The British Army Launches An Invasion Into Zululand

Battle of Rorkes Drift by Alphonse de Neuville (1880).

Today on January 12, 1879, British forces launch an invasion into Zululand, sparking the beginning of the bloody Anglo-Zulu War.

The Anglo-Zulu War, known simply as the Zulu War, was a six-month military engagement that ended in a decisive British victory. It is one of the most well-known conflicts in the British colonial era. The end of the war resulted in Britain annexing Zululand and gaining control over critical resources throughout southern Africa. The British were largely interested in subjugating the local Zulu population for additional mining labor in the African diamond fields. Britain’s greater vision was to establish a united South African federation, thereby eliminating the autonomous states. It’s difficult to quickly explain the full context of the Zulu War given the complex history of Africa and European colonialism.

The strength of the Zulu Kingdom was largely established by its famous ruler, King Shaka Zulu. He raised a powerful Zulu army and expanded into neighboring tribes by force. At the same time, European colonies in the region were rapidly expanding into new territory as well. The two sides were on a collision course. In 1843, Britain succeeded the Boers as the rulers of the Republic of Natal. The Boers were descendants of the Dutch who colonized the region during the 17th century. Since the Boers had historical land claims to Zululand, Britain claimed to have inherited those rights; and they were prepared to exercise those claims by force.

In December 1878, the British government sent an ultimatum to Cetshwayo, King of the Zulus, requesting he dismantle his army. But Cetshwayo immediately refused. Thirty days later, Lieutenant-General Frederic Augustus launched the initial assault against the Zulus from their base in Natal. Cetshwayo commanded a large force of around 60,000 well-trained warriors. The British suffered heavy losses during the initial phases of the conflict. However, two months later they achieved an important victory at the Battle of Khambula, leading to a chaotic rout of the entire Zulu army. The Anglo-Zulu War ended in a decisive British victory.

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