FOR more than half a century prior to the formation of the Natal Mounted Police human life was sacrificed in South Africa as though it were of no account. Intertribal warfare was continuous, and but little is known, or ever will be known, of some of the appalling carnivals of bloodshed which were the fruits of fanaticism and savagery.
An era of comparative peacefulness in Natal ended about the year 1812, when the first of two great Zulu chieftains began to train his men for battle systematically. They had fought as untutored savages until Dingiswayo, a natural leader of fighters, took his tribe, the Umtetwas, in hand. It was perhaps by sheer luck that Dingiswayo ever stumbled upon the art of organizing troops properly. Having grown weary of seeing his father, Jobe, reign, he had a little consultation with his brother, and the two sons decided to expedite matters by attending their father's funeral. But Jobe was astute as he was decisive in acting. The old man gathered a small force in the dead of night, intent on wiping out this dangerous section of his family. In accordance with the usual custom on such occasions a number of people were killed, including Dingiswayo 's brother, but the future leader of the Zulus crawled away with an assegai in his back. Probably he too would have perished but for the bravery of his sister, who tracked him in the bush, took the terrible weapon out of his back, nursed him for a while, and then sent him on life's road rejoicing.
Dingiswayo became a wanderer, being uncertain of his reception if he returned home ; and it was assumed that he was dead. He went to the far west of Africa, mixed with the tribes near the boundaries of the civilized settlements at the Cape, and there quietly studied the white man's methods of making war. It was there that the Umtetwa outlaw gained the knowledge which ultimately led to bloodshed involving the death of countless thousands of men. When the days of Jobe were ended, Dingiswayo returned in state on a white charger to the home of his ancestors, killed the chief who had become temporary ruler, to save further dispute, and established himself at the head of the Umtetwas. Like his father, Dingiswayo lost no time in acting once he had formed his plans. Nature had endowed him with the brains of a great chief, and chance had enabled him to learn how to deal with his forces. Without delay, he began to emulate the white chiefs by organizing his men into regiments, and appointing officers of various rank. Many officers were dispatched to the outlying districts the first Zulu recruiting sergeants in order to make certain that every man was enrolled. It was typical of Dingiswayo that he did not let obstinacy amongst the men stand in his way. Those who did not care to join were merely killed, as indeed were those who were suspected of not desiring to join. So thorough was the chief that he even organized the girls into regiments .
Drills were instituted, and in a little while this notable son of Jobe found himself at the head of an army so powerful that all the neighbouring tribes were at his mercy. Fortunately for them, Dingiswayo was not cruel, as they would have understood the word, but he could not withstand the temptation to test his power. Instant success attended all his preliminary battles, and he reduced the lesser tribes to a state of subjection, fighting more with the idea of showing his own superiority than with the lust for blood. He never allowed the women and children to be killed, but he demanded substantial toll from those whom he vanquished. His method consisted of attacking a tribe in order to acquire their stores of grain, to feed his men. When the corn was exhausted he would move on to fresh territory, with similar designs, leaving the conquered as his acknowledged vassals.
At this time there was a youth named Chaka, 1 who had an unfortunate domestic difference on the subject of bloodshed, which was the turning-point in his career. He was the son of Senzangakona, chief of a tribe conquered by Dingiswayo, and his habits of violence became so objectionable that he had to flee for his life. Chaka was a genius in his way, a genius with such a hideous capacity for brutality that the civilized mind reels at the memory of his doings. He enlisted with Dingiswayo, and at a very early stage showed that he was no ordinary warrior. His gallant conduct in the field soon earned distinction for him, and he began to study the fighting methods of his chief very closely. While Dingiswayo was opposed to ' unnecessary cruelty, Chaka was ruthless, and he saw a weakness in his chief's forbearance. Although the Umtetwas were victorious wherever they went, they left the vanquished tribes free to join together and form an invincible foe ; so he decided that when his chance came he would adopt the policy of smashing 1 Otherwise spelt Tshaka. the power of beaten tribes to such an extent that they would never be able to rise against him subsequently.
Chaka 's opportunity came with the death of his father, Senzangakona. The diplomatic Dingiswayo, convinced that the forceful Chaka would make a better friend than an enemy, placed him at the head of the weaker tribe ; and this arrangement worked excellently, the young chief fighting in many campaigns side by side with the man who had taught him how to fight systematically. The very possibility which Chaka had foreseen ended in the undoing of Dingiswayo. Some of the smaller tribes combined and made a frantic raid, and the old chief fell amongst the victims. Chaka, true to his genius, rose to the occasion, and by sheer generalship beat off the enemy with such judgment and skill that he was accepted as joint ruler over the Umtetwas and his own kinsmen.
Once he was in supreme command he set to work carrying out his own ideas, and establishing the unquestionable supremacy of the Zulus. From that moment onwards he appears to have had an unquenchable thirst for blood which amounted to a mania. His first act was to mobilize his entire army and fall upon his neighbours. As the other tribes were vanquished he murdered their women, children and old men, and absorbed the young men into his own force. Tribe after tribe he attacked in this way, each victory adding to his own power enormously ; and all the time he continued to develop his own ideas of the correct way to conduct warfare. Instant death was the penalty for every warrior who returned from battle without his assegai or shield, or with a stab in the back, and any regiment under his command which fared ill in battle was wiped out, lest the same thing should occur again, and as a warning to others. Driven thus by fear of death, the Zulus became an implacable power, scattering destruction southwards from Delagoa Bay to the banks of St. John's River. The hosts under Chaka gave no quarter, and a vast area in the course of a few years became desolated. The scattered tribes in Natal were crushed so completely that terror prevented them from existing together in numbers, and thousands were reduced to living in the kloofs and subsisting on roots. Starvation caused hundreds of deaths, and to escape this miserable end batches of men would occasionally make their way as far as the Tugela River in the hope that they would be permitted to join the terrible band of Chaka. It was a desperate measure to adopt, for the unfit were at once slain, only the capable men being allowed to join the force.
Probably the most appalling butchery ever organized and carried out by Chaka was when his mother died. The scene was witnessed by Mr. H. F. Fynn. Chaka was, in his way, very fond of the woman who bore him, and tears rained down his cheeks for a quarter of an hour after he was told of her death. He stood still, unable to speak all that time ; and then the brutality in him asserted itself, and his feelings became ungovernable. Knowing what to expect with their chief in a particularly dangerous mood, his people instantly tore every ornament from their bodies and flung them to the ground, at the same time beginning to howl and yell dismally. The screams reached the ears of natives in the kraals all over the district, and a great stream of Zulus came running to the side of the chief, each man doing his best to howl. By dawn there were fully 60,000 men there, all wailing. Scores of oxen were sacrificed, but Chaka ordered that nobody was to eat or drink ; and gradually hundreds sank to the ground exhausted. These Chaka killed off first, adding to them all the people who were not howling loud enough to suit his fancy.
During the morning Chaka worked the multitude up into a perfect frenzy, and a general slaughter began, 7000 victims being killed before the middle of the afternoon.
Still nobody was allowed to eat or drink, and the melancholy wailing was kept up until ten o'clock on the following morning by those who valued their lives.
On the third day following the death of Chaka 's mother a hole was dug near the spot where she expired, and ten women were buried alive with her, the earth being thrown on the top of them until they were suffocated.
When Mr. Fynn visited the great Zulu king he found him sitting under a tree decorating himself. Round him were about a couple of hundred of his subjects, a servant standing at his side holding a shield as a sunshade for the monarch.
Round his forehead Chaka wore a turban of otter skin, and in it a crane's feather, quite two feet long, standing straight up. Ear-rings of dried sugar-cane, carved round the edge, and an inch in diameter, were let into the lobes of his ears, which had been cut to admit them. From shoulder to shoulder he wore bunches of the skins of monkeys and genets, which hung half-way down his body. Round his head were a dozen bunches of red feathers, tied to thorns which were stuck in the hair. On his arms he wore white ox-tails, cut down the middle to allow the fur to encircle his arms.
He had a petticoat, somewhat resembling a Scottish plaid, tied round his waist. This garment was made of skins, with small tassels hanging round the top ; and there were white ox-tails about his legs and dangling round his ankles.
The great Zulu chief's power was at its height in 1824, when a little party of Britishers landed at the place now known as Durban, pitched a camp, and endeavoured to negotiate with Chaka for permission to settle and trade there. Some of the scattered tribesmen started to collect round the British camp in search of food, and these natives formed the nucleus of the repopulation of Natal by the native tribes. Chaka refused to grant the Englishmen an interview, although presents were sent to him by the Cape Government. These negotiations were still in progress when Chaka 's extraordinary career came to an abrupt end. His brother Dingaan, tired of waiting for authority, assassinated him while he was talking to some of his headmen near the Umvoti River. Full of treachery, Dingaan sent for the British settlers, but they refused to go, whereupon the new chief sent an army down to exterminate them. Having been warned, the settlers left hurriedly for the south, taking with them their natives. There was some fighting, but the Englishmen got across the Umzimkulu River, and from that position concluded their negotiations with Dingaan, who, in 1831, appointed Mr. Fynn as " The Great Chief of Natal Kafirs."
Not long after this, some of the Dutch inhabitants of the Cape set out to explore Natal, and finding that Dingaan had already made certain terms with the Englishmen established there, endeavoured to persuade the chief to give them facilities for settling. Dingaan politely made pleasing promises, stipulating only that the Boers should recover for him certain cattle which had been stolen. The Boers pluckily attacked the thief, recovered 700 head of cattle and 60 horses, and took them to Dingaan who rewarded them by killing every man of the party. The chief, not content with this act of treachery, sent an impi to kill every white man in Natal. One party of Dutch immigrants was exterminated, but the rest of the Boers collected, formed fortifications with their wagons, and successfully withstood the attack of an enormous force of Zulus. The Boers lost about 700 lives in the massacres. Having added fresh immigrants to their ranks, the Dutchmen, burning for revenge, persuaded the English settlers to join in a punitive expedition, and this led to terrible bloodshed. The English, who had about a thousand armed native followers, crossed the Tugela River near the coast and walked into an ambuscade ; and the entire party were killed . The Dutch, taking a different route, advanced on Dingaan, but were also trapped; and very few of them escaped. Finally the victorious Zulus swept down the coast again, killing and destroying every thing they could find, but fortunately some of the settlers escaped on a ship.
Shortly afterwards the Boers again returned to Durban in larger numbers and beat off a fresh attack very successfully. Andries Pretorius, with 460 trained men and a few stragglers, attacked the Zulus near the Umhlatoos, the enemy being about 12,000 strong. In spite of the enormous difference in the two forces, the Zulus could not overcome the gallant little band, and Pretorius, at the exactly correct moment, made a master-stroke by sending a couple of hundred mounted men to attack the natives' flank. Utterly taken by surprise, the Zulus fell into a panic and bolted, leaving 3000 dead warriors behind. The Dutch settlers then laid out the towns of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the latter place consisting of six houses in 1839.
In still another direction ill-luck awaited Dingaan. He had a younger brother whose nature was entirely unlike that of his own. This youth, Umpanda, was a lover of peace, and a number of Zulus who had grown weary of constant battle became his adherents. He got into communication with the English and Dutch settlers, their forces were joined in 1840, and 5000 men attacked Dingaan, whose army fled, Dingaan himself being assassinated while seeking shelter amongst some tribes which he had beaten at an earlier date. Umpanda was then proclaimed chief, and the Dutch took possession of a large tract of land which did not become the British colony of Natal until the Boers surrendered to a force sent out by the Cape Government. From that time onwards the population of Natal began to increase rapidly, the white settlers numbering over 17,000 in 1874 the year the Natal Mounted Police came into being.
Umpanda, meanwhile, continued his peaceful rule for thirty-two years, and gradually developed such a huge figure that when he desired to move from one place to another the front wheels of a wagon had to be removed and the royal body was slid into the vehicle. Umpanda 's troubles, like those of many another South African chief, began when his sons were growing up. His first-born, Cetewayo, was hot-headed and restless ; and he soon had a following of kindred spirits. In the year 1856 another of his sons, Umbulazi, gathered round him a considerable force, and a memorable battle was fought near the Tugela River between the armies of the rival sons, Cetewayo 's men forming the attacking body. Hundreds of Umbulazi 's army fell at the point of the assegai, and a great many more were drowned in attempting to cross the flooded river. Incidentally Umbulazi and five of Umpanda 's other sons were killed in the battle. Gradually Cetewayo gained influence, and in 1873 ne was formally pronounced ruler in place of his too-massive parent when that worthy was gathered to his fathers. The ceremony was performed by an expedition sent by the Natal Government, and Cetewayo was given clearly to understand that he would find himself in trouble unless he exercised prudence, moderation, and justice in his authority.
A series of events was occurring at this time which demanded very serious attention. Firearms possessed a powerful fascination for the kafirs, and in order to prevent the natives from arming themselves an Act was passecf making it illegal for any one to possess a gun that was not stamped and registered at a magistrate's office. The natives working on diamond fields found that if they refused their labour unless they were paid with guns some unscrupulous employers would supply them with firearms. The news of this quickly spread amongst the kafirs, and numbers of them left Natal for the Vaal River, where they worked for a gun and then returned to Natal. One tribe in particular, the Amahlubi, led by a chief named Langalibalele, was known to be conspicuous in this movement, and the difficulties experienced in checking it during the year 1873 led to the formation of the Natal Mounted Police.
Langalibalele was called upon to appear before the resident magistrate, and subsequently before the Secretary for Native Affairs, but he ignored the messages and insulted the messengers. The Amahlubi at that time, after various movements, were settled near the sources of the Bushman's River, close under the Drakensberg. Land had been given to them there on condition that they gave protection against the thefts made by small colonies of bushmen who lurked in the caves of the mountains and were troublesome on occasions. Langalibalele was a somewhat haughty chief who was believed by the kafirs to control the weather. On more than one occasion Cetewayo has asked for his services when rain was required.
As Langalibalele did not display the slightest intention of complying with the orders sent to him, a formidable force, which included 5000 armed natives, set out to fetch him, but the wily chief was forewarned, and disappeared with a small party over the Bushman's River pass of the Drakensberg, leaving instructions that the cattle were to follow in charge of the young men. As he had been previously sending messages to Molapo, a Basuto chief, it was inferred that his object was to hand the cattle over to the Basutos for safety. A party of volunteers from the attacking army hastened to stop the Bushman's River pass, and found all the cattle being driven by armed men. The Amahlubi secreted themselves behind the rocks and opened a steady fire on the volunteers, who were compelled to retire after losing several men. The flight with the cattle was resumed, the natives rejoining Langalibalele in Basutoland, where the chief was soon after captured, together with his five sons, his brother, and three of his head men.
A trial was conducted according to native law, the charges being high treason and rebellion, and severe sentences were passed. Although it was held that Langalibalele had earned the penalty of death he was banished for life, his property being confiscated. One of his sons, for having fired on the representatives of the Government, was transported for five years, while six other sons and more than 200 of the tribe were imprisoned with hard labour for various terms ranging from two to twenty years.
Langalibalele and one of his sons were to have spent the period of their sentence on Robben Island, off Cape Town, but a powerful appeal against the sentence on the chief was made by the Bishop of Natal, largely on the ground that he was not a conspirator and had merely been the victim of the turbulent spirit of his young men who had a harmless and boyish desire to possess a gun. The appeal eventually came before the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and as it was decided that there was some little doubt on certain matters the deposed chief was not sent to Robben Island, but was banished from Natal and placed under police surveillance.