Episode 148 - The AmaZulu routed by amaSwazi Widow Bird warriors and Mpande’s exodus

History of South Africa podcast

07-12-2023 • 24 mins

This is episode 148 and there’re negotiations afoot between Dingana and the Voortrekkers, at the behest of Captain Henry Jervis who led the small detachment of British troops based at Port Natal.

Their role was to stabilise the Natal region after a year of extreme violence, the Voortrekkers and the AmaZulu king Dingana were fighting tooth and nail.

Jervis as you heard was one of the characters in our history that crop up here and there and are able to act as neutral arbitrators between different factions.

Gambusha the trusted inceku sent by Dinanga had arrived at the British camp on 23 February 1839 and said that the AmaZulu were on the brink of ruin and would accept any terms that Jervis would propose.

Gambusha also asked for the British to consider allying themselves with the AmaZulu to oppose the Voortrekker expansion, Dingana wanted British protection. Jervis could not do this, saying that his role was to act as a go-between and could not take sides. Gambusha took that message back to the Zulu king.

On the 23rd March two inceku called Gikwana and Gungwana returned to Port Natal with 300 of the Boer horses they had captured in the year of fighting as a sign of good faith. Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius then arrived as you heard, calling himself the “Grand Commandant of the Right Worshipful the representative assembly of the South African Society at Natal.”

Had business cards been a thing back in 1839 that title wouldn’t fit on one side.

Nevertheless, peace talks were now underway. Eventually the terms were agreed — that Dingana would return all the muskets, horses, sheep and 19,300 cattle he’d taken from the trekkers and allow them to live unmolested south of the Thukela River.

IN turn, the Boers would assist the Zulu should they come under attack.

It was also agreed that from now on, all AmaZulu emissaries who crossed the Thukela River should carry a white flag indicating who they were, and that those found without this pass would be shot on sight. Pretorius also demanded that Dingana should send a messenger directly to him in Pietermaritzburg when they were ready to hand over the cattle and other goods. The British were to be left out of future meetings.
The problem for Dingana, is that he was now trying to carve out new territory that was in the name of the Swazi king Sobhuza the First. And the reason why it was a problem was the Swazi could fight like the amaZulu.

And yet, Dingana was also using Pretorius’ final demand as part of his political strategy, because when men married, they would have to be given land for their homesteads. By occupying vast tracts of Swazi land, Dingana would also be reinforcing his own political power, colonising new vistas for the Zulu.

There was another reason why Dingana was focusing on the amaSwazi, a people whom the AmaZulu looked down on. Attacking them would be part of an ihlambo, a washing of the spears, a purification ceremony bathed in blood marking the end of the period of mourning set off by the humiliation of being defeated by the Boers.
This washing of the spears would mean the evil spirits that caused the defeat, the umnyama, the evil influence, would be pushed away into the territory of the foe.The Swazi now faced a amaZulu invasion which began in the winter of 1839, a far more threatening action than any of the previous raids. This was an attack of colonial occupation by four Amabutho, the umBelebele, the uNomdayana, umKulutshane and the imVoko. Klwana kaNgqengele led these regiments, a man from one of the most powerful chiefly houses, the Buthelezi.
It was Mpande kaSenzangakhona who was going to change the equation.

Dingana’s half-brother had been in hiding after another attempt on his life by the capricious Zulu king, and in September 1839 he had fled across the Thukela River with 17 000 people, and 25 000 head of cattle.