The Maphumulo Uprising: War, Law and Ritual in the Zulu Rebellion

Article excerpt

The Maphumulo Uprising: War, Law and Ritual in the Zulu Rebellion. By Jeff Guy. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZuluNatal Press, 2005. Distributed by International Specialized Book Services, Portland, Oreg. Pp. xii, 276. $34.95 paper.

This book examines the last part of what is popularly called the Bambatha Rebellion that occurred in the British territories of Natal and Zululand during 1906. Since Bambatha, a Zulu chief and rebel leader, had almost nothing to do with the events discussed in this book, it becomes apparent that the term Zulu Rebellion is more appropriate. Professor Guy begins by looking at the haunting image of an emaciated Mbombo kaSibindi Nxumalo, a traditional healer who performed a purification ritual on the Qwabe community in Natal just before the outbreak of violence, was later arrested by colonial forces and died after being released on bail. Qwabe desire for purification originated from anxiety over the impact of colonial rule including the greater prevalence of disease brought by the new railway, increased rent and evictions by white settlers who controlled much of the best land, and the announcement that Africans would have to pay a new tax, a poll tax on individuals, on top of many other existing taxes. In fact, as other historians have pointed out, the new poll tax was the main cause of the overall rebellion as it diminished the power of older male homestead heads who usually collected money from their young men to pay hut tax. Those young men now had to assume more control over their individual resources in order to pay the poll tax and most complained that they did not have enough money to do so.

Guy concentrates on two prominent and distinguished Zulu chiefs, Meseni kaMusi and Ndlovu kaThimuni, who became the main rebel leaders in the Lower Thukela and Maphumulo areas of Natal. One of the main contentions of the book is that Natal, unlike Zululand, had never been formally subjugated by colonial forces. Since the mid-nineteenth century, chiefs had ruled their people in a sort of partnership, albeit an unequal one, with colonial agents. With the colonial regime becoming more arbitrary and oppressive, Meseni and Ndlovu felt that the principles of good government upon which they had depended were being caste aside. On the other hand, the colonial authorities and settlers saw opposition to the new tax as an opportunity to violently crush the last remnants of African independence in the territory. Guy presents a clear case that the actions of colonial forces in 1906 was not just the suppression of a rebellion but a decisive act of conquest that had not been possible when the colony was first established. African Christians became involved in the violence as they also objected to the colonial regime's aggressive approach and were seen as troublemakers by white officials. The place of Meseni and Ndlovu in Zulu society and history, their different circumstances during the rebellion, and the decisions they made when faced with the wrath of their people over the poll tax are discussed in detail. Geography is also incorporated into the analysis, as Ndlovu was able to choose the rebel path more easily because the forest near his home offered sanctuary while Meseni, whose people lived in open ground and were therefore more vulnerable to European firepower, was forced into revolt by the general colonial violence that swept through the colony. …