Kingdom in Crisis

Author: John Laband
Publisher: Pen and Sword (2007)
ISBN-10: 184415584-6

KINGDOM IN CRISIS was the first full study of the response of the Zulu kingdom to the threat posed by British intervention in 1879, from then initial attempts by King Cetshwayo and his councillors in late 1878 to avoid armed confrontation through an attempt at appeasement, to their decision to resist by force, their strategic options, the management of the Zulu army in the field, and ultimately the effect on the kingdom of the heavy losses sustained in protracted fierce fighting. Since the Zulu army was not a professional body but essentially a part-time civilian militia, its early successes - most notably, of course, at iSandlwana - reflected the widespread determination of the people as a whole to defend their king and country, but its ultimate collapse undermined the bonds which bound the kingdom together, paving the way for the destructive civil war of the 1880s which marked the true end of the old Zulu kingdom.

Indeed, while this book serves as an important study of the war in the field from the Zulu perspective - a dimension still, rather shamefully, under-explored in many recent popular histories - it also provides a perceptive study of the mechanics of power within the kingdom, exploring the roles played by powerful councillors such as inkosi Mnyamana Buthelezi and military commanders such as Ntshingwayo kaMahole. Indeed, it is interesting to note the extent to which power across much of the kingdom's history was concentrated in the hands of influential families close to the king; Mnyanama's father, Ngqengelele, had been a confidant of King Shaka's, while Godide, a son of King Dingane's senior general, Ndlela kaSompisi, commanded Zulu forces in the coastal sector in 1879. For the most part the heads of these and other lineages remained loyal to the king throughout the pressures of the invasion - often losing family members in battle - and only once defeat became inevitable did they seek to reach an accommodation with the invaders, and even then only without compromising their loyalty to the king if possible.

Nevertheless, the British were astute enough to realise that the myth of the monolithic totalitarianism of the Zulu state, cultivated so assiduously in their own propaganda, concealed very different aspirations among the leaders of such groups, aspirations they were to unleash with destructive consequences in their post-war settlement.

John Laband's book strips away much of the mythologizing which has been a mainstay of popular writing about the Zulu kingdom, and presents instead the complex agendas which lay beneath the Zulu will to resist. It also provides the most detailed study of the various battles from the Zulu point of view, a fact which in itself should make it essential reading, even to those primarily focused upon the events of 22 January 1879.

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