Zulu - The Crushing chronicles the rise of the mighty Zulu Empire, and the bloody struggles and international wars fought against savage enemies and scheming colonisers - across realm and time - under the command of a series of Zulu Kings who vie for power and the right to sit on the Zulu throne, in a story of duplicity and treachery, love and honour, conquest and triumph.
The series is structured as an hour-long ten-part series that has several plot lines , but centres primarily on the story of the ‘The Crushing’ (Mfecane), a period of widespread chaos and warfare among the Zulu and other African clans that takes place between 1815 and 1840. The series starts with the reign of the Zulu king, Senzangakhona, then follows the creation of King Shaka’s militaristic Zulu Kingdom, which was the prelude to the ‘Mfecane’ and follows a web of alliances and conflicts among the dynastic Zulu family, as members vie to claim the throne. It reveals the political rivalries, personal intrigues and romances that shaped the Zulu nation, ending with the reign of King Cetshwayo, the last Zulu king to officially be recognised by the British Empire.
Leading up to 1815…as populations increase greatly in Zululand following the Portuguese introduction of maize in Mozambique, at the same time there is an upsurge in the coastal slave trade from Port Natal to Inhambane, causing Africans to turn to larger states for defence at a time that demands for labour on the Eastern frontier of the Cape Colony are stimulating destructive raiding by bands of armed Griqua and Kora horsemen, and state-sponsored warfare against the Xhosa chiefs. Shaka is being raised in his mother’s settlements, and training as a warrior under Dingiswayo, chief of the Mthethwa clan. It is there that he begins working on a short, large-bladed stabbing spear and practicing how to use it lethally. We discover that his real name is Sgidi, and that Shaka is a reference to his illegitimacy, when his mother’s family thought her pregnancy symptoms were the result of a stomach ailment known as ‘utshaka’, caused by the iShaka beetle.
In 1816, on the death of his father, Shaka’s brother Sigujana becomes chief. With the help of Dingiswayo, Shaka assassinates Sigujana and becomes chief of the Zulus – a tribe numbering fewer than 1,500 in 150 sq.kms of territory. Shaka begins to grow his army during a time of drought and social unrest. He attacks and conquers his neighbouring tribes and forces them to become part of the Zulu nation. He is a brilliant military organizer, forming well-commanded regiments and arming his warriors with assegais. Violent competition among tribes in Mozambique to supply Portuguese traders with ivory and other trade goods inspires the ‘amabutho’, a regimental system where young men are absorbed into their tribe's military force according to age. Shaka refines this system and forges a strong army. This, combined with his adoption of new weapons and tactics – especially the 'chest and horns' tactic of surrounding enemy forces and annihilating them - means that the Zulus become a powerful fighting force.
In 1817, Chief Dingiswayo of the Mthethwa, goes into competition with the Ndwandwe for control of the trade routes to Delagoa Bay (now Maputo), resulting in the execution of Dingiswayo in 1818. This allows Shaka to assimilate more and more clans in the area. In 1818 Shaka starts the Mfecane wars. The displacement of people results in many clans trying to dominate those in other territories, using Shaka’s own tactics, and this leads to widespread warfare. Tribe is set against tribe over an ever-increasing radius in areas weakened by overpopulation and overgrazing. People fight one another for meagre supplies of grain and cattle, hunt whatever wild game they can find, and seek out any remaining water supplies in a desperate attempt to survive. The ‘Crushing’ results in the establishment of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka’s rule.
Over the whole of South Africa, the Mfecane causes immense suffering and devastates large areas, as refugees scramble to safety in mountains, or are killed. The death toll climbs to two million people. The devastation and depopulation gives white settlers an excuse for expansion into Natal and the Highveld areas. At the same time, the Mfecane shroud systematic illegal slave trading by white settlers to feed the demand for labor in the Cape colony and neighbouring Portuguese Mozambique.
The Mfecane also results in the creation of Sotho, Ndebele and Swazi Kingdoms and Mozambique - as people feel the need to bank together to secure access to foodstuffs and to protect themselves from Zulu marauders.
The impact of the Mfecane is also felt far beyond South Africa, as people flee from Shaka’s armies as far as Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia.
In 1820 Shaka seeks revenge for Chief Dingiswayo’s death, and receives it with the Zulu’s victory over the Ndwandwe in the Battle of Mhlatuze River. During most of the 1820s, Shaka also consolidates his power through a series of wars against neighbouring peoples. His armies raid for cattle and food, and attack any who challenge the authority of the Zulu monarch. Shaka extends his realm north to the borders of present-day Mozambique, west across the Drakensberg Mountains, and south to the margins of the area that would later become the Transkei homeland. He also welcomes British traders to his kingdom and sends diplomatic emissaries to the British king. He builds a kraal called ‘Bulawayo’.
By 1926, Shaka has created an army of nearly 50 000 warriors who defeat and rob other groups for cattle and grain. These attacks are highly organised raids and all resulting booty is transferred to Shaka as his property.
In 1828 Shaka’s mother, Nandi, dies and Shaka loses his mind in his grief. He orders hundreds of Zulus killed, and outlaws the planting of crops and the use of milk for a year. All pregnant women are murdered, with their husbands. He sends his army away on an extensive military operation, and when they return, exhausted, he immediately orders them to go out again. Outside of Shaka's second kraal is a kei apple tree known as Coward's Bush. Here, Shaka puts to death those who displease him - for little or no reason.
He embarks on a campaign against all chiefdoms in the area between the Cape Colony and KwaZulu Natal, not only to raid, but also to establish a trade route between his kingdom and the Colony. Shaka then decides to turn his army around and move north to attack the kingdom in southern Mozambique. He remains behind as his army travels north and two of his brothers, Dingane and Mhlangane, conspire against him with the help of Mbopha, an induna, whose mother Shaka had put to death.
While Shaka is sitting on a rock, meeting a delegation in his cattle enclosure, Mbopha distracts Shaka by abusing the delegation for being late. He drives them out of the enclosure, as Mhlangane stabs him in the back. Dingane is with him. They throw his body into an empty grain pit, with his personal belongings.
Later, Dingane also kills Mhlangane and becomes the ruler of the Zulu. During Dingane’s reign, the historical Battle of Blood River is fought in 1838. In January 1840, Prince Mpande finally defeats King Dingane in the Battle of Maqongqe and is subsequently crowned the new king of the Zulus.
His weak claim to the throne and his constant fear of assassination made him a despotic ruler. Dingane maintained the centralized and militarized organization of the Zulu state and sent his armies out on raiding missions. Victories, however, were few because of the growing strength of neighbouring African kingdoms, and by the end of the 1830s Dingane's hold on power was being challenged by internal discontent and external threats.
Mpande adopts an expansionist approach, culminating in the invasion of Swaziland in 1852. During the invasion, Mpande's eldest son Cetshwayo proved his capacities as a leader and goes on to become King Cetshwayo, leading the Zulu nation in the two epic battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. The British defeat at Isandlwana prompts a redirection of the British war effort, and they began winning victories, culminating in the Siege of Ulundi – the Zulu capital city - and the subsequent defeat of the Zulu Kingdom.