From Zulu. The word means "crushing" or unlimited warfare, and it generally refers to the Zulu expansion and its aftermath, from about 1818-1838. However, most of southern Africa was already embroiled in mfecane several years before Shaka came into the fray, as a result of chiefdoms attempting to expand their range. It has been suggested that this process began around the end of the eighteenth century as an attempt to control trade routes, but probably has more to do with the need to control larger territories for grazing during drought periods. After a time it became a self-perpetuating process, as small chiefdoms could no longer survive and the limited territory brought the emerging kingdoms into constant conflict. The end result of the warfare was the breakdown of many chiefdoms, a series of mass migrations throughout the area, and a catastrophic weakening of the resistance to European expansion from the Cape Colony.

The first major battle of the mfecane was between Zwide of the Ndwandwe and Sobhuza of the Swazi in 1816.

Note: also called difaqane. Also this is the Sotho word, the terms can be used interchangeably.