The migration into Natal of Boer settlers, who were part of the Great Trek,
brought a chain of events that led to the death of the Zulu king Dingane,
assassin of his half-brother Shaka.
During November and December 1837, numerous trekker wagons were driven and
dragged down the Drakensberg Mountain passes to a destination around Estcourt
between the Bushmans and Bloukrans Rivers. The community's leader Piet Retief
was despatched to negotiate with the Zulu king Dingane, whose army campaigned
periodically through the Estcourt and Weenen areas. This region was considered
to be under Zulu control, although not strictly a part of Zululand itself.
Retief's first visit to the great capital of Mgungundlovu brought demands
from the king that Retief and the trekkers resolve a series of cattle raids
suffered by the Zulus, with a return of the stock as well as saddles and guns
employed by the raiders. Sekonyela of the Highveld BaTlokwa tribe proved to be
the culprit, and he was duly arrested by a Boer commando and the stolen stock
recovered, although Dingane was angered when the saddles and other baggage were
not also surrendered.
It is well recorded how Retief's second visit led to his murder on 6 February
1838, together with nearly seventy Boer followers and a number of camp
attendants. The Zulu army was then despatched to attack the laagers around the
Bushmans and Bloukrans rivers, with the loss of forty-two Boer men, fifty-six
women and many servants. The Boers were furious and devastated at the course of
Dingane's councillors had urged the king to act because the Boers were
regarded as invaders. These newcomers were a formidable military force who had
been more than a match for the Highveld tribes. They had brought guns and laager
fortresses, and had threatened Dingane as "an evil king". During the
first visit, it was alleged, Retief's men had even scouted out the capital
village at night (the horses were said by the trekkers to have become unhobbled
in the dark), and during their visits had staged displays of horsemanship and
musketry. These events were not reassuring to the Zulus.
The Boers were bent on revenge. After a series of clashes during the year,
they accepted the leadership of Andries Pretorius who had come up from the Cape.
They formed a wagon train of armed men who prepared their defences carefully,
and on 16 December 1838 defeated the army of King Dingane on the banks of the
Ncome River (Blood River). In the weeks that followed, Dingane torched his huts
at Mgungundlovu and retired north to settle in the vicinity of Nongoma.
The Boers demanded the return of their cattle, and when after a lengthy delay
two emissaries were sent to the new Boer capital Pietermaritzburg to deal with
the matter, they were arrested.
In an attempt to clear ground for his nation's resettlement, in 1839 Dingane
attacked the Swazis to his north without success. Blaming his half-brother
Mpande for not supporting him from his stronghold in south Zululand, Dingane
demanded warriors to replace his battle losses, but Mpande was unmoved. Dingane
sent a present of a hundred heifers, following which act of generosity Mpande
could be expected to present himself at the capital. He chose rather to migrate
south into Natal where he settled near present-day Tongaat at a capital village
known as Mahambehlala with perhaps fifteen thousand followers.
The Boers accordingly trotted down from Pietermaritzburg to negotiate a joint
attack on Dingane, and were well received by Mpande. It was agreed that the
Zulus under Mpande would drive north through Kranskop to engage Dingane's army
near Nongoma, while the Boers escorted Mpande himself through the western
region, closing on Dingane from the direction of present-day Vryheid. This plan
was put into effect, and the two emissaries arrested earlier were tried and
executed when the Boers got to the site of the Blood River battlefield.
After their march north through central Zululand, Mpande's army under
Nongalaza engaged that of Dingane, led by the veteran commander Ndlela, before
the arrival of the Boers. At the Maqongqo Hills, many of King Dingane's warriors
defected to the attackers, and other fled when they heard that the Boer commando
was approaching. Faithful old Ndlela had his eyes put out by Dingane as the
price of failure, and because he had urged the sparing of Mpande when Dingane
became king many years before.
Dingane fled into southern Swaziland and then, conscious of Swazi anger at
his raid of the year before, went east to settle in the Lebombo mountains close
to the Kwaliweni (Gwaliweni) section of the Hlatikhulu (Great Forest). There,
his IziToyatoyi Regiment built him an ikhanda (military capital) of modest size
known as Esankoleni. The name has been corrupted to Esikoleni. It was well
situated, since Dingane's outposts could look out over the lowlands far below
(where the waters of the Josini Dam have now trapped the Pongola River) for
approaching forces, while any overwhelming attack could be met with flight into
the dense forest, should such action be necessary.
The Nyawo (Nyavu), into whose territory Dingane had driven with his
IziToyatoyi and court, were horrified when the young warriors began rummaging
around the area for grain and cattle. The heir to the Nyawo chieftainship
Sambane, who was thirty years of age, and the older regent Silevana, colluded
with a councillor known as Zulu Nyawo in an attack on Dingane. They were
supported by Nyawo retainers and a group of Swazis under Nondawana.
The early dawn attack, made in February or March 1840, left Dingane badly
wounded in the thigh and lower abdomen. It is probable that he jerked his knee
up in attempt to ward off the spear thrust of either Silevana or Zulu Nyawo.
Partly disembowelled, the king had struggled from the precincts of the isigodlo
and stumbled down the steep path used for fetching water, into a ravine below
the capital. There, aided by the few followers who had sought him in the dark
and tried to carry him to safety, he died in agony.
The capital was deserted and the Zulus who had followed the deceased king
returned to their fate under a new monarch. Mpande sensibly followed a policy of
uniting the factions of the Zulu nation, and Dingane's followers were gradually
accepted back into the fold. Mpande ruled until his death in 1872.
When it was opportune to do so, Silevana, Sambane and Zulu Nyawo each placed
a rock on the grave, near a great fig tree.
READERS WANTING MORE DETAILED TREATMENTS ARE REFERRED TO:
a.. BROOKES, E.H. AND WEBB, C DE B. 1965. A HISTORY OF NATAL. UNIVERSITY OF
a.. BULPIN, T.V. 1966. NATAL AND THE ZULU COUNTRY. CAPE TOWN: BOOKS OF AFRICA
a.. LABAND, J. 1995. ROPE OF SAND. JOHANNESBURG: JONATHAN BALL
a.. LUGG, H.C.1949. HISTORIC NATAL AND ZULULAND. PIETERMARITZBURG: NATAL
ALEX COUTTS ©
DURBAN, 6 AUGUST, 2000