South Africa: Commemoration of the 140th Anniversary of the Anglo-Zulu War's Battle of Isandlwana

press release









Ondini Royal Palace: 20 January 2019

His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu; Members of the Zulu Royal Family; His Worship the Mayor of the Zululand District Municipality, Councillor Thulasizwe Buthelezi; Inkosi Mazibuko and the AmaNgwe Buthanani Traditional Council; CEO of the KwaZulu Natal Arts and Culture Trust, Ms Gugu kaMavundla Ncgobo; Members of the Royal Welsh Regiments; Friends of the Royal Welsh Museum; Members of the British Diehard Re-enactment Team; Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders in KwaZulu Natal, Inkosi Phathisizwe Chiliza; amaKhosi, His Worship the Mayor of Ulundi Municipality; representatives of Government; amaButho; Izinduna; members of the Zulu Nation.

It is fitting that we begin the 140th commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana here at Ondini Royal Palace. It is here that the Anglo-Zulu War began, when Sir Bartle Frere, the British High Commissioner in South Africa, launched an invasion of Zululand. Three columns were sent, under the command of Major General Lord Chelmsford, to converge on Ulundi.

It is here, at Ondini Palace, that King Cetshwayo prepared his regiments for war. It is here, after almost six months of bloodshed, that the Battle of Ulundi ended the Anglo-Zulu War. It is here that Ondini Royal Residence was burned to the ground. And it is from here that the Zulu Nation rose again, like a phoenix from the ashes.

We must thank Professor Jabulani Maphalala for recounting to us the great Zulu victory at Isandlwana. In introducing His Majesty the King, I have been asked to speak on the theme "Rising from Ashes". I am no stranger to this topic, for I have been speaking about this for decades, as the traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation, and as a servant of the people. I believe, most fervently, that the Zulu Nation must rise from the ashes of past defeats. And I believe that we must do so from this place; from Ulundi.

It is for this reason that when the KwaZulu Government was established, we chose Ulundi as its capital. It is tragic that the decision to move the capital to Pietermaritzburg ignored the significance of why we had chosen Ulundi.

Let me give you the background. When the apartheid regime foisted the Homelands Policy on us, we rejected it; yet we were not given the option to refrain from participating. The leader of the ANC's mission-in-exile, Mr Oliver Tambo, and my mentor, Inkosi Albert Luthuli, sent a message to me through my sister, Princess Morgina Dotwana, asking that I accept the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Zulu Territorial Authority if the people asked me to lead.

Indeed, in June 1970, I was unanimously elected by members of the Territorial Authority, who included Amakhosi, to be the first Head of the Zulu Territorial Authority. That later became the KwaZulu Legislative Authority, and later the Government of KwaZulu.

The intention expressed by my leaders, Inkosi Luthuli and Mr Tambo, was that I work to undermine the apartheid system from within. They knew that I was a loyal cadre of the ANC, for we had worked together for years. They also knew that I was the great grandson of King Cetshwayo, and the traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch. They knew that I had been called by blood and by destiny to serve my people. They believed, therefore, that I was the best candidate to fight our fight from the impossible position of participant in that oppressive system.

When the KwaZulu Government was established, the South African Government wanted us to adopt Eshowe as the capital. But we refused. We would not go along with the pattern of the Homelands Policy. We chose Ulundi as our capital, explicitly stating that the Zulu Nation preferred to rise from the ashes of King Cetshwayo's capital. It was from here that we would rebuild, and restore the dignity of our nation. From day one, we broke the mould.

Here in King Cetshwayo's capital we built the infrastructure for administration, including residences for Members of the Executive and Members of the Legislature, and residences for civil servants. Ulundi received an injection of resources and development, with investment following close on its heels. Businesses began to thrive, and the communities around Ulundi experienced relief from poverty and hardship.

But the symbolic significance of making Ulundi our capital was far greater. It restored the dignity of our nation after the defeat of the Anglo-Zulu War which saw our King imprisoned and our kingdom artificially divided, setting the stage for internal conflict in that age-old strategy of divide and conquer. We were now leading the administration of KwaZulu, once again from the seat of King Cetshwayo's capital.

It was from here that I was able to reject the offer of nominal independence from Pretoria. The grand scheme of the apartheid regime was to balkanise South Africa, removing the parts where the majority of blacks resided, turning them into independent Bantustans. In this way, the regime could stand up to international criticism of apartheid's policies, claiming that they were not oppressing the majority in South Africa, for there was no black majority in South Africa. The Bantustans were no longer part of our territory.

When they approached me, as Chief Minister of the KwaZulu Government, offering this style of independence for KwaZulu, I refused. The so-called TBVC states - Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei - gave up South African citizenship for their people. I could not do that for the millions of black South Africans who resided in KwaZulu. I believed in liberation. I believed that we would achieve political enfranchisement, God-willing in my lifetime, and I could not countenance the thought that we would not be part of that liberated country.

My refusal to take independence proved the hopes of Inkosi Luthuli and Mr Tambo. I fulfilled their request to undermine the system from within. The grand scheme of apartheid collapsed, and millions of black South Africans retained their citizenship. We kept fighting for a country that was still our country. And every policy we adopted, every governance decision we took, and every strategy we designed, was born here, in King Cetshwayo's capital. We were indeed rising from ashes.

It was a victory doubled when democracy dawned and we were able to maintain Ulundi as the legislative capital of KwaZulu Natal. A Commission was appointed under the chairmanship of the former Administrator of Natal, Mr Radcliffe Cadman, which recommended that both Ulundi and Pietermaritzburg be used; Ulundi as the seat of the Legislature and Pietermaritzburg as the Administrative Capital. This was the case for the first ten years of democracy.

During my time as Chief Minister of KwaZulu, a further decision was taken to build the headquarters of the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders here in Ulundi. The foundations were laid, but sadly the building has never been constructed. Nevertheless, Ulundi was deemed the seat of the House, to the extent that Act Number 5 of 2005, the KwaZulu Natal Traditional Leadership and Governance Act, enshrined Ulundi as the seat of the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders.

The centrality of Ulundi, King Cetshwayo's capital, remains in the collective consciousness of the Zulu Nation, for the need to rise from the ashes remains. I have committed so much of my life to this purpose because the fate of the Zulu Nation is my fate too. The memories of Isandlwana are part of my identity. I grew up hearing about the Anglo-Zulu War from those who fought its battles, for it took place just 49 years before my birth.

Growing up at my uncle's palace at KwaDlamahlahla, I heard often about the Day of the Dead Moon, about the Martini-Henry rifles and the bayonets of the British Redcoats. I heard about the cries of "Usuthu!" and the clash of the iklwa on cowhide shields. I heard about the rivers of blood and the bodies that lay on the battlefield for months afterwards.

My own grandfather, Mkhandumba Buthelezi, was wounded at Isandlwana, while his brother, Mntumengana, laid down his life on the battlefield. Their father, Inkosi Mnyamana kaNqengelele Buthelezi, was Prime Minister to the King and served as Commander-in-Chief of the King's regiments. Mnyamana was my paternal great grandfather, while King Cetshwayo, His Majesty's great great grandfather, was my maternal great grandfather.

So when we commemorate the Battle of Isandlwana, I am remembering my own forebears. Today, we commemorate the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana. But this is not the 140th commemoration. We have not always commemorated the significant moments of the Anglo-Zulu War with a formal programme. This too has been part of our journey of rising from the ashes.

In August 1978, in my capacity as Chief Minister of KwaZulu, I approached His Majesty our King together with my Cabinet, asking that he lead us as his people to commemorate the centenary of the Anglo-Zulu War on 4 July 1979. His Majesty the King immediately instructed me to organise his people so that we could hold that commemoration. That was the first of many commemoration ceremonies of these historic events.

I approached His Majesty because I felt that it was right that we remember the King's Generals and warriors who went before us; the ancestors who died for king and country by walking the difficult paths of our past. Some of us are direct descendants of those brave warriors. Their victory at Isandlwana was a pivotal moment in our nation's history, and in our liberation struggle, which is often diminished when we talk only of the political struggle which my uncle Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme started when he and his fellow leaders founded Africa's oldest movement, the African National Congress.

We cannot talk of the liberation struggle and leave out so many lives that were lost during wars such as the Anglo-Zulu War, the several so-called "kaffir wars" in the Eastern Cape, and King Sekhukhuni's outstanding bravery during the colonial wars in which he distinguished himself to the great admiration of King Cetshwayo.

Our nation has faced unspeakable hardship. Yet we have risen from the ashes. I believe we were able to do that because of a spark that ignited on 22 January 1879. On that day, at Isandlwana, we realised our strength. We tasted the possibility of overcoming, and it left us forever hungry. Our hunger will not be satisfied until we fully overcome the great obstacles on the path to our freedom. Obstacles like poverty, like unemployment, like crime and the effects of corruption.

I have quoted before from the records of the past, but I think they bear repeating on this occasion, for this year we have focussed our remembrances specifically on King Cetshwayo. He had an unconquerable spirit, even in defeat.

He had been on the throne for just five years when the British invaded Zululand. His people had suffered a brutal war by foreign invaders. He was deposed, and his kingdom was now to be split into 13 kinglets, while he himself was exiled to the Cape.

On September 11th 1879, The Cape Argus reported his arrival by boat from Durban. The report read as follows -

"Those who have desired to see the captive (Cetywayo) out of mere idle curiosity might be somewhat surprised to find the savage king possessed of a natural gentility and dignity of demeanour... Instead of a monster who could be looked upon as the sightseer would look at a caged lion, they would find a chief, having some of the real dignity of a king... While on board the steamer on his way down he was asked why he did not appear so cheerful as usual, and did not smile. 'Smile!' asked the king. 'Did you ever see a dead man smile? I am dead when my country is taken away.'"

Many accounts of King Cetshwayo speak of his dignity and enduring hope, even in the face of defeat. One such account was written by Lady Florence Dixie, who came to South Arica as a special correspondent for The Daily News. Upon meeting the exiled King, she wrote -

"... Cetshwayo, who has been represented as a cruel bloodthirsty despot and tyrant, possesses that which many white men, with civilisation and education around them, entirely lack, and which they may well envy i.e. a nobility of soul, dignity, and courage in misfortune, which makes him in all he says, every inch a king."

This dignity and courage that was so evident in King Cetshwayo has its roots in Isandlwana. That unconquerable spirit lives on. It lives on in us.

It is my privilege therefore to stand today, to introduce to his people, His Majesty our King.

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