OF ISANDLWANA
On 22nd January 1879, the above military tactics helped to defeat the British soldiers in the battle of Isandlwana. The British military commander had underestimated the strength of the Zulu impis and their military tactics. Therefore, they suffered a humiliating defeat under Cetewayo’s soldiers as he was the King of the Zulus at that time.
THE ZULU DEFEATED AT ULUNDI
After overwhelming the British soldiers at Isandlwana, the British no longer underrated the Zulu impis and prepared adequately for them at the battle of ULUNDI. The battle took place about six months later on 4th July 1879. This time the British conquered the Zulu warriors. King Cetewayo, the Zulu Chief at that time, was captured and exiled. Then the British sub-divided his kingdom and put minor chiefs whose allegiance was to the British.
UNITY OF THE ZULU TRIBE BY LANGUAGE
With many smaller tribes incorporated into the Zulu Tribe, a kind of language sprang up which made communication easy. Their “ISIZULU” Language eventually became influential enough for other tribes in modern South Africa to embrace it and speak it. On the whole, it contains respectful phrases for addressing parents and elderly people. First names are frowned upon, but the inclusion of a prefix BABA for the father of a child or MAMA for mother of a child is warmly welcome before addressing an elderly person.
The Zulus believe in ancestral spirits playing an active part in blessing or cursing the people who are alive. These guardian spirits have to be respected and feared at the same time by offering sacrifices to them. In this way the tribe enjoys victory, peace and prosperity in many aspects of their lives. Although the Zulus believe in the existence of a higher spiritual being, the ancestral or guardian spirits are easier to relate to from time to time. Little wonder the tribe has not been displaced from the land of the thousand hills! This is in spite of the skirmishes with the British, the Boers and the Apartheid Regime!
WARM AND FRIENDLY PEOPLE
In spite of the animosity shown to other tribes under their founding leader, Shaka kaSenzangakhona, the modern-day Zulu people are warm and friendly. They believe in equality and respect for a human being. If the Zulus occupied the whole of South Africa, the question of Xenophobia attacks could not rise.
Polygamy is common among the Zulus and this practice must have risen from killing men during the Shaka’s Mfecane period and rescuing only women. This action must have led to men being greatly outnumbered by women. This practice is slowly dying out as a result of the conversion of men to and women to Christianity. This religion is against polygamy.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Rites of passage for both boys and girls include many animal sacrifices to the guardian spirits. They also include activities such as feasts and celebrations after which everybody seems tired as a result of playing the drums, dancing or participation in other activities. It is a time of extreme joy to everyone present.
PARTICIPATION IN INDEPENDENCE ACTIVITIES
The Zulus have produced Jacob Zuma as a President of South Africa who took over from Nelson Mandela. They are proud of this fact. Even during the presidency of Nelson Mandela, the Zulus happily participated in Independence Celebrations by wearing traditional regalia and showing off their traditional dances. Both men and women are very good at displaying their VICTORY DANCE which includes thumping, stomping, stamping the ground with their feet with all their strength and soul. Similar activities and the wearing of the traditional regalia takes place each month of September when they celebrate the founding of the Zulu Tribe by Shaka.
Many Zulus can leave their land and go to settle in other provinces or cities of South Africa or even settle abroad. However, the association to the land of a thousand hills cannot be forgotten because of the activities and survival of the tribe in the territory earmarked for them by Shaka kaSenzangakhona. May his soul rest in peace.