Zulu (people)

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Settlement areas of the Zulu around 1850

The Zulu (also amaZulu ; from isiZulu izulu , "heaven") are an African Bantu ethnic group with over eleven million people today and the largest ethnic group in South Africa . They live mainly in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal . The language of the Zulu is isiZulu.



Zulu perform a war dance

In the late 17th century, Nguni people of Bantu origin, who originally came from the area of ​​what is now the Congo , immigrated to what would later become Natal and displaced the indigenous San . They initially lived there in loose tribal associations under the rule of a head ( inkosi ). Growing population, intensified agriculture and competition in trade with the Europeans led to increasing centralization and expansion of the tribal associations at the beginning of the 18th century. Two associations were particularly successful: the Ndwandwe north of the Umfolozi River and the Mthethwa south of it.

The Zulu were initially a sub-tribe of the Mthethwa. They received their name ( amaZulu, "the Zulus") around 1709 from their then head, Zulu ka Ntombhela . By 1818 the Zulu numbered around 1,500 members.

Under King Shaka

King Shaka, 1824

An enormous expansion of the Zulu took place from 1818 under their King Shaka . After the Ndwandwe defeated the Mthethwa in 1817 (the Zulu did not take part in these battles), a power vacuum developed which the Zulu filled. They benefited from Shaka's new war tactics, integrating defeated tribes on an equal footing into his tribe, which led to the rapid growth of the Zulu. The Zulu were able to defeat the Ndwandwe as early as 1819 and continued to expand south until they reached the border of the Cape Colony in 1824 .

Around 1824 Zululand comprised around 250,000 inhabitants and around 20,000 km². His army had grown to 20,000 warriors.

Military reforms under Shaka

Shaka reorganized the Zulu military from the ground up. From the age of 14, male Zulu had to do two to three years of military service in fortified villages called amakhanda . This was followed by an eight-month service in a class regiment ( amabutho ) before they were released back into their sub-tribes. The amabutho were mobilized in the event of war. In addition, no Zulu warrior was allowed to marry without Shaka's permission. This was usually only granted when the warrior was older than 30 years old. This served to keep the warriors under the control of the king as long as possible.

Furthermore, he switched the previous way of fighting the Zulu - fighting from a distance with thrown spears - to close combat with a jabber spear ( assegai ).

He also established a new tactic called "buffalo horn" ( i'mpondo zankhomo ): The troops were divided into three groups:

  • the "horns" ( Izimpondo ), which surrounded the enemy and attacked in the flank. They were usually formed by younger and inexperienced warriors.
  • the "chest" ( Isifuba ) formed the most powerful unit and attacked the enemy head-on.
  • the "loins" formed the reserve and were used to pursue the defeated enemy. They mostly consisted of veterans .

Under King Dingane

After Shaka's murder in 1828, his half-brother Dingane became king. He initially relaxed the extremely rigid marriage and military regulations. In the reign of Dingane there were increasing conflicts with the Boers who reached Zululand in the course of the Great Trek . In 1838 the Voortrekker Pieter Retief and 70 other Boers were killed in Dinganes Kraal . The Zulu then attacked a Voortrekker wagon train at Bloukrans and thus committed the Weenen massacre and the Bloukrans murders. In the Battle of the Blood River , the Boer leader Andries Pretorius defeated the Zulu on December 16, 1838, their capital uMgungundlovu was destroyed four days later. In 1840 Dingane was overthrown by his brother Mpande with the help of the Boers. During his reign, the Zulu lost smaller areas to the Boer states of the South African Republic (ZAR) and the Orange Free State . Although centralism was relaxed, Zululand was able to assert itself as a power factor.

Under King Mpande

Zulu warriors

After the victory over Dingane, the Voortrekkers under Pretorius founded the short-lived Republic of Natalia in 1839 south of the Tugela and west of the British settlement of Port Natal (today Durban ) . Meanwhile, Mpande and Pretorius maintained peaceful relations. In 1842 there was a war between the Boers and the British , which ended with a British victory and the annexation of Natalia. Thereupon Mpande turned increasingly to the British.

In 1843, Mpande ordered punitive actions against dissidents within the Zulu. As a result, thousands of breakaway Zulu people fled to neighboring areas, including the British-controlled Natal. Many of these refugees took their cattle with them. To get these cattle back, Mpande launched raids on the neighboring areas. This culminated in the 1852 invasion of Swaziland , whereupon Mpande was forced to retreat by the British.

During this time the fight for the succession of Mpande broke out between his sons Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi . It ended in a battle in which Mbuyazi was killed. Cetshwayo began to gradually take over the government from his father. When Mpande died in 1872 at the age of 74, Cetshwayo officially became king of the Zulu.

Conflict with the British

King Cetshwayo kaMpande, around 1875

After the British annexations of Natal in 1843 and the ZAR in 1877, Zululand - now almost completely enclosed by British-controlled territory - increasingly presented an obstacle for the British to consolidate their South African possessions. In 1879, British troops invaded the Zululand from Natal. After initial successes (defeat of the British in the Battle of Isandhlwana on January 22, 1879), the Zulu were defeated in the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, 1879 by the British, who were technically and tactically superior.

Loss of independence

After the Zulu War, Zululand was divided into 13 separate kingdoms, whose regents were given an English "adviser" at their side. The Zulu state's military system was abolished. King Cetshwayo visited England in 1882 and was received with sympathy by Queen Victoria . After his return, there were conflicts between the royal family and the newly appointed chiefs. After Cetshwayo's death in 1884, his son Dinuzulu called on the South African Republic under Louis Botha to fight the rebels. As a thank you, she received 10,400 km² of land after the victory, more than a third of the entire Zulu territory. In 1887 the still formally independent Zululand became a British protectorate and in 1897 it was annexed by Natal. In 1890 Dinuzulu was exiled to St. Helena for participating in an uprising against the British in 1887 , but was able to return to his homeland in 1896. In April 1906, under Bambatha kaManczinza, chief of the Zondi clan, the last uprising of parts of the Zulu against the British. In July 1906, the 1,500-strong rebels suffered a crushing defeat in the Mhome Gorge against local police units and British colonial troops from Natal. Bambatha and around 600 men fell; around 5,000 Zulu people who sympathized with the uprising were sentenced to imprisonment or deportation. Dinuzulu was also charged with participating in the uprising. In 1909 he was sentenced to ten years in prison. After Louis Botha became Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in 1910 , he arranged for his old ally to live in exile on a farm in the Transvaal . Dinuzulu died there in 1913.

From 1910

Zulu musicians around 1900. Left a mouth bow ( umqangala ), right a calabash musical bow ( umakhweyana ). In the upper middle a harmonica ( imfiliji ), underneath a concertina ( inkositini ).

In the 1920s, influential Zulu people founded the Inkatha movement, which aimed to promote the cultural interests of the Zulu people. The Zulu, who were not related to the Inkatha, but to the more radical African National Congress (ANC), included its chairman Pixley ka Isaka Seme and Albert Luthuli , who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 . In 1970 the homeland Zululand was created for the Zulu , which consisted of ten separate areas within the province of Natal . All Zulu were assigned homeland as their official residence due to the Bantu Homeland Citizenship Act . In 1975 the Inkatha movement was re-established by Mangosuthu Buthelezi as Inkatha YaKwaZulu . She saw herself as the guardian of the interests of the Zulu. Although it was opposed to apartheid , unlike other opposition groups, it took a conservative stance and worked selectively with the government authorities. In 1977, Zululand was renamed KwaZulu. In 1980 Inkatha YaKwaZulu became the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Buthelezi ran the Homeland throughout its existence and is IFP chairman to this day.

From 1989 to 1994 the IFP-affiliated Zulu were involved in civil war-like conflicts with supporters of the United Democratic Front and the ANC, some of whom also belonged to the Zulu. Thousands of people died. Nevertheless, the IFP was the only South African homeland party that was involved in the negotiations to end apartheid. In 1993, around 5.2 million people, almost all of them Zulu, lived in KwaZulu, and around two million outside of the homeland. In 1994 KwaZulu was dissolved with the end of apartheid and integrated into the renamed province of KwaZulu-Natal . The IFP was integrated into Nelson Mandela's government and thus pacified.


The majority of the Zulu live in KwaZulu-Natal, but there are also many Zulu in the metropolitan areas of Gauteng (19.8%) and Mpumalanga (24.1%). The best-known Zulu is Jacob Zuma , who was president from 2009 to 2018 and also chairman of the ANC until 2017. In the 2011 census, around 11.6 million or 22.7% of South Africans stated that they speak isiZulu as their first language and can thus be counted among the Zulu. This makes them the largest ethnic group in South Africa. A Zulu king still resides in Ulundi , but he only has representative duties.

List of clan chiefs and kings of the Zulu

Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu (* 1948), king since 1968

The traditional clothes

Men's clothing

Traditional men's clothing usually consists of a two-piece apron that is used to cover the genitals and buttocks. The front piece is called umutsha and is mostly made from springbok skin. The back piece of clothing is called ibheshu and is made from a single piece of the skin of a springbok or cattle. The length of the ibheshu is an indicator of age and social status. Married men usually wear headbands ( umqhele ), which are also made from springbok skin . Men of high social rank, such as chiefs or leaders, wear a headband made of leopard skin. During ceremonies and rituals, as well as dances or weddings, the Zulu men often wear bracelets made from cow tails, which are called imishokobezi .

Womens clothing

A married woman covers her entire body to show that she is taken and wears a leather skirt that has been treated with charcoal and animal fat. Over this skirt she wears a different fabric in white, red or black. The woman wears a cover over her breasts, decorated with pearls and with a message that only her husband can understand. The most impressive ornament is the hat, which is made of grass and cotton and is sewn into the hair. This lasts a few months and is then renewed.

Related ethnic groups

See also


Web links

Commons : Zulu  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ English-isiZulu translation , accessed March 3, 2014
  2. Shaka Zulu assassinated at history.com (English), accessed December 14, 2015
  3. Presentation at voortrekker-history.co.za (English), accessed on March 2, 2014
  4. ^ Report of the Alan Paton Foundation at paton.ukzn.ac.za (English), accessed on March 3, 2014
  5. report at hrw.org about KwaZulu 1993 (English), accessed on March 2, 2014
  6. Reconciliation agreement between the government and the IFP 1994 at nelsonmandela.org (English), accessed on March 2, 2014
  7. Summary of the 2011 census results, p. 25 (English, PDF), accessed on March 2, 2014
  8. Summary of the 2011 census results, p. 27 (English, PDF), accessed on March 2, 2014
  9. List of Zulu leaders at sahistory.org.za , accessed on March 2, 2014
  10. a b Traditional Zulu Culture (English), accessed March 2, 2014