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The story of Africa in the 19th century is defined by conflict, though in a drastically different way than it has been over the last several decades. The slave trade began more than 400 years before and European colonization not long after that. The expansion of predominantly-white rule gained another victory on August 28, 1879, when Cetshwayo kaMpande was captured by the British, effectively ending the Anglo-Zulu war and eliminating the independent Kingdom of Zululand in South Africa.
The older of two potential heirs born to King Mpande and Queen Ngqumbazi, Cetshwayo proved his desire to lead the Zulu people long before he inherited the throne by killing his younger brother Mbuyazi. Now guaranteed to reign, Cetshwayo would have to wait until his father’s death in 1873 to take control of the kingdom. Crowned on September 1st, he immediately began working to solidify — and, if possible, expand — his territory along the eastern coast of modern South Africa before rebuilding the capital from the ground up.
Fiercely suspicious of the British soldiers and missionaries gaining increasing influence in his land, Cetshwayo instituted protectionist policies — rebuilding the army and giving them modern weapons while making those who wished to spread Christianity in his homeland uneasy. Echoing the tactics of his uncle Shaka, Cetshwayo created organized units capable of utilizing the primitive Zulu weapons (spear and shield) to maximum effect in conjunction with the small number of rifles the tribe had. Before long, he was encouraging other tribes to rise up against the Dutch and British, ratcheting tensions between the two European powers up even higher.
The British, for their part, found Cetshwayo to be a skilled negotiator and worrisome leader. By 1878, as Zulu raids became more frequent and destructive, the colonial governors sought compensation for the damage being done. The king refused, offended that men who had only come to Africa for colonization and trade would make such a request. Within months, when Sir Henry Bartle Frere demanded Cetshwayo reduce the number of warriors in his army, the only solution would be outright war.
In the middle of January 1879, with Bartle Frere fed up, more than 15,000 British soldiers launched an attack into the Zulu kingdom. According to intelligence reports, Cetshwayo, with a force of as many as 35,000 men, could not count on his warriors to be in the field but for a few weeks — they still had duties to tend to at home. Despite the disadvantages in training and weaponry, the Zulus managed to repel the British by early April.
Disappointed but not deterred, Lieutenant General Frederick Thesiger, Lord Chemlsford, pushed a larger army (including some 7,000 natives) into the Zulu kingdom two months later. Despite initial setbacks, the British army captured Ulundi on July 4th. Seven weeks later, on August 28, 1879, Cetshwayo was in British custody and being transported to Cape Town — and then London — for exile. Zululand would be divided among 13 local leaders with allegiance to the British.
Four years later, after gaining a modicum of fame as somewhat of a curiosity in England due to his hulking 6-foot-6 and 350-pound frame, the British government attempted to restore Cetshwayo in a bid to bring order to the kingdom as competing factions fought a civil war over the territory. In just a few months, having failed to regain his title, Cetshwayo died in February 1884.