KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Preservation Initiative


Cetshwayo kaMpande (1826 – 1884)


Cetshwayo kaMpande (/kɛtʃˈwaɪ.oʊ/; Zulu: [kǀétʃwajo kámpande]; 1826 – 8 February 1884) was the King of the Zulu Kingdom from 1872 to 1879 and their leader during the Anglo-Zulu War (1879). His name has been transliterated as Cetawayo, Cetewayo, Cetywajo and Ketchwayo. He famously led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana.
Cetshwayo was a son of Zulu king Mpande and Queen Ngqumbazi, half-nephew of Zulu king Shaka and grandson of Senzangakhona kaJama. In 1856 he defeated and killed in battle his younger brother Mbuyazi, Mpande’s favourite, and became the effective ruler of the Zulu people. He did not ascend to the throne, however, as his father was still alive. Stories from that time regarding his huge size vary, saying he stood at least between 6 feet 6 inches tall (198 cm) and 6 feet 8 inches tall (203 cm) and weighed close to 25 stone (158 kg).
His other brother, Umtonga, was still a potential rival. In 1861, Umtonga fled to the Boers’ side of the border and Cetshwayo had to make deals with the Boers to get him back. In 1865, Umtonga did the same thing, apparently making Cetshwayo believe that Umtonga would organize help from the Boers against him, the same way his father had overthrown his predecessor, Dingaan.
Mpande died in 1873 and Cetshwayo became king on 1 September. Sir Theophilus Shepstone, who annexed the Transvaal for Britain, was present at Cetshwayo’s coronation, but turned on the Zulus as he felt he was undermined by Cetshwayo’s skillful negotiating for land area compromised by encroaching Boers. As was customary, he created a new capital for the nation and called it Ulundi (the high place). He expanded his army and readopted many methods of Shaka. He also equipped his impis with muskets. He banished European missionaries from his land. He might have incited other native African peoples to rebel against Boers in Transvaal.
In 1878, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, British Commissioner for South Africa, began to demand reparations for border infractions. They mainly angered Cetshwayo who kept his calm until Frere demanded that he should effectively disband his army. His refusal led to the Zulu War in 1879. After initial defeats, such as the Battle of Isandlwana, the British eventually began to gain victories. After Cetshwayo’s capital Ulundi was captured and torched on 4 July, he was deposed and exiled, first to Cape Town, and then to London, returning only in 1883.
From 1881, his cause had been taken up by Lady Florence Dixie, correspondent of the London Morning Post, who wrote articles and books in his support.
By 1882 differences between two Zulu factions – pro-Cetshwayo uSuthus and three rival chiefs UZibhebhu – had erupted into a blood feud and civil war. In 1883, the British tried to restore Cetshwayo to rule at least part of his previous territory but the attempt failed. With the aid of Boer mercenaries, Chief UZibhebhu started a war contesting the succession and on 22 July 1883 he attacked Cetshwayo’s new kraal in Ulundi. Cetshwayo was wounded but escaped to Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal forest. After pleas from the Resident Commissioner, Sir Melmoth Osborne, Cetshwayo moved to Eshowe, where he died a few months later on 8 February 1884, aged 57–60, presumably from a heart attack, though there is the possibility that he was poisoned.

His body was buried in a field within sight of the forest, to the south near Nkunzane River. The remains of the wagon which carried his corpse to the site was placed on the grave, and its remains may be seen at Ondini Museum, near Ulundi.
Cetshwayo is remembered by historians as being the last king of an independent Zulu nation. His son Dinizulu, as heir to the throne, was proclaimed king on 20 May 1884, supported by (other) Boer mercenaries. A blue plaque commemorates Cetshwayo at 18 Melbury Road, Kensington.

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