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Vultures Pull Rank In The Zululand Bush

IntroductionOn the battlefield of Ulundi stands a domed monument, and let into the wall of the south passage is asimple marble plaque bearing the inscription 'In Memory of the Brave Warriors who fellhere in 1879 in Defence of the Old Zulu Order'As far as can be ascertained this is the one and only war memorial commemorating the Zulu dead. Theerection of memorials with inscriptions is foreign to the Zulus, but credit must be given to the originators of thismemorial tablet for having considered the fact that the Zulus also had something to fight for. White soldiersoften fight and die for some well expressed ideal: liberty, 'the flag'; home and hearth; God, king or queen,and country.The proverbial Spartan discipline owed its existence to strict adherence to stern rules and harsh laws. AtThermopylae a tablet commemorates, in the words of Herodotus, the heroic stand to the last man which KingLeonidas and his Spartans made in 480 BC, as follows:'Go tell the Spartans, thou that passeth by,That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.'This is the sort of language the Zulus would readily have understood. Through generations they had beentaught, on the pain of death, to obey the laws of their kings, and when this law demanded that they shoulddie, they too obeyed.The tablet on the wall of the Ulundi memorial salutes their memory for having given their lives 'in defence ofthe old Zulu order'.Few persons stop to reflect on the old Zulu order; for a century has passed and a new order is still in themaking. Barely a thousand yards from the Ulundi monument Chief Gatsha Buthelezi sits in his office asChief Executive Officer of the KwaZulu Government. His great-grandfather, Mnyamana, was Cetshwayo's PrimeMinister and Army Commander at the battles of Isandlwana and Khambula. Chief Gatsha once statedthat 'another of my hopes for my people is the return of Zulu pride - pride in what they were, are and can be.Somehow, without the intention to do so, a feeling has been inculcated that we should be ashamed ofeverything that constitutes our past.'To many people the old Zulu kingdom means just bloodshed, but it had other positive aspects in the sensethat our political and social system was based on it. With the overthrow of the Zulu kingdom came the shatteringof much of the Zulu national consciousness. We can get back this national consciousness, step by step, in the bestpossible way, if our people have the right once more to make decisions about their own future.'The Old TraditionTribal Warriors. Towards the end of the 18th Century a large number of Nguni tribes were scattered over thelength and breadth of Natal and Zululand. The Nguni organisation provided for the grouping of boys intoage-sets or circumcision-guilds on reaching the age of puberty, when a collective ceremony would be held.Each age group (iNtanga), consisting of about fifty boys, was placed in the charge of an older boy who wouldremain their leader throughout their military career. As a result of military exigencies and at the instance of theMthethwa chief Dingiswayo the practice of circumcision was beginning to fall into disuse in some tribes.The armed force of a tribe consisted of all able-bodied men and represented a combination of allestablished age groups. There was no formal organization or training, experience in handling theirweapons being gained through games of skill, the hunt, and actual fighting. Their outdoor existence, theirentire boyhood having been spent on the veldt tending cattle, turned them into the robust and vigoroustribesmen that they were.The Weapons. These consisted of a bundle of assegais with long slender shafts which were used, like javelins,for throwing. In addition a stick or knob-kerrie was carried. An oval oxhide shield was unsed for protectivepurposes only and there was no uniformity as regards size or colours of shields.Traditional Practices. Originally, the only idea which the tribesmen had of warfare was a desultory kind ofskirmishing, in which each man fought independently, and did not reckon on receiving any support from hiscomrades, each of whom was engaged in fighting on his own account. In fact, war was little more than asuccession of gladiatorial duels, and, if a warrior succeeded in killing the particular enemy to whom hewas opposed, he immediately sought another.(19) But the idea of large bodies of men acting in concert, andbeing directed by one mind was one that had not occurred to them.In a paper prepared by Theophilus Shepstone he states that prior to 1812 'a quarrel was settled by aperiodical fight, but those fights were then by no means such serious matters as they afterwards became. Inthose days armies never slept in the open, i.e., away from their homes. The day was fixed beforehand, themen of the rival tribes met in battle on that day, and the result of the single encounter decided the quarrel. Theydid not fight to shed blood, or burn houses, or capture cattle, or destroy each other, but to settle a quarrel.'(1)Shepstone has specifically mentioned the year 1812 because in that year the spark that had been struck inthe heart of Zululand some six years earlier had singed its first victim and from then onwards was to grow intoan all-consuming flame.In about 1806 Godongwane, the exiled son of the Mthethwa chief Jobe, returned to his homelandmounted on a horse, an animal unknown to the Zulus of that day. Old King Jobe had died and a younger son hadsucceeded him. Mystery shrouds the years of Godongwane's absence. It has been suggested that hemust have reached the Cape Colony where he must have had contact with the colonists, allowing him toobserve how troops were trained and handled as compact bodies of men, under the command ofspecially appointed officers. MacKeurtan,(20) however, believes that, more likely, he observed a troop ofHottentots under Lieut Donovan which had accompanied Dr Cowan, who was murdered by ChiefPhakathwayo and whose horse and gun Dingiswayo subsequently acquired. He had no sooner ousted hisyounger brother from the chieftainship and ascended his father's throne under the new name of 'Dingiswayo'- the Wanderer, than he set to work to organize the fighting men of his tribe in accordance with these new,albeit somewhat uncertain, ideas. He formed all the young men into regiments, each with its own name, bygrouping together a number of age-grades (iziNtanga), with commanders in due subordination to each other.Their weapon was the long-handled spear (umKhonto), which was thrown at the enemy from a distance. Verysoon he had a formidable regular force at his command. With this force, actively supported and enhanced bysome innovations introduced by a tributary chief, Shaka, he attacked the Amangwane under Matiwaneabout 1812 and drove them across the Buffalo. The fugitives forced their way with rapine and bloodshedthrough the country of the Amahlubi who in turn became the first Natal tribe displaced and scattered bythe warlike wave from the north.Shaka's ReformsShaka the Man. Shaka Zulu had come into his own when, by force, he took over the chieftainship of theabakwaZulu, the small tribe over which his own father Senzangakhona had been the hereditary chief.Senzangakhona has disowned his first, but illegitimate son, Shaka, while he was still a child. After many years ofhardship and wandering Shaka and his mother found refuge with the emDletsheni clan which dwelt directlyunder the powerful Mthethwa and their aging king Jobe, who, in due course was succeeded by his long-lostson Dingiswayo (Godongwane), mentioned in the preceding paragraph.(3)Shaka was about twenty-three years old when Dingiswayo called up the emDlatsheni iNtanga, ofwhich he was part, and incorporated it in the iziCwe regiment. He served as a Mthethwa warrior for sixyears. Shaka readily absorbed Dingiswayo's new-fangled ideas, expanded them, and thought themout to a clearer conclusion than his mentor had done. He distinguished himself early in his career by hiscourage and self-command, being always the first in attack, and courting every danger. By the time he wasgiven a captaincy he had already woven a legendary allure around his name, to which were soon added praisenames such as Sigidi ((Conqueror of) thousands), Sidlodlo sekhandla (Pride (ornament) of the regiments),and 'Dingiswayo's hero'.(10)However, as a subordinate commander in the Mthethwa army the opportunities for expression of hisideas and development of his individuality were restricted. The means whereby these fetters could beremoved were placed at his disposal in the year 1816 when he succeeded to the chieftainship of his own tribethe abakwaZulu, descendants of Zulu Nkosinkulu. After in stalling himself in a new kraal which he namedkwaBulawayo, the place of killing (the first of three kraals by this name), Shaka called up the entire adultmale population of the abakwaZulu for military service. At a time when only about 1 500 people made up thisclan barely 400 answered his call.During the first year of his chieftainship, Shaka continued to acknowledge Dingiswayo as his overlord.The experience he had gained during his attendance on Dingiswayo, and his own ambitious views, could notfind scope for action as long as his protector was alive. At the first opportunity Shaka betrayed his benefactorinto the hands of his arch-enemy Zwide of the Ndwandwes, who kept the old king bound for threedays, and then put him to death. The Mtethwas were defeated and scattered.Shaka's WarriorsHuman Material. After the Mtethwa collapse, Shaka hastened to increase his strength by bringing as manytribes as possible under his control. Whereas Dingiswayo saw combat as an unfortunate but inevitablenecessity and would at once accept the submission of a vanquished adversary, Shaka preferred to smash a clanthe first time, incorporating the fragments into his own tribe in so far as they were assimilable, but otherwise hefought for total annihil


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