Wallace G. Mills Hist. 316 9 Zulu
The Zulu Kingdom and Shaka
- in this topic, we shall discuss several, very important aspects: the process of Zulu state-building, and the effects of the creation of the Zulu kingdom (the mfecane) and the nature of African chieftaincy.
Tendency to divide
- the Nguni peoples migrated from the north and west; Gluckman in his chapter says it was in the middle of the 15th C (i.e., just before the Portuguese circumnavigated southern Africa), but it seems likely that it was significantly earlier (the estimates were based on oral traditions). The Xhosa, the southern wing of this linguistic group, was ensconced in the Transkei in the 16th C and were moving/expanding about 200 miles or so over a century; thus, the pace of the migration was almost certainly slower than was previously thought.
- the Nguni are divided into 3 groups: the northern Nguni (the Bantu-speaking peoples in modern Natal and now almost all called Zulu), the southern Nguni (all in the Transkei and Cape and all now grouped together as Xhosa) and the Swazi. Linguistically, the northern and southern Nguni are still quite close and can usually make themselves understood to each other; a large number of words are the same. The Xhosa tend to speak more quickly and tend to elide more, dropping some syllables; however, the Xhosa have picked up clicks from the Khoikhoi, many of whom they absorbed. The Swazi language though has undergone a number of sound shifts; that indicates that the language separated from the other Nguni languages quite a while ago.
- it seems that prior to the late 18th C, the northern Nguni were very similar to the southern Nguni in their political situation; that is, there were a fairly large number of small chieftaincies with a tendency to division and fission.
- the underlying basis of this fissiparous tendency seems to be the desire of the people to feel close to the chief; as a polity grew larger, some of the people were inevitably feeling more remote and neglected. They were more ready to give their loyalty to an alternative leader.
- 2 tendencies were built into Nguni societies which facilitated this, especially in the structure and practice of royal households;
- first, was the structure of the polygynous family (see the diagram of the theoretical structure). Each wife was given her own physical hut but she also became an economic entitya house. Land would be assigned to her for cultivation and cattle would be assigned to her house for her and her children. What she produced in the fields and the cattle, plus their increase, could not be disposed of without her permission even though in a theoretical sense it all belonged to her husband.
- second, was the usual practice of marrying the Great Wife (who would produce the heir, her eldest son) late in life. The rationale was that it was not a good idea to have an heir who had reached maturity waiting around for many years before he could succeed to the chieftaincy. He was likely to become impatient and to be a focus for all those who were discontented or ambitious.
- the right-hand wife would be married early (not usually the literal first). The right-hand wife would be the daughter of an important, powerful family. The Great Wife was often the daughter of a neighbouring chief and her dowry was usually paid with contributions from the whole people as she was the mother of the nation.
- among the northern Nguni (Zulu) there was sometimes a 3rd sectionleft-hand house (they would be arranged theoretically around and below the Great House and its rafters. However, this section was not important politically; we wont talk about it further.
-other wives were placed and ranked under and within the Great House or the Right Hand House as rafters. They and their children were part of their respective sections and expected to support their leaders in the Great House and Right hand House respectively. Also, in the event that either the Great Wife or Right Hand Wife failed to produce a male heir or if their male children were obviously mentally or physically unfit, then a male from one of the respective rafters would go to live in the Great or Right Hand House and become the heir.
- the practice of marrying the Great Wife later in life produced a recurring scenario; the heir of the right-hand house would be much older than the heir to the Great Housethe heir to the chieftaincy. The Right Hand heir thus had many years to build up a following and to prove his abilities. When a chief died, the heir of the Great House might be very young, even a minor. If there were a section of the people who were dissatisfied, there might be an opportunity for the Right Hand heir to try to usurp the chieftainship or to assert his independence and establish a separate chieftaincy.
- also, there could be a substantial movement of the common people away from an unsatisfactory or unpopular chiefs to other neighbouring chiefs. This of course acted as a check on despotic behaviour of chiefs because such behaviour would drive people away, thus weakening him and strengthening is neighbouring rivals.
Militarising and state building
- late in the 18th C, there began a process of militarising and confederating among the northern Nguni; over the next 3 decades, a number of very important innovations were introduced that revolutionised military and political organisation. A main innovator was Dingiswayo, chief of the Mthethwa.
- it used to be that almost all the innovations were attributed to Shaka (Gluckman mentions Dingiswayo only in a footnote); now much more is attributed to Dingiswayo but its not possible (relying on oral evidence, much of it collected in the 19th C and not with todays standards) to be sure in every case who was the innovator. Perhaps Zwide of the Ndwandwe also made innovations but the Ndwandwe were subsequently forced to flee or survivors were incorporated into the Zulu kingdom so their oral traditions have been largely lost; some innovations were copied fairly quickly.
- Dingiswayo certainly instituted the age-regiment system and some scholars also say he abolished male circumcision. Age-regiments were a feature of many societies in Africa, including the Sotho although they did not use it extensively for military purposes; however, it had not been an institution of the Nguni.
- male circumcision was virtually universal among Bantu-speaking peoples of southern, eastern and central Africa. Usually it was performed on males in late adolescence as part of the initiation into manhood and warrior status. This initiation was part of a very extensive set of ceremonies, education and training, including physical conditioning, all of which lasted close to a year.
- in some peoples, but by no means all, the initiation experience and activities would be carried out simultaneously and all the boys going through it over several years would be grouped together into an age-regiment. In time of war, the men gathering together for war would group themselves together according to age-regiments.
- however, among the Nguni, initiations had been done mostly on a piecemeal basis whenever several boys in a neighbourhood were ready. When a chiefs son, especially an heir, was approaching the age, many boys would wait and be initiated with him because this gave status and also helped politically with an heir because friends during the initiation often remained close and could become advisors (indunas) to the heir after he became chief.
- the introduction of the age-regiment system gave a more military cast to society; with the abolition of circumcision, being called into an age-regiment became the new initiation. The rationale for the abolition of circumcision was to cut down the time and resources expended on circumcision and to get the young men into the army more quickly.
- the abolition of circumcision was a very unusual event. Circumcision was regarded as an almost mystical experience during which boys were turned into men and warriors. It was also regarded as an hygiene matter. Certainly, even if they lived to be 100, males who failed to get circumcised would always be referred to as boy and no woman would agree to marry them or accept them as lovers. This overwhelming social pressure is a main reason why missionaries ran into a brick wall when they tried to prohibit circumcision among their converts.
- the only other case of abolition was among the southern Nguni Mpondo (on the border of the Transkei and Natal) when they were being harried by the Zulu and by northern Nguni refugees fleeing from Shaka in the 1820s. Clearly, military necessity and turmoil brought about the abolition among them. Recently, the Mpondo have begun to take up circumcision again apparently because other Xhosa women require it before they will consider any relationship with a man.
- with the men grouped into military regiments and more extensive training, Dingiswayos army became more formidable and Dingiswayo began to build a confederacy of peoples by conquest and incorporation. Zwide, the leader of the Ndwandwe people, began to adopt the same innovations. As a result there was a process of conquest and consolidation of the northern Nguni into 2 confederacies.
- was born about 1787. His father, Senzangakona, was chief of the small Zulu people (probably about 10,000 people); his mother, Nandi, was not a politically significant wife (there is even some question about whether she was a legitimate wife). Subsequently, Nandi and her children were forced to leave and Shaka was raised among his mothers people and others. Bad treatment during his growing up is usually given as the reason Shaka later showed such vicious and even pathological behaviour. According to the stories, Shaka (and his mother Nandi) was disliked and was constantly fighting with other, often bigger, boys.
- many whites have attributed Shakas pathological personality as a consequence of being illegitimate. This is almost certainly incorrect. Being illegitimate in our definition was not associated with any stigma to a child in African societies (certainly, becoming pregnant while unmarried could ruin a girls chance of marriage and at least lowered the amount of lobola that could be received). Legitimacy determined who had claims to a childthe fathers family or the mothers family. However, children were greatly prized and valued; marriage was validated and legitimised by the payment of lobola and that determined who had rights to the children. It also determined from whom males had claims to inheritance. Illegitimacy as such would not have been a cause of bad treatment.
- Shaka joined Dingiswayos army in 1809; perhaps because he had always been fighting, he took to the army like a duck to water and quickly came to Dingiswayos attention. He was made leader and commander of his regiment and soon became a protege of Dingiswayo.
- like the people among whom Shaka had been raised, the Zulu were part of Dingiswayos Mthethwa confederacy. In 1816 on the death of Senzangakona, Dingiswayo intervened in the succession and helped Shaka to become chief of the Zulu although he had very little claim to the chieftaincy.
- Shaka began innovating early:
- in 1818 just 2 years after Shaka became chief (during this time he organised and trained his approximately 2,000 Zulu warriors to a peak), his patron Dingiswayo was captured and killed by Zwide; Zwide launched a series of attacks against the Mthethwa confederacy which began to disintegrate. It was Shaka who stepped into the vacuum with his small but very disciplined and effective Zulu army. Initially, Shaka avoided direct battles with the main Ndwandwe armies, but he would harry smaller units or retreating forces. He began to rally the Mthethwa and rapidly incorporated them into his Zulu army. In a short time, his growing army began to be successful. Eventually, he defeated the Ndwandwe who were either killed, incorporated into the Zulu or were driven out (a couple of bands fled into Mozambique).
- 1st he had hardened himself physically by running long distances and abandoning footwear so he could go faster. He began to drill his men the same way; they were trained to go long distances with little food or water. Shaka was implacable; he would force his men to run through thorns and anyone who showed any hesitation or even reactions to pain would be killed for being a weakling and a coward.
- Shaka abandoned the long throwing assegai in favour of a short stabbing assegai with a redesigned shield. He argued that once the long assegai had been thrown, a warrior was without a weapon. The short assegai could be used repeatedly, and because a warrior was so much closer to his enemy, it could be used with much greater effect in wounding or killing him. The new shield was designed so that it could be used to hook the opponents shield, pull and expose the opponents body to a thrust from the stabbing assegai.
- under Shaka, the impis were recruited from men from all peoples being incorporated into the Zulu kingdom which meant that the impis acted as a melting pot. Each impi had its own herds of cattle for food and had its distinctive shield from the markings of the cow hides. Very high levels of esprit de corps were developed and intense competition with other regiments was encouraged. Each impi had its own village of up to 1500 huts around a huge cattle enclosure which served as a practice ground. Service in the army was continuous and long term. Except for short visits home to visit family, every warrior remained most of the time with his impi until Shaka gave permission for the regiment to retire (only when the men were in their 40s). The result was that previous identities were quickly submerged into identity as a member of an impi and then as a member of the Zulu kingdom.
- this regimental system gave the Zulu kingdom a large standing army of superbly trained and conditioned warriors. It also created an enormous pressure to keep them occupied (if they were not fighting enemies, they were prone to outbreaks of fighting each other). Moreover, warriors who had been in battle and killed an enemy were allowed to wear a distinctive head ring. Thus, young impis were clamouring to wash their spears (i.e., be in battle) so that they could qualify. This was not a real problem during Shakas time because he kept them busy with annual or more frequent campaigns. Eventually, many warriors became tired and Shakas assassination in 1828 caused great relief. However, later kings, Mpande and Cetchwayo who were trying to avoid hostilities with whites, often had difficulties because the system was not well adapted for prolonged periods of peace.
- units of unmarried females were assigned to each impi to prepare food and perform other domestic duties. However, Shaka insisted on abstinence from sexual activities among his warriors (like some football and soccer coaches today). Any woman who became pregnant, along with her lover, would be immediately put to death. Nor did Shaka allow his warriors to marry until he gave permission, which he did infrequently and only when the regiment was being retired. Then, he would order the entire regiment to marry and would specify the unit among the women that they were to marry (kind of like Rev. Moon).
- in effect, all of society became organised around the impis; families of the men in the impis had to provide some of the grain to feed the warriors.
- the attack formation known as head and horns (a phalanx formation) was also developed to replace the long skirmishing line (whether Shaka was the original innovator is not clear, but he certainly developed it to its devastating peak).
- in an attack, the horns would go racing to surround the enemy force while the centre head would advance slowly. Once the enemy was surrounded, the head would advance to slaughter the enemy.
- these new tactics and weapons revolutionised warfare. Previously, war had been rather a tame affair. The opposing forces would line up in 2 long lines facing each other more than a spear throw apart. They began by hurling insults at each other and then warriors from either side would begin to run forward and throw their spears at their opponents. Many could be warded off with ones shield or dodged. If one side received more casualties than the other, this would be seen as a sign that this was not a very auspicious day for their side and they would usually retreat with the intention to seek a return engagement on a more favourable day. In fact, warfare never got this far often; much of warfare had been cattle raiding; if one side was getting the worst of this, then they might decide to move away to escape the depredations. Now, warfare was deadly and involved great loss of life.
- in fact, Shaka was soon engaged in a massive programme of conquest and incorporation of all peoples of Zululand and modern Natal. Shakas methods were brutal, but effective. People who submitted were incorporated into the Zulu kingdom, in some cases in the early days they even retained their leaders. Those who resisted were smashed; in battle, the Zulu did not take prisoners, old people were killed and the young incorporated into Zulu societyyoung men and women were incorporated into regimental systems. By the time of Shakas assassination in 1828, the Zulu kingdom had at least 250,000 people (other estimates range considerably higher). People from many different political entities had been moulded into one; moreover, the identity as Zulu was very strong and there was no possibility of breaking down. Previous identities had been submerged and all thought of themselves as Zulu. The Zulu by their depredations had become enormously wealthy in cattle and this added to the pride in being Zulu.
- under Shaka, Zulu society was intense and violent. Political, social and economic aspects were arranged to support the militarisation of society. It was often compared to ancient Sparta, but, in fact, the proportion of the male population involved full-time as warriors was substantially higher than in Sparta. In Sparta, the warriors were a small aristocratic elite while among the Zulu, virtually every able-bodied male from the late teens into their 40s were warriors.
- terror was an important aspect of Shakas rule; executions were frequent for a wide variety of offences and often were capricious. If a person angered Shaka for any reason, he might simply order them to be killed; a frequent form of execution was impaling.
- the degree to which Zulu society came to reflect Shakas pathology showed on the death of his mother, Nandi. Shaka was grief-stricken and ordered a number of measures to show grief, including abstinence from all sexual activities. However, the pathological behaviour spread widely and anyone not displaying sufficient grief was liable to be set upon and killed. Many people all over the kingdom were killed as a result.
- Shaka had no heirs; any of his wives who became pregnant were killed. Two explanations are often given:
- Dingiswayo had created only a loose confederation with the identities and structures of the component peoples still in place. The weakness of this system showed up when Dingiswayo was killed and the confederation fell apart. Shaka built a large kingdom with a fairly centralised structure. In cases where groups resisted incorporation, the ruling family had to flee or were all killed; in this case, Shaka put one of his own subordinates in charge. Initially, when peoples submitted to becoming part of the Zulu kingdom, Shaka accepted the ruling family as subordinate leaders in his administrative hierarchy (this became less likely later). Partly because he was very suspicious and partly because these leaders were a threat (Mzilikazi led his followers in a flight to the high veld area in the Orange Free State and Transvaal where he established the Ndebele kingdom), Shaka got rid of all or most of these traditional leaders.
- Shaka wanted no sons who might become a focus for the discontented;
- Shaka was impotent and knew that any wives who became pregnant must be guilty of adultery.
- in choosing chiefs and headmen for the subordinate levels of his bureaucracy, Shaka did not choose members of the royal family (he had a number of half brothers, sons of Senzangakona) or members of the aristocracy; he choose commoners, often able regimental leaders who would have little or no traditional rights to be chiefs and who were, therefore, indebted to and dependent upon Shaka for their position. They would be likely to support Shaka faithfully. Gluckman, in describing the Zulu kingdom in a later stage, says that these subordinate chiefs and headmen were hereditary. Certainly, Shaka probably would never have allowed this, but this kind of evolution is very common in a personal bureaucracy.
- Shaka insisted that all trade remain a royal monopoly. Trade was never a huge element, but there was certainly some limited trade with Mozambique and later with a small group of Englishmen who established a small trading post on the coast at present day Durban in the early 1820s (a lot of our information about Shaka and the Zulu kingdom comes from these traders whom Shaka permitted to stay there). While this trade may have increased Shakas power to some extent, contrary to the claims of some researchers, I have never seen much evidence that trade was a crucial or determining element in the Zulu kingdom.
- in a period of about 10 years then, Shaka succeeded in building a large kingdom and a powerful sense of identity that has remained, in spite of a number of disasters, down to the present. That is a considerable achievement.
- however, the effects of its creation and its predatory character resulted in the devastation of huge areas and populations. Its creation initiated a period of turmoil and trouble in southern Africa which came to known as the mfecane or difaqanetime of troubles.
Mfecane or Difaqane
- like the epicentre of an earthquake, the creation of the Zulu Kingdom and the militarism upon which it was based sent shock waves throughout southern Africa; its effects and ramifications were felt much farther afield up into central Africa as far as modern Tanzania and lasted for decades. In other ways, it was like the blasting of a cue ball into a rack of billiard balls which were then sent careening in all directions.
- by the end of the process, the surviving northern Nguni had either been incorporated into the Zulu state or had been driven out.
- refugees and smashed chieftaincies were set in motion; some groups were small and not well organised, although even they were often desperate and starving; other groups were organised and powerful fighting units.
- the southern Nguni along the coast (Transkei) were subjected to successive waves; many of the refugees were taken in by the Xhosa as dependent clients where they became known as Mfengu (Fingos). This almost certainly increased the population pressure in the Transkei and eastern Cape areas which was further increased by the British pushing back the Xhosa during the wars with the Xhosa (1770s until 1877-78). The British also gathered a force to repel one group of invaders from Natal who made their way through Lesotho.
- later, the British engaged the Mfengu as allies who played a major role in the wars in which the Xhosa were repeatedly defeated. They were rewarded with land and cattle taken from the Xhosa. This produced long term hostilities which are remembered even to this day.
- others fled from Natal up into the high veld area where their raiding and desperate attacks disrupted life and societies there. The Sotho and Tswana peoples were peaceful and totally unprepared for the onslaught of waves of fierce and desperate invaders. Chieftaincies there were disrupted, destroyed or in their turn set in motion attacking others. One of the best known of the latter was led by a woman, MaNtatisi and the group were referred to as Mantatees. We know of them because they launched a number of attacks on peoples where missionaries were located in the area from Kimberly northwards. Eventually, the remnants returned to their original area where the north eastern corner of the Cape meets Lesotho.
- in the turmoil, an outstanding man, Moshoeshoe, was able to use two hilltop fortresses to provide an island of refuge and relative safety. There he collected and received refugees of many peoples and welded them into a kingdom known as Basotholand. We shall return to analyse his achievement in more detail later.
- a breakaway group from the Zulu led by Mzilikazi began to establish the Ndebele kingdom in the Orange Free State/Transvaal area. When white trekboers in the Great Trek moved into the area in 1837, defeats in several clashes convinced Mzilikazi to move north of the Limpopo River and establish his kingdom there.
- another manifestation was a group known as the Kololo. It was formed from fragments of Sotho and Tswana peoples in the high veld. They attacked and disrupted peoples in modern Botswana and eventually, pushed by attacks of Mzilikazis Ndebele, moved north to settle in the upper Zambesi River. There, they helped to form the Rozwi kingdom and became known as the Barotzi.
- other refugee groups fled from Natal north; about 1820, a group led by Soshangane devastated the area around Lourenço Marques (the Portuguese had to flee to ships and watch as the town was looted and burned). Eventually, they settled down (becoming known as the Shangaan) and created a large chiefdom in Mozambique.
- another band left Zululand in the 1820s led by Zwangandaba. The history of this group shows the amazing durability of a social, military system. After harrying people in Mozambique, the group moved into Zimbabwe where it finished the Shona culture and society that had originally centred on Great Zimbabwe. The group crossed the Zambezi River in 1835. There was some fragmentation in the next decades as some elements attacked and then settled down in a number of places around Lake Nyasa; sometime during this period, they became known as Ngoni. Others, however, continued north and eventually were brought to a halt in southern Tanzania just south of Lake Tanganyika in the late 1860s. When the Germans arrived in the area in the late 1880s, the process was still going on as the Hehe and other peoples in the area were copying and adopting the military formations of the Ngoni as a means of surviving.
- the secret of this durability was the regimental system which could continually incorporate new recruits to replace those who died off or who dropped out to settle down. The system also provided very substantial military advantages over the organisation and fighting tactics that were commonly used. Even where peoples managed to avoid being smashed, they did so only by adopting the same innovations as their attackers. Thus, there was a reorganisation and militarisation of societies in all areas affectedeither from elements that dropped out and used the system or by forcing people to adopt the same innovations in order to survive.
- it is fascinating to observe the momentum and durability of a social and political system; usually, procreation and rearing of children is the mechanism. With Zwangandabas Nguni/Ngoni, it was conquest and incorporation. In the course of their wanderings, the personnel was completely changed as the original Nguni members from Natal were killed, died or dropped out. By the time they reached central Africa, the language had changed along with the name.
- also, the Swazi were forced to move north-westward from Natal and managed to hold their own despite some Zulu attacks in what became Swaziland.
- the results of all this were enormous losses of life and massive disruptions of many societies. Even cannibalism broke out as disruptions led to famines; however, cannibalism was no more common among Africans than among Europeans. Africans regard it with as much horror as other people do.
[this is still a stereotype of Africans as cannibals (missionaries in big pots) and its still a source of cheap jokes. What were the sources of the stereotype?
- large areas in South Africa were depopulated (or at least were left with small groups of people hiding out in inaccessible areas). This was the situation on the high veld area where Ndebele impis (and occasional Zulu impis) kept the turmoil going in the 1830s as well as the other hordes which were still moving and raiding. In Natal, it was even more the case. The Zulu were north of the Tugela River, but Zulu impis were sent south frequently; the rest of Natal had only small, isolated and very insecure little bands left in remote, out of the way places. Thus, it seemed relatively vacant and empty when the Trekboer spies visited in the early 1830s. Thus, the mfecane helped to facilitate penetration of the high veld and Natal by white settlers.
- partly, Africans were the sources; in regard to neighbours with whom you are in conflict and whom you fear, there is a tendency to attribute terrible traits and characteristics. What is the most fearful and terrible thing? Cannibalism. That is even more likely if that enemy is engaged in capturing and/or trading slaves.
- or if you are a middleman in trade between Europeans and peoples farther inland and want to continue to monopolise that trade, you might try to deter Europeans from bypassing you to trade directly by frightening them.
- for both reasons then, Africans sometimes accused other Africans of being cannibals and this was reported as fact by Europeans.
- - in some cases, the stories gained credence as a result of ritual practices (not so much in human sacrifices because that was rareDahomey being one of the few examples).
- parts of slain enemies were sometimes taken and used in purification rituals;
- also, the Zulu used spears to make holes in the abdomens of their slain enemies; Europeans reacted with horror at these mutilations. The Zulu regarded the taking of a human life as an awful act; the Zulu made the hole to let the spirit of the dead person out. Otherwise, they thought that the spirit would haunt and harm them (the idea of a trapped spirit probably arose from the bloating of corpses in the hot sun). After killing someone, the person was ritually impure and in great danger until purification and strengthening ceremonies could be performed.
- - later, racism made attribution of cannibalism to Africans by whites both psychologically and politically useful.]
Explanations of State-building in Natal
- this has long been a subject of much speculation; the Zulu Kingdom fascinated Europeans and drew frequent comparisons with ancient Sparta (both societies were entirely organised around the army). Although the Zulu were defeated by a Boer commando in 1838 at the battle of Blood River, Zulu society had recovered, and from the 1850s and 60s, white settlers in Natal had frequent nightmares about being awakened by Zulu warriors who would promptly dispatch them with a quick stab of an assegai. This was unwarranted because the Zulu kings consistently tried to avoid war with whites.
- the result of this fascination is a large volume of literature on Shaka and the Zulu. Unfortunately, much of it is not very good or very accurate. This is true of the miniseries, Shaka Zulu. Thus, approach this literature with more than usual caution.
(1) Imitating and/or learning from whites
- this was the leading explanation by whites in 19th C and is still prominent in many popular histories. It has been thoroughly discredited.
- supposedly, Dingiswayo or Shaka ran into some white hunter or other tourist who imparted many ideas that Dingiswayo or Shaka used to begin the transformation. There is no credible evidence for this and the leading candidate as the white source of knowledge did not visit the area until well after the process had started.
- this explanation was largely a product of white racism; its assumption was that Africans were not capable of coming up with such far-reaching innovations on their own. Thus, there must have been some white man who provided the creativity. This is similar to the fantastic hypotheses put forward to explain Great Zimbabwe (i.e., the migration of light skinned strangers from the Middle East who had come via Ethiopia and east Africa) because whites would not and could not accept the possibility that it had been created by Africans.
(2) Individual Genius
- it used to be that Shaka was in the spotlight, but as weve noted, Dingiswayo certainly made major contributions and Zwide was obviously no slouch either.
- the great man approach to history is too often overdone. In this approach, events and the course of history itself is attributed to one individual and his will, his genius.
- there are questions we need to raise. Do great men create the context and situation in which they operate or are they products of their environment? Are leaders thrown up by the requirements of the situation or do leaders create their own environment? Winston Churchill is an interesting example to consider. Could there have been a Napoleon without the French Revolution?
- thus, while recognising the contributions and the leadership qualities that allowed the individual to seize their opportunities and to assert their leadership, it is necessary to analyse the situation and factors that had called forth and provided the opening for that leadership.
(3) Economic trade
- historically, trade has frequently been important in state and empire building. In this hypothesis, trade provides both the means (increased wealth) and the motive for empire building.
- Lourenço Marques had been occupied by the Portuguese for a long time and there certainly was a trading system centred there. Moreover, there was trade (ivory and skins for European goods) between the Nguni and this trade network. Some writers have made much of the fact that Shaka made trade a royal monopoly which he controlled and the profits of which he retained. This trade (which shifted to the trading post established on the coast at present day Durban) was never large, partly because Shaka limited it so severely; this was a constant source of frustration to the English traders there. This seems to destroy the argument that trade and trade profits were either a significant motive or means. Although the Zulu acquired guns in this trade, they never learned to use them effectively, again undermining the significance that trade may have played.
- moreover, the Zulu never traded slaves (a main commodity in Lourenço Marques); they were more than willing to kill their opponents but not willing to sell them.
- the wealth of the Zulu was cattle and they acquired this in war not in trade; nor would they have been willing to trade very many of their cattle.
- Alan Smiths article, which discusses aspects of trade in the area, was seized on by those who think economic motives and relationships explain everything to put forward this hypothesis. However, there is no proof in that article; yes there was trade, but it was far too little to provide any credible explanation for Nguni state-building.
(4) Population Explosion
- the argument is that the process was provoked by a population explosion which intensified the struggle for land as population densities increased; this struggle initiated the consolidation and drive to become more proficient in military activities.
- the most probable cause of this explosion was the introduction of maize by the Portuguese in the 16th C; it produces greater production per area than did the previous cereal crops of millet and sorghum, both of which are more vulnerable to birds and losses during harvesting. This new crop won wide acceptance to become the staple cereal.
- population increases are cumulative and after 3 or 4 generations, the impact is large.
(5) Climatic crisis
- this explanation has been around for about 25 years or so and has been gaining acceptance; it is similar in many ways to the population thesis.
- this view takes cognizance of the long term cycles in climate, often related to fluctuation in rainfall. During periods of increased rainfall, the carrying capacity of the land also increases and this allows for the population to increase; again this develops a momentum as increases are cumulative. Then, when the cycle turns and becomes drier, the population is too large for the lower carrying capacity of the land. The growing competition for the dwindling resources leads to rapid and escalating resort to military means. The winner is that group which developed the strongest and best military machine. This has been used to explain the periodic outbursts from Mongolia that several times have had profound effects for peoples in Asia and even as far away as Europe (i.e., the Huns, the Tartars, Genghis Khans outburst, etc.)
- however, the military machine has a logic and life of its own; its purpose is fighting; it needs war to justify itself. Zwangandabas group is a prime illustration.
(6) Julius Cobbing thesis
- this is very recent (Cobbing first put his thesis forward in 1987) and has not been widely accepted by most historians. Cobbing has tried to turn the entire concept of the mfecane/difaqane upside down. His argument is that it was outside pressures and intrusions that were disrupting the entire area. These included the pressures on and wars with the Xhosa in the south, the intrusion of trekboers in the middle and the trade, especially the slave trade, in the north. All of these, he claims were efforts to appropriate the labour of Africans by whites.
- there is little evidence for this. Certainly, there were influences (even the knowledge that white people were coming from across the sea could alter perceptions and cosmologies) and the introduction of a major food crop such as maize could have far-reaching effects. However, the chronology does not seem to fit Cobbings thesis. The process seems to have started before many of the intrusions could have affected the northern Nguni. If the pressure on the Xhosa was such an important factor, why was it not the southern Nguni who were at the centre of the process? If they were being driven back in the west by the British, why did they not drive north and east? In any case, the effects on the Xhosa did not become serious until some years after the British arrived; the process in Natal was already under way before that. We have already discussed the trade and slave trade factor and discounted it.
- in some ways this is a restatement of the first explanationi.e., that the process was largely a product of external stimuli rather than something generated by internal dynamics and responses. It is a product of a fixation on finding a materialist explanation for everything. Thus, these intrusions and pressures are the end tentacles of a European capitalism which is found to be the root of everything. One problem with this is that it denigrates the ability of anyone other than capitalists to do or to initiate anything (thus, workers are always hapless victims; but how these manipulated and passive victims are supposed to initiate and carry out a proletarian revolution is never explained!).
- moreover, similar circumstances in Mongolia have several times produced similar solutions and outcomes without having to conjure up European or other capitalism as a deus ex machina explanation.
- surely, we do not need to narrow down to only one explanation. The creation of the necessary conditions might well be a combination of both population growth and a climatic crisis. Then, the leaders who can be most successful in forging the military tools to survive and be successful in these conditions were able to come to the fore.
Results of Zulu success
- the Zulu did develop a strong state and a powerful sense of identity. It became the largest political and military African state in southern Africaat least 250,000 people and about 50,000 warriors by the time of Shakas death (from about 2,000 warriors and 10-15,000 people 10 years earlier).
- the state was so firmly established that it could survive Shakas death. There was no question of a breakup; Dingane quickly and easily quashed all revolt.
- however, that success also became a source of weakness;
- despite the arrival of whites (traders) who established a tiny settlement on the coast, neither Shaka nor his successors took much advantage.
- Zulu kings (including Shaka) controlled trade and used it to acquire guns, but the Zulu never learned to use them effectively. Nor did they ever acquire or use horses. The spectacular success of their organisation and tactics under Shaka embedded these in Zulu tradition. One can argue that it may require the shock of defeat to force societies out of their complacency. Thus, its not too surprising that they hadnt done much before the battle of Blood River 16 December 1838, but they had another 40 years before confronting and being beaten in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1877-78. The Zulu learned nothing from their defeat and fought the same way at Isandlwana and Rhorkes Drift. Even though Isandlwana was a victory for the Zulu, it was a Pyhrric victory as their losses were too heavy to be sustained. After an initial burst of creativity, Zulu society and leadership became very resistant to change.
- this further discredits the old arguments about borrowing from whites as the explanation of the militarisation and innovations among the northern Nguni; the Zulu became very conservative and resistant to change. This contrasts with Moshoeshoe and the Basotho who not only acquired guns and horses but also learned how to use them very effectively.
- Shakas kingdom was built on terror and violence; it was highly militaristic like Sparta, but unlike Sparta, it was very aggressive and predatory on its neighbours.
- it also had high levels of internal violence; the regiments were so competitive and so violent that they had to be kept separate; hundreds would die if they fell to fighting each other.
- this was a major reason why they were sent on such frequent attacks against neighbours; they needed to be occupied. There was enormous pressure, especially from new regiments of young men to wash their spears; until they had shed blood in battle, the warriors were not allowed to wear the head ring.
- executions were frequent and endemic; a favoured form of execution was impalinga sharpened pole up the rectum. Shaka especially was arbitrary and unpredictable; however, an army trained to a peak of violence may need a heavy hand to keep it from running amok.
- Shaka distorted so much; as noted the warriors were supposed to remain celibate while they were in the regiments until Shaka gave permission to marryusually into their 40s. Any unmarried woman who got pregnant by a warrior was executed as well as her lover.
- any of Shakas wives who got pregnant was killed.
- the frenzy on the death of Nandi is very revealing. Shaka was pathological and Zulu society came to reflect that.
- in spite of the success and wealth, the Zulu people became tired of Shaka and his rule; Shakas assassination was a relief. Dingane began by easing up; a number of older regiments were allowed to retire, marry and settle down. Executions and inner turmoil were reduced.
- however, the system soon triumphed and Dinganes kingdom soon came to be not very different from Shakas; executions increased again.
- Mpande, who was another brother of Shaka and came to power with help from Boers after Blood River and the assassination of Dingane, did try to get things more peaceful; also, Zulu society needed time to recover from the defeat. But by 1860, many Zulu were getting restless again. 2 sons were competing for the succession and after a civil war, Cetchwayo triumphed. He actually came to usurp power from his father. Zulu society seemed to be reverting to the old ways with rising executions.
- one difference was that Cetchwayo himself was strongly defensive and very anxious to avoid conflict with whites, especially with the British. He did try to mollify the aggressive younger regiments who were agitating to wash their spears with occasional raids against the Swazi. Thus, when war came in 1877, it was almost entirely provoked by Sir Bartle Frere, the Governor-General at the Cape.
- Shakas Kingdom has left a continuing conservative legacy as it continues to be held up for inspiration. Some African nationalists, not just Zulu either, invoked Shakas name and that of the Zulu Kingdom as a way to kindle pride in the face of the repression and humiliation to which Africans were subjected in the 20th C. But the legacy tends to emphasise traditional and military values. Zulu still tend to pride themselves as being warriors and superior to others.
- thus, Zulu migrant workers are notoriously the most conservative and alienated from urbanised, more assimilated Africans; much of the terrible fighting in the PWV (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) area in the late 1980s and early 90s usually involved Zulu migrant workers against urbanites. Its true that the government and police used and stimulated this conflict, but it was already there to be manipulated.
- Zulu migrants were especially desired by property owners as watchmen because they would fight to the death as a matter of honour to protect the property.
- the Inkatha Freedom Party tended from the later 1970s increasingly to embody this backward-looking tendency and in fact had deliberately tried to expropriate the Shaka tradition for itself, to glorify the macho, the violent and the aggressive.
- they increasingly tried to destroy the ANC and what it stood for; they allowed themselves to be used in the attempts to prevent the end of white minority rule, first by the National Party Government and then when De Klerk was negotiating, by police and army elements who were trying to destabilise the situation and thus to abort the process of political change.
- in Natal itself, there has been a 15-20 year civil war between Inkatha and the ANC in which thousands of people have died. While both sides have been guilty of massacres and terrible atrocities, the underlying cause has been the attempt by Inkatha, which had its origins and base in Zululand, to destroy the hold that the ANC had in the reserves as well as the urban areas of Natal where it had been established since the creation of the ANC in 1912.
- thus, Shakas legacy has had a number of negative features, both for the short term in the 19th C and again in the way that it has been used late in the 20th C.
- the Zulu also failed to adapt militarily. Shaka acquired guns as did later leaders, but the Zulu never learned to use them effectively. The prestige of the impis with their methods and weapons was too great. This resulted in very bloody defeats by Europeans with guns and horses. Even the experience of the Battle of Blood River in 1838 was not learned. Even though the Zulu won the Battle of Isandlwana in 1877 against the British, the high number of casualties by it a Phyric victory. Moshoeshoe, the Basuto leader, acquired both guns and horses and taught his men to use them. As a result, the Basuto were much more formidable and were able to resist more effectively than the Zulu.
- nor were the Zulu very adaptable politically. Moshoeshoe brought missionaries in and got their sympathy and support; they then assisted him in his relations with the British govt. Thus, when the Boers were about the crush his kingdom and drive his people out of Basutoland, Moshoeshoe was able to get the British to step in. Moshoeshoe was able to allow Christianity in without allowing it to divide his kingdom.
- the Zulu refused to allow missionaries in (any Zulu who became Christians were killed or forced to flee). By that and in reaction to the high levels of violence and executions, most missionaries were thoroughly alienated so that even the American and Norwegian missionaries active in the area supported and urged British conquest of the Zulu kingdom.
- while both Mpande and Cetchwayo had tried to maintain good relations with Natal, the nature of the Zulu state and its militarism created fear in white settlers and provided incidents which stirred tensions.
- there has been, too frequently it seems to me, a tendency to lionise Shaka and the Zulu kingdom; its creation was a marked achievement, but there is little else to admire. The Zulu kingdom was built around killing, both internally and externally; it was never able on its own to transform itself into a more normal human society.
Moshoeshoe (c. 1786-1870)
- Moshoeshoe was also a state-builder who built a large kingdom; his career and his kingdom were made possible by the Mfecane. He also provides an interesting contrast with Shaka.
- Moshoeshoe too was a genius, but he operated very much within the parameters of traditional chieftainship. However, he could also transcend the limitations of a traditional world view and in fact come to understand a great deal about a much wider world.
- he had political and diplomatic skills of a very high order. He was also much more perceptive about the changes that the intrusion of Europeans was bringing; he never stopped analysing and adapting in order to achieve the optimum outcome.
- thus, Moshoeshoe was a man of both worlds, epitomising the traditional chief and king, keeping in touch with the bulk of his traditionalist people; he was also able to operate effectively in the realms of the whites, both missionaries and government officials.
- Moshoeshoe was the son of a minor chief in modern Lesotho who early gained a reputation as a good cattle thief; this attracted a number of young men to him, but he would have remained a minor chief but for the Mfecane.
- in the midst of the disruption and turmoil, he selected a mountain top for protection and gathered his family and a few people there to ride out the storm. However, this first stronghold proved to be inadequate, and selecting a much better stronghold at Thaba Bosiu, he moved his people there. This stronghold was virtually impregnable and was never captured by Africans or Europeans (the Boers never tried, but a British army did in the 1850s and the Cape Colony tried in the early 1880s).
- with this stronghold as a refuge, Moshoeshoe attracted people looking for peace and some stability. Accepting all sorts of people, even former cannibals, he slowly built up his kingdom in present day Lesotho and substantial areas in the south eastern corner of present day Orange Free State.
- although he always tried to use non-military means to achieve his goals and to protect his people, he and his people became formidable fighters when forced to defend themselves.
- the migration of trekboers in the Great Trek created new threats from the 1840s. The Basotho held their own through the 1850s, but were under increasing pressure in the 1860s in wars with the Orange Free State.
- Moshoeshoe always tried to remain on good terms and have treaties with the British. However, the British, with their withdrawal from north of the Orange River, had pledged as part of their deal with the Boers (the Sand River Convention in 1852 and the Bloemfontein Convention in 1854) to abrogate all treaties with Africans north of the Orange.
- in the 3rd war with the Orange Free State in the mid-1860s, the Basotho were in danger of complete defeat. Finally, the Governor of the Cape Colony intervened in 1865 and annexed Moshoeshoes kingdom. The main reason he did this was that if the Orange Free State drove the Basotho out of Basutholand down into the Transkei, the latter would blow up as it was already over-crowded and rather tense.
- having saved his people from destruction at the hands of the Boer government of the Orange Free State, Moshoeshoe died in 1870, well over 80 years of age.
- Moshoeshoe is the most admirable and most sympathetic leader in South Africa in the 19th C.
Moshoeshoe and missionaries
- he received and accepted peoples from different ethnic background; in fact because of all the turmoil, his people were extraordinarily diverse, including not only Sotho-Tswana people from the high veld area, but also Nguni refugees from Natal; there were even a few Griqua & Bergenaar people from westward areas.
- he not only provided a degree of security in this very unstable era, but he also provided land and cattle, thus showing the generosity that Africans looked for in a great chief.
- he tried to avoid war and fighting when possible; he sent crane feathers to Shakaa sign of subordination. This helped to direct Zulu attacks away from Moshoeshoe and his people.
- on the other hand, he had a keen eye for military matters and advantage; he showed this in moving his military base from Butha Buthe to Thaba Bosiu. When confronted by Griqua with guns and horses, Moshoeshoe set out to acquire both and encouraged his men to become proficient in the use of both. The Basotho were the only people to do this and it is a major reason why they became such a formidable military entity.
- Moshoeshoe was an innovator in other ways too; he urged his young men to go to work in the Cape Colony. This was partly to acquire guns and horses, but he also urged them to learn all they could and to bring back anything useful (plows, wagons, etc.). This achieved considerable success because in the 1870s and 80s, the Basotho turned out substantial quantities of grain and agricultural surpluses for export.
- he learned about missionaries and how useful they were from the Griqua. He sent cattle to buy a missionary; when the first cattle were intercepted and stolen, he sent a second time. When Moshoeshoes request for a missionary arrived at the LMS station, it so happened that 3 French Protestant missionary families had just arrived and were trying to decide on an appropriate field to begin mission work. They treated this as a Macedonian call and went there in 1833. The missionaries and Moshoeshoe founded an amazingly successful alliance and relationship.
- the missionaries became Basothophiles and worked very hard to advance and protect Basotho interests. They helped with correspondence and advice on how to conduct relations with the British; they used contacts with the LMS as well as Presbyterian and Congregational churches in Britain to bring political pressure to bear.
- Moshoeshoe, on the other hand, encouraged and assisted the activities of the missionaries; he provided land for mission stations, sent his own children to mission schools to provide the lead to other people. He raised no obstacles to wives or children who wanted to convert; for the wives, he gave them a divorce and provided cattle for their maintenance.
- he dampened hostility and harassment of missionaries. This was of course useful in keeping missionaries in line; if they were getting too demanding, he simply lifted his influence. The missionaries then had to go to Moshoeshoe for help because their gardens were being trampled by cattle or all the children were pulled out of school. Missionaries soon learned that their work and ability to stay depended largely upon Moshoeshoe.
- Moshoeshoe seems to have used the missionaries. Thompson claims that mission stations were located along likely invasion routes because he knew that other Africans were reluctant to attack whites, especially missionaries.
- Moshoeshoe was very able and intelligent; he never learned to read and write, but learned a great deal in discussions with missionaries. He came to be knowledgeable about Christianity and world affairs. He showed his ability to hold his own in the new world imposed in South Africa by the intrusion of whites. He got European clothes and furniture; missionaries taught some of his wives to make and serve English tea. European visitors were given the full treatment of being served tea and offered knowledgeable conversation about religion (including theological differences between different denominations) and about world affairs. They never failed to go away raving about Moshoeshoe. They were of course almost always condescending with qualifications about .for an African or treating him as some sort of freak who was the exception that proved the rule about African inferiority. The point is that no matter how deeply ingrained their prejudices, they could not help but be impressed.
- he was extraordinarily gifted as a diplomat, showing a deep understanding of human psychology. His sending of the crane feathers as a sign of submission to Shaka spared his people further attacks and cost him nothing. He used this technique of allowing his opponents to save face several times.
- Moshoeshoe also showed his genius in domestic politics and he managed this better than almost any other African leader during these very difficult times.
- Mzilikazis impis were beaten off and retreating when Moshoeshoe sent a number of cattle as a gift with the message that they must be starving to engage in such ferocious attacks and here was a gift to help feed their children. This gesture so impressed Mzilikazi that he never again sent an army to attack Moshoeshoes people.
- again in the 1850s after a British force under Warden had been beaten off and were retreating in failure, Moshoeshoe sent a substantial herd of cattle with the message that Warden had punished him enough and the cattle were offered as payment of a fine. This allowed Warden to accept and to save face.
- white intrusion and Christianity often split African societies; as we shall discuss in more detail, the southern Nguni were split between school people and reds and even today some bitterness persists. In Natal, the Christians were called Kholwa.
- Moshoeshoe started with a much more heterogeneous population than others. His power rested upon influence and personal prestige; he did not use coercion or terror. When people had come to him in groups, he allowed them to settle as groups; later, as pressure from the Boers grew, one or two leaders did make deals with the Boers, but most maintained their loyalty to Moshoeshoe and remained Basotho.
- as the Basotho nation grew, Moshoeshoe used his sons as regional chiefs in administration; this worked well during Moshoeshoes lifetime because his prestige was so great that his sons could not become too independent. However, it did cause trouble after his death as the sons had independent power bases.
- the success and security provided by Moshoeshoe welded the heterogeneous people into a nation over a period of a couple of generations so that even divisions and almost civil wars in the 1880s-90s did not destroy that sense of common identity.
- Moshoeshoe also managed to contain the Christian-traditionalist divisions; he allowed and encouraged Christianity even in the face of strong opposition among the traditionalists. He was helped in this by the French missionaries who argued that their converts could and should support their chief and country in war, even against the British, just as people in Europe did (only a few British missionaries managed to divorce their own nationalism to do this). However, Moshoeshoe never allowed the missionaries to interfere too deeply in Basotho culture.
- he never became a Christian; that would likely have alienated the traditionalists. However, he always kept the missionaries in a state of thinking he was likely to convert. He was genuinely interested and became very knowledgeable about Christianity. A daughter of one of the earliest missionaries (she had been born in Basutoland) had been quite close to Moshoeshoe as a little girl. Then, after being educated in France, she returned as the wife of another missionary and the close relationship continued. She never stopped urging him to become a Christian. Then, as he lay dying, she rushed to his deathbed and again urged him to become a Christian; she always claimed after that he agreed and thus became a Christian on his deathbed. Who knows? He might well have wanted to please her and knew that it wouldnt matter after his death.
- Moshoeshoe could usually persuade his people to do what he considered necessary, including observing treaties and agreements; however, this was sometimes difficult (e.g., when the Basotho were required to give up land they had held) and took time. This was misunderstood at times by British officials who had a stereotype of African kings as despots or was sometimes used as an excuse to accuse Moshoeshoe of duplicity.
- Moshoeshoe did operate a direct national parliament called, the pitso. This dealt with national issues and all adult males were allowed to attend and participate. Here again Moshoeshoe usually got what he favoured, but it was on the basis of his prestige and ability to persuade, not on force.
Moshoeshoe and the British
- with advice of French missionaries, Moshoeshoe early decided that an alliance and perhaps even annexation by the British was necessary for his people. He felt that the trekboers were a serious threat and that the Basotho could not withstand them on their own.
- in pursuing this objective of an alliance with the British, he was confronted by great fluctuations and reversals in British policies.
- the imperial government always wanted to reduce expenditures, but on the other hand needed stability. Without stability, wars erupted and expenditures soared. But stability required a more active involvement of the imperial government and troops. The 2 objectives clashed.
- London was a long way from South Africa (until steamships, it took about 3 months each way); this not only limited knowledge, but made officials in London dependent on advice from those supposedly knowledgeable of South Africa. They also had to give governors a good deal of latitude. Sometimes governors would take action to play a greater role in the interior even if their instructions had strongly discouraged such actions. Then, officials in London would order a reversal.
- as a result, British policies tended to vacillate.
- Moshoeshoe was prepared to resist the British when that was necessary to maintain his people and society, but he always maintained or returned to his overall policy of trying to achieve a British alliance or finally, as defeat by the Orange Free State loomed, an annexation.
- in theory, the chief had total power over his people:
- in practice, most chiefs were much more like constitutional monarchs with many checks on their power.
- the chief owned all land;
- he controlled the court system and his court was the highest and final court of appeal;
- as chief judge he could eat people up (i.e., confiscate their property, especially cattle) and even had the power of life and death;
- he was the national religious leader;
- he was the wealthiest man and had the most wives in his society.
- this has been the subject of a great deal of misunderstanding. Shaka was frequently accepted as the norm; Shaka was almost a complete despot ruling in arbitrary fashion; executions were frequent and often capricious; he ruled through fear and terror.
- however, Shaka was by no means the norm; in fact, he was more of an exception and was atypical of most African chiefs (its a bit like saying that all European political leaders were like Hitler or Napoleon). There was a spectrum of types; at one end was Shaka as the ruthless despot while at the other end were chiefs who resembled our queen. The queen in theory and on the face of it has very wide powers, but in practice she is a figurehead with virtually no power. All her nominal powers are exercised by ministers and the cabinet or by parliament as a whole. Thus, some chiefs were complete figureheads with most decisions being made by their council of advisors. Most chiefs were somewhere in the middle depending upon their abilities and personalities; most had to consider and act in accordance with the wishes and expectations of their people. Even great leaders like Moshoeshoe had to persuade on most important issues; Moshoeshoe was outstandingly able and intelligent, but he illustrates the ideal of African chieftainship and is more typical than Shaka. As we shall see, any chief who failed to take account of his people and their wishes would find himself in serious trouble.
Restraints on a chief
- a chief who was unpopular could quickly lose his people and his position:
Powers of a chief:
- Usurpation by competitorscustom and tradition decreed that only a member of the royal clan could be chief so no outsider could supplant a chief. However, with polygynous royal families, there were always brothers (including half-brothers) or uncles enough to make a plausible claim to the throne.
- Desertion to another chief
- neighbouring peoples were often similar culturally, linguistically, etc. so such a move was not too wrenching if one were dissatisfied.
- chiefly power depended on the number of his followers and people; newcomers strengthened a chief and were usually welcomed.
- thus, an unpopular chief would find his power draining away even as his neighbouring rivals were being strengthened. He would begin to lose land and cattle to his rivals and would become even less popular and less respected.
- Assassinationthe person of the chief was sacred as far as the majority of people, the commoners, were concerned, but relatives in the royal clan were not so restricted. This is what happened even to Shaka, as well as to his assassin and successor, Dingane.
- Depositionthis seems to have applied mostly to Sotho and Tswana
- in all societies, the heir to the previous chief was the eldest son of the Great Wife.
- in some cases an unpopular chief could be deposed by downgrading the status of his mother. This could only arise if the status of Great Wife was not clearly defined (in many societies this status was clearly defined). By downgrading the status of his mother, it could be claimed that his succession was not legitimate and he would be deposed.
- Indunas or councillors
- almost all decisions were in fact collective decisions as we shall see.
- as an heir came of age, his father would usually choose a number of older advisors or indunas to advise the heir; the latter would also choose some of his friends (usually young men who had gone through initiationcircumcisionwith him), but as young people their status and influence would normally be limited.
- also, when a succession took place, many of the powerful indunas of his father would be too powerful and influential to ignore so they would have to be included. In effect, the powerful families and men normally had to be given a voice.
- therefore, a young chief usually started his reign with a majority of older indunas; only if he lived long enough, would he gradually acquire a majority of advisors whom he had himself chosen and helped to positions of power and influence. But again the powerful could not be ignored.
- this is the power to make new laws and change old ones. Few chiefs had any legislative authority.
- African law was extensive and sophisticated, but it was based on custom and tradition. Chiefs too were subject to the law and were expected to maintain it. The ancestors in the ancestor cult were very much preoccupied with maintaining custom and tradition; they showed their displeasure when this was not done by allowing disease to affect the people, their animals and their crops. Chiefs who tried to change the law or failed to maintain custom and tradition would soon find their people becoming unhappy because every illness and problem would be attributed to this cause.
- few chiefs were strong enough to tamper with custom and tradition. The abolition of circumcision of young men (among the Zulu and the Mpondo) as part of the rite of passage to adulthood were an exceptional occurrences; Shaka also made the regimental system more rigid and long-lasting (no marriage and long service).
- among the Xhosa, such changes are very difficult to find; some attempts are known, but almost always they had to be abandoned.
- in theory, the chief was the chief justice; everyone had a right of appeal to the chief, including from the decisions of headmen or sub-chiefs. Thus, he was the final court of appealthe supreme court.
- in theory, it was the chief who made the decisions. Court cases were handled very extensively. The chief, his indunas and anyone else who wanted to attend sat and listened to everyone involved in the casecomplainant, the accused, witnesses and anyone having evidence or relevant information. Anyone attending could ask questions and cross examine all witnesses. When all the facts and evidence of the case had been heard, then discussions on the relevant law would examine all aspects. The chief normally did not participate in the questioning or the debates.
- there were a couple of ways that decisions would be rendered. In some societies, the chief and his indunas would retire to confer on the verdict and the chief would then return to announce his decision, which would really be a collective decision of his council. Alternately, the chief would wait for a consensus to develop in the discussion; then he would rise to render his verdict. As he was talking, he would listen for sounds of approval and agreement; if he heard only stony silence, he would normally begin to backtrack until he did hear sounds of agreement and satisfaction.
- finally, chiefs could in fact be overruled if they were so foolhardy as to ignore the general sentiment and opinion.
War and peace
- such decisions were decided only in large council meetings with all adult males able to attend and participate in the debates. Also, diviners and war doctors were consulted to decide if the time or action was auspicious. Decisions were reached in the same way as judicial decisionsdecisions were announced by the chief as his decision but in practice decisions were usually collective decisions made with his council and in line with popular wishes. A chief who was an outstanding warrior would likely have more say. While the chief was official commander, leadership in battle might well be in other hands.
- it is important to note that in regard to the actual power and influence of the chief, there was a large spectrum. Vigorous, strong leaders could direct decision-making much more extensively than weak, and not very forceful men. Thus, at one extreme were chiefs who could make decisions which would be accepted and followed, especially if they proved themselves to be successful in attracting more followers, in getting more cattle and in getting more land.
- the chief was regarded as father of the people and that included more than just political and judicial functions. In fact, they often took the name of a chief, as the ancient Hebrews in the Bible. AmaXhosa and amaZulu mean people or children of Xhosa and Zulu respectively even though only members of the royal lineage were literal descendants of those long dead chiefs. While the chief commemorated in this way was usually dead, living chiefs also could provide the name.
- the chief was supposed to show generosity, especially to those who were destitute (like a father); thus, a chief needed many wives (they did agricultural work and thus provided food for hospitality) and large herds of cattle so that the latter could be lent to needy families.
- marriage alliances were a means of tying all the important families in the chieftaincy to the royal housethe chief would over the years accumulate many wives. He also married his sisters and daughters to other families.
- as agricultural producers, a large number of wives helped to build up the wealth and resources of the royal family.
- large cattle herds were very important as a means of attracting people to the chieftaincy.
- the chief also had important religious functions. He was chief priest of the national religionthe ancestor cult of the royal clan. He performed important ceremonies and rituals (such as, fertility ceremonies to start planting, thanksgiving ceremonies after harvest, performed sacrifices at times of disaster or crisis).