Dingane (also spelled Dingaan) was the second king of the Zulu
and brother of Shaka
. While Shaka has rightfully earned a place in history as the man who turned the Zulu from a minor Nguni
tribe into a kingdom capable of influencing all of South Africa
, Dingane was every bit as ruthless, but less successful a ruler, and by the end of his reign in 1838
the young kingdom had lost significant territories and military power.
Dingane inherited the Zulu throne by assassinating his brother Shaka. Together with another brother, Mhlangane, and an advisor named Mbopha, he stabbed Shaka to death in 1828. While at first he reversed some of Shaka's more excessive decrees, he also instituted a host of his own proclamations, and had several of Shaka's favourite sub-chiefs killed and replaced with his own loyal subordinates. In short time, his fellow conspirators in the assassination of Shaka were also murdered, along with most of his surviving family. Like Shaka, Dingane was more afraid of his own family than of anyone else, even to the point of refusing to have any sons.
The constant fighting of the mfecane continued under Dingane's rule. Alliances were forged and broken at an alarming pace, territories were annexed and lost in short periods, and many tribes broke away from the kingdom and were either engulfed by other chiefdoms or fled to Port Natal, where the British welcomed them into the town that had effectively become a new British colony. Dingane's ama-butho were able to weaken many of the neighboring tribes, but were unable to hold significant additions to their territory. In time, the instability and apparent depopulation of the area made it an inviting target for colonization by the disaffected Boers of the Cape Colony, who in 1835 began what came to be called the Great Trek.
Conflict with the people of the Great Trek
Throughout 1836-87 the Trekkers pushed into Transorangia, Lesotho and the borders of Zulu territory, driving Xhosa populations out of their land. In 1837 Dingane was visited by Piet Retief, a respected Boer farmer who had become one of the leaders of the Great Trek. Retief, although adored by most of the Trekkers, was a ruthless leader given to tactics of trickery and intimidation, who showed no respect whatsoever for Xhosa or Zulu ways and wanted to bring his followers into Zulu territory by any means neccessary. Dingane, already wary of Retief and of white men in general, promised to grant the Trekkers the region of Natal if Retief would recover some cattle that had been stolen by Sekonyela of the Tlokwa.
Shortly after Retief's departure, before he even came in contact with the Tlokwa, he sent a threatening letter to Dingane reminding him of his promises and advising him to consider that as the Boers had already defeated the Ndebele, they would crush the Zulu with similar ease if the land was not granted to them. This was only the first of a series of threatening letters. Meanwhile, Retief's followers had already begun to move into Natal and settle in small groups around the tributaries of the Tugela river, although Retief's promise had yet to be fulfilled.
When Retief did eventually meet Sekonyela, he tricked the chief into putting on a pair of handcuffs, then held him prisoner until his people surrendered Dingane's cattle, as well as all of their horses and guns. He then returned to Dingane's court at uMgungundlovu to claim his territory, but by this time Dingane had decided that the Boers could not be trusted and must be done away with immediately. He signed a document granting Retief's people the area between the Tugela and Umzimvubu rivers, then invited Retief to a ceremonial dance to be held on February 6, 1838.
1838 - From uMgungundlovu to Blood River
When Retief and his sixty-nine comrades arrived at the farewell dance, they were forbidden to bring their guns into the royal enclosure. Fearing nothing from the seemingly beaten king, they entered without suspicion and stood in the middle of a throng of Zulu warriors performing their famous dances. At the climax of the dance, Dingane ordered his men to "seize the wizards". They were all taken to Matiwane's Kop and executed, and forces were immediately dispatched to attack the encampments along the Tugela river.
Reaching the Boer encampments on February 16, the Zulu managed to decimate several encampments who were caught without warning. Other camps, however, had been forewarned and put up an impressive resistance. In all, about 600 of the Trekkers were killed and most of their cattle were taken or driven off, but most of the encampments survived and were soon joined by massive reinforcements. Punitive strikes against Dingane's forces were quickly organized, but due to disagreements between the commanders of the Trekker forces, they were easily routed. Over the course of the next year, the Zulu managed to defeat both the Boers and the British forces from Port Natal, driving the British out of the area and opening the way for the Boers to annex the town into their newly established "United Laagers". But despite their numerous victories, Dingane's people were finally crushed on December 15, when most of the available Zulu forces attacked a laager of 64 wagons, armed with guns and cannons, at what subsequently came to be known as Blood River. After this defeat, a British force freshly arrived from the Cape Colony brokered a peace agreement between the Zulu and the Boers, with Dingane agreeing to pay thousands of head of cattle and cede the entire area between the Tugela and St. Lucia Bay to the Boers. (This latter part of the treaty was a secret agreement between Dingane and the Boer leaders, and was not disclosed to the British commanders. Had they known about it, they would probably not have allowed it, as it all but ensured that the fighting in the area would continue and that the Boers would have a considerably larger territory from which to resist British control).
Knowing that the British and Boers would both remain active in the area and would, in all probability, soon demand even more territory, Dingane attempted to withdraw his people to the north-east. The demand to withdraw from their lands was more than many of his people could bear, and a large group headed by his brother Mpande - the only brother Dingane had not bothered to murder - actually fled to Boer territory to ask the Trekkers for help. When this new alliance attacked Dingane's forces, his troops were decimated and many more warriors defected to Mpande's side. Retreating from the battlefield with a small group of warriors, Dingane fled into Swaziland, where he was killed by a local chief.
In only ten years, Dingane had managed to cripple the Zulu military capacity so carefully developed by his brother. Worse than that, in the process of doing so he contributed to the downfall of all the neighboring kingdoms, drove out the British, and allowed the Boers to establish themselves as the only significant power in the area. After Dingane's death, Mpande was formally declared king of the Zulus with the support of the Boers, but was firmly under their control. Within a few years, Mpande was forced to surrender 51,000 head of cattle to the Boers, virtually destroying the backbone of Zulu society and further tightening Boer control over all the indigenous groups. The Zulu were far from completely defeated, and in time they would manage to regain enough strength to become a major thorn in the British Empire's side, but they would never regain the power they had weilded under Shaka.