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British-Zulu War
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British-Zulu War Articles
Rorke's Drift
British-Zulu War Articles
The British-Zulu War
1879

Rorke's Drift
by Gilbert Padilla

By the middle of the nineteenth century Great Britain held two colonies in southern Africa, the Cape Colony and Natal. These stretched from the southern tip of the continent (the Cape) upwards along its eastern coast (Natal). In the interior of the region were two independent Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Among these European enclaves were the remnants of the original African nations, the strongest of which was the Zulu kingdom, just north of Natal. To Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, the British government’s High Commissioner for Southern Africa, this simply would not do. To Frere, the fiercely independent Zulus posed a serious threat to the policy of “Confederation”, which he advocated. The object of this policy was to ensure stability by bringing all of these groups under British control. In 1877 Britain annexed the Transvaal, thereby inheriting a border dispute with the Zulu kingdom (Zululand, or KwaZulu). Further, in 1873 King Cetshwayo kaMpande had initiated a series of internal reforms with the goal of revitalizing and strengthening the Zulu nation. To remove this perceived threat to the authority of Queen Victoria, Frere determined to orchestrate a military confrontation with the Zulus for the express purpose of breaking their power.
To the British Army commander in the region, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, this seemed a task that would require neither much time nor much effort. Chelmsford estimated that King Cetshwayo could muster an army of over forty thousand warriors, but this was a part-time citizen force armed with mostly traditional weapons, i.e., spear and shield. No matter what training or discipline such soldiers might possess, both Frere and Chelmsford judged them no match for a well-trained, well-equipped, and well-led modern professional army.
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Recommended Reading


Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke's Drift


The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879


Zulu Wars


Rorke's Drift: The Zulu War, 1879

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