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Africa during the Scramble: Zulus, Thousands of them


The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
Patreon supporter
Cracking article.

I wonder if there's another option: somehow, the First Boer War starts early, or perhaps even contemporaneously.

It's a long shot. You are absolutely right to say that the power of the Zulu Kingdom kept the Afrikaners nervous of confrontation. On the other hand, the war didn't start with a formal declaration by the Afrikaner leadership; it started organically as it were with clashes between farmers and British tax collectors. I don't think it's implausible for tensions to boil over even when the Boer generals aren't ready.

Perhaps the key is Bartle-Frere; you could have him prepare for one war and then stumble into another. A few more ill-judged comments to the effect that once the Zulu are done, Transvaal is going to be integrated into a South African Confederation whether it likes to or not.

So there's no invasion of the Zulu Kingdom- instead you get early and alternate-Majubas, where the army is given bloody noses and retreats in embarrassed disarray. Without the terror and humiliation of Isandlwana, it's easier to recall Bartle-Frere and try and draw a line under affairs in Southern Africa than it is to gain vengeance.

That puts the Zulu in a much better position, as now their role as a counterweight to the Transvaal is much more pressing. Independence still seems untenable long term, but they've got a decent chance of ending up as a Swana style protectorate in the 1880s or 1890s.

The odds are still against them, but it's definitely an improvement.

Now, if we were telling a story rather than speculating on a plausible turn of events, you'd keep things irritatingly convergent through the 1890s and the outbreak of the South African War.

I'm envisaging a scenario where you explore the cultural effects throughout the British Empire of a worse Black Week. Ladysmith falls, the commandos pour into Natal, relief from overseas is weeks away, there's panic in the streets of Durban... and 20, 000 Zulus park themselves across the Boer supply lines.

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
There's an interesting story to write in an earlier PoD where they don't do as well against the Natalia Boers as well methinks- one where you might well have some sort of Anglo-Zulu-Swazi-Sotho-Tswana alliance against a stronger Boer state in the middle.
Probably without the Swazi.

The Swazi Boer relationship is interesting in that they mostly ended up viewing the Boers as the lesser of two evils as opposed to the Zulus and actually ended up allied with them in wars against the Bapedi.

And then of course, once everyone else was defeated, the Boers turned on the Swazi and annexed half their land too, like the Scorpion and the Frog.

The Swazi ended up as a protectorate of the Transvaal, with London officially dealing with Swazi business through Pretoria, which is as far as I an aware was a unique situation in Africa. And then the British kept that relationship up after the second Boer war. It was really an accidental protectorate.