What were the causes of the Zulu War?

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
#1
Great Britain's 1879 Zulu War was the backdrop for some of the most iconic scenes of Victorian warfare - the slaughter of British troops at Isandlwana, and the heroic defense of Rorke's Drift.

What were the underlying causes of this war? Was it simply British refusal to tolerate such a militarily well-organized and aggressive people?
 

Jim Casy

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
4,420
Scotland
#3
I think it was more to do with the Zulu nation simply getting in the way of expansionism. The brit colony of Natal had sprung up on the border of Zululand as traders and adventurers sought their fortune by as early as the 1840s. By the 1870s, the brits had the idea of pulling together the colony, the Boer republics etc under a single regional rule to aid development. The Zulu nation was the fly in the ointment to this, so they (brits) picked a fight.
 
Last edited:
May 2011
13,956
Navan, Ireland
#4
Real cause: Imperial hubris

Stated cause: Black savages are threatening the right of whites to occupy their land.
As opposed to Black Imperialists to attack their neighbours?

You are right in that British Imperialists wanted expansion, Afrikaner imperialists wanted expansion, Zulu Imperialists wanted expansion

One was more powerful= therefore the bad guys.
 
Mar 2012
18,030
In the bag of ecstatic squirt
#5
As opposed to Black Imperialists to attack their neighbours?

You are right in that British Imperialists wanted expansion, Afrikaner imperialists wanted expansion, Zulu Imperialists wanted expansion

One was more powerful= therefore the bad guys.
I agree, the Zulu was no different from the British Empire when it comes to expansionism in as much as they also waged war with their neighboring tribes and like the British, they also slaughtered and killed those who opposed them.
 
Oct 2012
3,315
Des Moines, Iowa
#6
As opposed to Black Imperialists to attack their neighbours?

You are right in that British Imperialists wanted expansion, Afrikaner imperialists wanted expansion, Zulu Imperialists wanted expansion

One was more powerful= therefore the bad guys.
I never made any moral judgment regarding who the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' were. All I did was state the real cause of the war and the stated cause by the British. It is undeniable that the British of this time were supremacists who regarded themselves as the 'good guys' and superior in every conceivable way to the 'black savages', who obviously were the 'bad guys'. I am not sure what the Zulu point of view was, but I think they probably had a different (maybe the exact opposite) view.


I agree, the Zulu was no different from the British Empire when it comes to expansionism in as much as they also waged war with their neighboring tribes and like the British, they also slaughtered and killed those who opposed them.
I do hope you realize that the Zulus were not a "tribe" but an organized, centralized kingdom, and several of the wars that they fought were against other organized, centralized kingdoms, such as Swaziland.

The Zulus were quite exceptional from their African neighbors in their level of political and military organization as well as their imperial ambitions. Prior to Shaka's creation of the Zulu state, African tribal warfare was a low-key, largely ritualistic affair that was meant to preserve the status quo more than anything else. Shaka changed that forever and created in empire forged with iron and blood.
 
May 2013
11
Leeds
#7
I never made any moral judgment regarding who the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' were. All I did was state the real cause of the war and the stated cause by the British. It is undeniable that the British of this time were supremacists who regarded themselves as the 'good guys' and superior in every conceivable way to the 'black savages', who obviously were the 'bad guys'. I am not sure what the Zulu point of view was, but I think they probably had a different (maybe the exact opposite) view.
I wouldnt have called the British supremacists.

They recognized that at the time they were the most technologically, culturally, militarily and socially advanced nation at the time, even when compared to their European competitors (although it was very close).

They saw it as their duty to civilise the world.

As far as i can tell, they also never said in any way the black natives (the usual reference to natives, not 'Black savages' (that's a Hollywood saying)) were the bad guys. They usually said they needed to be civilized.

The Zulus probably thought they were superior based on the 'African Standard' aka how powerful they were in combat. He who has the strongest weapons won in africa. Unfortunately, if you win as easily as the British did using rifles and machine guns, you get called a genocidal, massacring nation when you aren't.



As for the reason for the Zulu Wars, it was pretty simple.

To aid development and the advancement of interests in South Africa, the British wanted to implement federation of the British colonies and the Dutch Boer nations based on the Canadian model which worked wonders.

The Dutch Boers, who were paranoid about the natives, told the British that they wouldn't agree to the federation so long as the Zulu's were still a threat. The British decided to do something about them, by establishing them as a protectorate.

Hence the Zulu wars.

Then for some reason the Boers reneged on their agreement to federation.
 
Mar 2012
18,030
In the bag of ecstatic squirt
#8
I do hope you realize that the Zulus were not a "tribe" but an organized, centralized kingdom, and several of the wars that they fought were against other organized, centralized kingdoms, such as Swaziland.

The Zulus were quite exceptional from their African neighbors in their level of political and military organization as well as their imperial ambitions. Prior to Shaka's creation of the Zulu state, African tribal warfare was a low-key, largely ritualistic affair that was meant to preserve the status quo more than anything else. Shaka changed that forever and created in empire forged with iron and blood.
I thought you wanna convey that the Zulus were not a tribe and they fought against centralized kingdom. Now, why is it that you call it as an "African tribal warfare" and why not an "organized centralized kingdom warfare?"
 
Oct 2012
3,315
Des Moines, Iowa
#9
I thought you wanna convey that the Zulus were not a tribe and they fought against centralized kingdom. Now, why is it that you call it as an "African tribal warfare" and why not an "organized centralized kingdom warfare?"
Please read my post again, properly. I have highlighted the relevant portions.

civfanatic said:
The Zulus were quite exceptional from their African neighbors in their level of political and military organization as well as their imperial ambitions. Prior to Shaka's creation of the Zulu state, African tribal warfare was a low-key, largely ritualistic affair that was meant to preserve the status quo more than anything else. Shaka changed that forever and created in empire forged with iron and blood.
 
Oct 2012
3,315
Des Moines, Iowa
#10
They saw it as their duty to civilise the world.
Hence why I call them supremacists.

As far as i can tell, they also never said in any way the black natives (the usual reference to natives, not 'Black savages' (that's a Hollywood saying)) were the bad guys. They usually said they needed to be civilized.
The term "native" itself is derogatory in the colonial African context and the intended meaning is not far away from "black savage".

The Zulus probably thought they were superior based on the 'African Standard' aka how powerful they were in combat. He who has the strongest weapons won in africa. Unfortunately, if you win as easily as the British did using rifles and machine guns, you get called a genocidal, massacring nation when you aren't.
There is no such thing as an 'African Standard' as Africans themselves were highly diverse and had different worldviews, and most Africans were not a part of expansionist war states like Zululand. As far as the Zulus were concerned, they were the most powerful nation "on earth" as far as their worldview weren't, since there had been no neighboring power which successfully resisted their expansion. This is my impression and I could be wrong.


As for the reason for the Zulu Wars, it was pretty simple.

To aid development and the advancement of interests in South Africa, the British wanted to implement federation of the British colonies and the Dutch Boer nations based on the Canadian model which worked wonders.

The Dutch Boers, who were paranoid about the natives, told the British that they wouldn't agree to the federation so long as the Zulu's were still a threat. The British decided to do something about them, by establishing them as a protectorate.

Hence the Zulu wars.
I think this all falls well under "Imperial hubris".