Author/Compiler: Wade Goodwin

An alternative form of the same myth was built around the British and Afrikaner understandings of the Mfecane. The Mfecane, translated roughly as ‘the crushing’, was a time of great political upheaval in the Zulu Kingdom in the first half of the nineteenth century. The British and the Afrikaner used the Mfecane to argue that the land they were occupying had been “deserted.”

A map of the rise of the Zulu Empire under Shaka during the Mfecane. Source

In the 1850s, when the British began to consolidate the colony of Natal, in what is today, Kwa-Zulu Natal, they claimed that only 4 000 to 5 000 inhabitants of the land were actually ‘indigenous’ inhabitants who had a right to that land. The rest of the Zulus living in the area, or moving into it in large droves, were “interlopers”, either refugee fleeing the despotic rule of Shaka or Zulus returning to their old homelands after Shaka’s Mfecane, which had begun in around 1815 and only came to an end around 1840. 

Although the latter was understood by the British to be returning to their own lands, the British claimed that “Kafirs have little attachment to any particular locality”, implying that the Zulu’s would not mind moving to any land and therefore had no particular claim to the land the British had taken. In light of this, the British claimed that much of Natal had been ‘vacant land at the time of colonisation and therefore the British had a right to claim it. 

For the most part, they respected the land claims of the Boers who had entered the region just before British colonisation (although these Boers had to submit to British rule), but they used the narrative of refugees and the claim that Zulus were not attached to their land to argue that up to 40 000 Zulus should be removed from the Natal Colony.

When the Afrikaner Trek Boers reached the Vaal Highveld after their incursion across South Africa from the Cape, they made a similar argument to the British to justify their claims to the land in the Highveld. They claimed, that upon their arrival- the region was almost devoid of any African inhabitants- because, the “thinking went,” they had all fled in the face of the Mfecane. The Boers believed that the land was deserted and abandoned and therefore theirs for the taking. Part of the Afrikaner Boers mythology also claimed that the Boers had rescued the few scattered tribes of the region by giving them protection against the forces of Shaka. This myth of a Vaal region that was deserted by the Bantu is one that still has many proponents in some Afrikaner communities. 

George M. Theal, 1890s Source

Part III and IV to follow: