Slavery or colonialism, which is more detrimental to Africa? Slavery had happened and it is gone, at least active slave trade. But colonialism eroded many things from us giving us a late headstart, unlike China and India that were hardly colononized or got independence early enough respectively. Colonialism is worse and it was required that African kingdoms resist losing their sovereignty to alien colonialists. The aliens would have done better ensuring bilateral trades which Africans participated in in pre-colonial days, rather than outright subjection.


In December 1878, the British Empire declared war on the Zulus on the flimsy pretext of border troubles between Zululand and the British state of Natal. However, the real aim was to destroy the last remaining native force threatening British interest in the region and to annex Zululand as they had been doing other African natives.


It is imperative to know that as the superpower of that time, coupled with the fact that most parts of Africa had been overran by the use of superior military weapons; the British employed its usual strategy of making use of 2000 men and the Maxim machinegun. Like a European writer once wrote: “Whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun and they have not.” Let us corroborate this fact with an article written by a journalist in Lagos in the 1890s, “The Maxim gun inspires the most profound respect.”


Since the 1885, Europeans had banned the importation of guns and ammunition to West Africa, after the influx of the ones given to slave raiders initially before the slave trade became obsolete (Do not think any ‘Wilberforce’ banned the slave trade; if you thought so then maybe someone banned us from buying monochrome, black-and-white, television… the slave trade went out of fashion and it was necessary for the capitalists West to ban it to pave way for the palm oil needed for the industrial revolution of the 19th century).


On January 21, the British Commander Lord Chelmsford took three columns to invade the Zulu’s capital of Ulundi. The force had camped at the foot of a mountain called Isandlwana. But in the first few days of the offensive, the British could only locate trickles of men here and there, but not the Zulu army they were expecting to crush decisively. The Lord Chelmsford then led half of his force to the east in search of the Zulus, hoping to find the Zulus and then bringing in the rest of the force. He left the remaining one thousand eight hundred men under command of Colonel Anthony Durnford at Isandlwana.


Shortly after Chelmsford left and Colonel Durnford’s taking over the reserved force, more reports came in again of sightings of Zulus here and there, which vaporated in the rolling grasslands. Then another report of a Zulu army spotted in the plains of Nqutu said to be heading east as if to hit Chelmsford in the rear. The British soldiers by now were restive and restless with this elusive enemy reports, and thus the colonel too set out to find and destroy this cowardly enemy force.



The colonel knew the Zulus had no cavalry and could probably be  trying to employ guerilla tactics. But what could a handful of muskets and spears do before fast-reloading rifles and machineguns. At Nqutu, all the British saw at first were a few cattle-herding Zulus four miles away. The colonel gave chase, however, this cattle-herders too simply disappeared. The Zulus really knew their surroundings and using it to their advantage.


But all of a sudden, the entire horizon suddenly filled up in a horizontal line of Zulu warriors in full war regalia numbering about 20,000 strong. It was as if the Zulus were growing out of rocks and grasses in great numbers, rushing forward in bands of five or six to hurl spears or fire muskets before disappearing back into the grass while another band did same alternatively. Some of them got so close to the British they used the short spear to disembowel their enemy before he even saw who was hitting him.


What the British did not know, as they usually did not bother to study other cultures since they were the only ‘cultured ones’, was that the circle was very important in Zulu culture and this also reflects in their military formations in warfare.  The circle was important to Zulus in preserving unity, but it was also used by Shaka to revolutionize his army into a deadly fighting machine.


The Zulus always first scout battle terrains and this was why the British were seeing cattle herders here and there who disappeared in the undulating plains and mountains. Then in a battle engagement, the Zulus employed “Horn-Chest-Loin”. The Chest of the army was the central part of the battle formation to keep the enemy busy and distracted, while the Horn of the army were at the outer tips of the line to stay hidden in the grass while moving to the sides and rear of the enemy until both tips would cut into the right and left flanks of the enemy army to complete a deadly circle. The Loins was the reserved force in the rear who must stand with their backs to the battle in order not to see the action and get overtly excited to rush into battle at the wrong time. The Loin would come in when the circle is done to reinforce the coup de grace that would be lethally dealt on the enemy.


The Zulus kept coming at the British with such madness as if they could not be penetrated by bullet. When a man fell another would quickly take his place to keep the formation in order.: it was like target practice yet the Zulus were able to tighten the circle. The colonel fought with madness with his soldiers realizing too late that they were in a circle as Zulus leapt out of nowhere. The British tried to force open a hole in the circle to squeeze out of the entaglement, but the tips kept pouring in spears and some even getting close enough to spill British intestines.


Then the Zulus let up a frightening war-cry: “Usuthu!” while beating their spears against their shields in a terrifying din. A group of British soldiers got terrified with the fear of death and din mixing up on that ugly day, and they panicked. Zulu warriors did not waste time pouring into the gap and a killing spree began as the Zulus squeezed up and permeated the British hold, causing panic and disarray. Colonel Durnford himself was impaled by a Zulu spear and the battle was over. Only a few British soldiers managed to escape as over a thousand and four hundred lost their lives.


For the meantime, the British retreated out of Zululand completely. It was months later before they finally launched another bigger invasion with more men and more hardware, learning their lesson in that first defeat. King Shaka himself was killed by his brothers in a coup and this left Zululand decimated as none was ever again like Shaka – his discipline, his dictatorial hold on uniting the Zulus from scattered tribes into a strong national force we still reckon with today in modern Africa.


I do not want to think what could have happened if guns and military hardware were not tipped to one side more than the other. Africans in most places sure resisted colonization to save their land and race from subjection. But like King Agaja Trudo of Dahomey had noted during his resistance of the whites in West Africa, “He who makes the gunpowder wins the war.”


Yet, great kings like Shaka, or powerful Queen of Ngola who also resisted the Portuguese attest to the fact that Africans were not lesser beings.  Resist neo-colonialism, and accept globalism. There is no underdog race. Localize the global and globalize the local.

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