01 SEPTEMBER 1900
One hundred and seventeen years ago by the banks of the Umvolosi, in the country of the Zulus—an insignificant tribe of the Amakosi, or Kafirs, as the settlers, imitating the Mahommedans, call them—the strong man Tchaka was obscurely born. Time waxed, and smiting his father he fled away to find favour in the eyes of Dingiswayo, a thoughtful chieftain, to whose ears the echo of strange tidings had been borne across the waters. Far away in the land of Umhlopi, ran the tale, there had arisen a mighty kosi whose warriors, invincible and invulnerable, swept like the lightning through the ranks of opposing cohorts, and before whom, overcome with dread, kings and chieftains were casting down their spears. ‘Would that my fighting men were even as the warriors of the great white chief Napoleon,’ quoth Dingiswayo one day to his courtiers and indunas, ‘who march and charge and strike as one man, and would that my power over the Amakosi were mighty as his over the Umhlopi, and my people were the lords of our race.’
‘Give me the headship of thy army, O king,’ said Tchaka, looking him squarely in the face, and Dingiswayo, rising up, placed the ring upon his favourable head. ‘Indunas,’ he said, ‘behold your leader in the wars.’
The strong man Tchaka cast aside his courtier’s trappings, and bent the mind and the body of the army to his will. He taught his soldiers to move in battalioned might, to cast a thousand assegais as one, to march and charge in serried ranks, with each man his tight-gripped stabbing spear resting on his thigh. He taught them to love and fear him. And Dingiswayo died—the gods of the Bantu know how. Sweeping aside with his right hand the rightful heir, the strong man seated himself upon the vacant throne.
At the head of his warriors he swept through the land with fire and spear. Tribe after tribe, once scornful of the Zulu, went down to extinction before him. The watchers of the kraals sometimes in the nights heard a rustle, and their hearts grew faint within them when peering through the darkness they beheld the might mass of Tchaka’s men with shimmering assegais moving swiftly and silently on their doomed cities. Those who encountered him in the open plain beneath the sun fared as ill as those he met by night. His drilled regiments, moving rhythmically as a scythe in the hands of the master, swept through the huddled soldiers of the unreflecting Amakosi who had never learned the lesson Dingiswayo and Tchaka learned. It was, indeed, a wonderful sight to see the barbarians slaughtering their foeman with the scientific despatch of a Christian army. The men and women Tchaka slew; the handsome girls and sturdy boys he spared. Into his own tribe he incorporated them, and from them his tribe grew strong in manly beauty.
Ere Tchaka died he had extended his dominions from the Limpopo down to the borders of Kaffraria. He devastated the land and slew his hundreds of thousands, and smote the British colonists with an awful fear. He ruled with a rod of iron, and his kindred crouched before him. He raised the despised Zulu to the lordship of the Bantu race, and himself to the lordship of South Africa. At last he was slain, murdered by Dingaan and Umhlangana, his brothers, impelled to the deed by fear and ambition. Then the fratricides, anxious for his throne, plotted each the murder of the other, and Dingaan won.
It was when Dingaan—perfidious, cruel, and remorseless—reigned in the land, the British drove out the Boers. The gallant and chivalrous Piet Retief journeyed to the court of Dingaan, and asked that ruler to allow his expatriated countrymen to settle in Natal. This the treacherous one promised, and Retief with seventy white men visited the Zulu capital to arrange with the king for the cession of Natal. The deed was drawn and signed and the treaty-beer was being drunk when down on the little party of Europeans swept the Zulu warriors at a signal from their chief. Retief and all his followers were murdered even as they were pledging the health of their treacherous host, and then the great impis which Tchaka had formed spread themselves over the land, slaughtering such Boer men, women, and children, as had come into their country trusting to the faith of the fratricide. Six hundred Europeans and their native servants fell before them. Some others escaped, and Dingaan’s soldiers swept on their triumphant bloody way, defeating a force of 1,500 natives led by a score of Englishmen and came thundering down to Durban, whence the English fled to a man-of-war in the harbour. The Boer settlers more plucky, remained on land and laagered up, and after a fierce conflict drove back the savage warriors.
It was then Andries Pretorius—a brave and cultured Boer gentleman—came to the rescue of his countrymen. The English feared to tackle the terrible soldiers of Dingaan, but the Boers, to whom the blood of their slaughtered people called for vengeance knew no such craven fear. Gathering 450 of his countrymen, Pretorius crossed the Tugela and marched on the capital of the Zulus. Dingaan mobilised his army and went forth to meet him. The Boers and the Zulus met in deadly combat outside the Kafir city on the 16th of December—‘Dingaan’s Day,’ 1838. All day the battle raged, but as evening fell the hitherto invincible impis of the Zulus broke and fled. Three thousand men of Dingaan’s army lay dead upon the ground, and he himself fled with the remnant, firing his city ere he went. Then the victorious Boers marched to Durban and found that the sore-afraid Englishmen who had given them no aid in fighting the formidable Zulus had quietly grabbed the place. They continued to hold it until Dingaan recovering somewhat from his defeat raised a large army and came marching through Zululand. Then the prudent Britishers withdrew and left the Boers to do the fighting. And they did. Supported by Panda—a rebellious Zulu—they marched against Dingaan and this time utterly defeated him. He fled towards Delagoa Bay where he was murdered by one of his own subjects, and Andries Pretorius placing Panda on the Zulu throne declared Natal a free and independent Republic.
For three years the Boers were allowed to remain undisturbed in Natal; and then the English, no longer in terror of the broken Zulu power, came with horse, foot, artillery, and ships of war and grabbed Natal from the Boers. Thus did the benevolent English treat the men who had the courage to meet and the skill to beat a power which they had shrunk from coping with. Again the Boer saddled his horse and rode away from the home he had made to seek in the wilderness some place where he might live and toil in peace away from the accursed rule of the race he loathed and despised.