King Mpande maintained cordial relations with the Voortrekkers and the British colonists, who were established south of the Thukela River. During 1872 Cetshwayo, son of king Mpande, became the undisputed successor of his father’s throne after his brother Mbuyazi was defeated and killed in 1856. The British backed Cetshwayo in the person of Sir Theophilus Shepstone who then was the Natal Native Affairs Commissioner.
King Cetshwayo governed Zululand in the same way as his predecessors Shaka and Dingane did, according to the age grade system where the members of every sex had certain tasks to perform. Men, for example, were required to perform duties according to their age
group, such as looking after the royal herds or cultivating the lands, maintaining the royal and military homesteads or acting as a police force. The military was therefore not a standing army but a social institution.
In one of Shepstone’s letters he wrote: “Had Cetshwayo’s 30 000 warriors been in time changed to labourers working for wages, Zululand could have been a prosperous, peaceful country instead of what it now is, a source of perpetual danger to itself and its neighbours.” The colonists living in Natal felt threatened by the Zulu army on their doorstep, regardless of the Zulu king’s message “that he has no intention or wish to quarrel with the English.”
This, together with the greater political ambitions of Britain, led to the delivery of an ultimatum to King Cetshwayo. It required amongst others that the army had to disband, the age group system had to be relinquished and a British resident commissioner had to be accepted as co• ruler of Zululand. All this had to happen within 30 days or the British would invade Zululand.
On 20 January 1879, British troops under the overall command of Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand in a three pronged attack. The first battles of the war were fought at lsandlwana and Rorke’s Drift on 22 and 23 January 1879 Further battles and skirmishes were to take place at lntombi Drift, Hlobane and Kambula, with the final battle at Ulundi. It was at this final battle on 4 July 1879 that the Zulu army suffered defeat.
King Cetshwayo was exiled to Cape Town and stayed there as captive. With the encouragement and persuasion of influential friends such as Bishop Colenso, he managed to get permission to visit England in 1882, where he was granted an audience with Queen Victoria. He never really understood why the British invaded his kingdom. He was heard to say: “How can these people crown me in the morning and dethrone me in the afternoon? Hadn’t they supported me in my claim to kingship and hadn’t Theophilus Shepstone attended my coronation?
Upon his return to his home country he was restored as king over a portion of his former kingdom, which would never be the same again. He died in 1883 and was succeeded by his son Dinuzulu, whom was later tried by the British and sent to St. Helena.