The Zulu Kingdom and the Boer Invasion of 1837–1840

John Laband

After six battles, the war of 1838 between the Zulu people and the invading Boers and their Port Natal allies reached a stalemate. The Boers occupied half the Zulu kingdom and Dingane, the Zulu monarch, was discredited.
Date Published :
March 2022
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
From Musket to Maxim 1815-1914
Illustration :
c 24 b/w ills, c 16 color oills, 11 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781914059896
Pages : 276
Dimensions : 9.75 X 7 inches
Stock Status : Available


The invasion in 1837 of the Zulu kingdom by Boers migrating from the British Cape Colony, and the massacres, battles and civil war that ensued between 1838–1840 as the Zulu resisted the settlers with spear against musket, was a critical moment in South African history. Many Afrikaners long celebrated their partial victory as the God-given justification for their subsequent dominion over Africans, while today Africans commemorate the war for its significance in their struggle against colonialism.

Changing perceptions in a post-colonial world require the reassessment of wars of colonial aggression, but there is no book in English that engages with the war between the Boers and Zulu in its entire context or takes the Zulu evidence into proper account. This work attempts to do so. While dealing with the warring sides as even-handedly as possible and contrasting their military systems, it also makes a point of developing the less familiar Zulu perspective, explaining political motivation, strategic military objectives and fissures in the royal house. Further, the book situates the Great Trek of the Boers, or Voortrekkers, in the context of the many migrations taking place at that time in southern Africa as the result of widespread political and social upheavals, of which the militarily powerful Zulu kingdom had been the most significant outcome.

The book begins with the journey of the Voortrekkers over the highveld form the Cape Colony towards Zululand where they intended to settle, and with the war they fought and won in 1836–1837 against the Ndebele, an offshoot of the Zulu whose military system they shared. The battle of Vegkop proved the superiority of musket-fire directed from a secure wagon laager against an enemy armed primarily with spears, and would be the model for successful Boer engagement against the Zulu in 1838 at the battles of Veglaer and Blood River. The campaign of 1838 also demonstrated that the Zulu was masters of surprise, ambush and manoeuvre in the open field that resulted in their victories at the battles of Bloukrans, eThaleni, the Thukela and the White Mfolozi.

The war reached a stalemate by the end of 1838 but Dingane, the Zulu king, had been discredited by his inability to expel the Boers from the southern part of his kingdom. His half-brother Mpande then rebelled against him and, in alliance with the Boers, overthrew him in 1840. The Boers recognized Mpande as king over a reduced Zulu kingdom that maintained its independence until the British invasion of 1879.

About The Author

JOHN LABAND is Professor Emeritus and Chair of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, and is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England. His books include The Rise and Full of the Zulu Nation (1997); The Atlas of the Later Zulu Wars (2002); The Transvaal Rebellion: The First Boer War (2005); Kingdom in Crisis: the Zulu Response to the British Invasion of 1879 (2007); the Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars (2009) and Zulu Warriors: The Battle for the South African Frontier (2014).

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