Battle Of Isandlwana – How The Zulu Defeated British Invaders In 1879

The first engagement of the Anglo-Zulu War in Africa was The Battle of Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, and would prove to be a significant and unexpected victory for the Zulu in a conflict which they ultimately lost to the British.

Since the British arrival in South Africa at the beginning of the 19th Century, Zululand had proved a troublesome nation in their efforts to control the region. Within the first three decades of the century, the British did not make any attempt to challenge Shaka, the founder of the Zulu Empire, and his immediate successors.

British (and Boer) power gradually increased from the 1840s through the 1860s while the Zulu military control grew weaker. By the 1870s British expansion into the diamond and gold-rich interior was threatened by the Zulu Empire. The British High Commissioner of Southern Africa, Sir Bartle Frere in 1878, provoked a war with the Zulu, hoping for a sharp, short attack leading to the destruction of Zulu military power.

An ultimatum was sent to Zulu King Cetshwayo on December 11, 1878, by Frere, ordering him either to dismantle the military system of his nation or else face war with the British Empire. Efforts had long been made by King Cetshwayo to avoid outright war with the British; however, he found it impossible to comply with this request. As anticipated by Frere, Cetshwayo refused to disband his Zulu army and instead prepared for war against the British.

The British invaded Zululand on the 22nd of January 1879. Their army was composed of both British and African men from the neighboring British colony of Natal numbering nearly 1,800 troops.

The British felt assured of their victory due to superior military resources despite facing a force of roughly 20,000 Zulu warriors.

However, the battle that ensued would prove to be an embarrassing defeat for the British as they were out-maneuvered by the Zulus. By the end of the battle, the British lost around 1,300 of their force of 1,800 while Cetshwayo’s men suffered a relatively light loss of around 1,000 men.

The Zulus’ victory, however, did not last long. In a bid to preserve the Imperial image of power and prestige and to avoid other nations revolting against British colonial rule, inspired by the Zulu victory, the British launched a nine-month counteroffensive that engaged at least 17,000 British troops. It was the largest Army they sent to Africa.

Britain emerged victorious in this Anglo-Zulu War, or to better put it, the Anglo terrorism and unholy invasion of the Zulu people. The British forces captured Cetshwayo on August 28, 1879, and forced him to agree to the dismantling of the Zulu Empire into 13 small states.

On May 9, 1887, Eight years later, all of these states were invaded and captured by the British. The Battle of Isandlwana, however, would remain an important symbol in the history of Africa as an example of defiance of an African state against European terrorism and Imperialism.


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