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Bambata Rebellion / Natal Rebellion - 1906

At the close of 1897 Zululand was handed over by the imperial government to Natal, and in 1898 Dinizulu was allowed to return and was made a "government induna." Officially one of several chiefs subject to the control of the resident magistrate, he was, in fact, regarded by most of the Zulu as the head of their nation. His influence appeared to be in the main exercised on the side of order. During the war of 1899-1902 there was some fighting between the Zulu and the Boers, provoked by the Boers entering Zulu territory. A Zulu kraal having been raided, the Zulu retaliated and, surrounding a small Boer commando, succeeded in killing every member of it. In September 1901 Louis Botha made an attempt to invade Boer Natal by way of Zululand, but the stubborn defense made by the small posts at Itala and Prospect Hill, both within the Zulu border, caused him to give up the project. Throughout the war the Zulu showed marked partiality for the British side.

At the close of the war the Natal government decided to allow white settlers in certain districts of Zululand, and a Lands Delimitation Commission was appointed. The commission, however, reported (1905) that four-fifths of Zululand was unfit for European habitation, and the remaining fifth already densely populated. The commissioners urged that the tribal system should be maintained. Meantime the coal mines near St Lucia Bay were opened up and connected with Durban by railway. At this time rumors were current of disaffection among the Zulu, but this was regarded as the effervescence natural after the war.

In the thorn country towards the Tugela, there dwelt a Chief by the name of Bambata ka Mancinza Zondi (also spelt Bambatha, Bambaata, Bambaataa, Bambada, Bhambada). His tribe—known as the "Amazondi" (meaning "the haters"), derived from the patriarch Zondi who very many generations ago was the head of these people—had their habitations in four Magisterial divisions, viz.: Umvoti, 884 hutsi; New Hanover, 116 huts; Lions River, 93 huts; and Umgeni, 30 huts. Bambata's boyhood was spent in his father's kraal and early in life he cultivated an insatiable taste for kaffir beer which grew with his years. He also had a violent temper which did not improve when he reached manhood. On 6th June, 1890, on arriving at majority, he was appointed to the Chieftainship of his tribe. Bambata's rule did not inculcate obedience to law and order amongst his people, inasmuch as he himself was committed for trial for cattle-stealing and was suspended on 10th January, 1895. An appeal to the Native High Court exonerated him from the charge and he was reinstated as Chief on 2nd May in the same year. He had, on entering into man's estate, acquired the habit of borrowing, and was always heavily in debt. Early in the year 1906 he was implicated in a faction fight in which he assaulted a member of his own tribe and was fined the sum of £20. During his trial a European resident gave evidence against him. This so infuriated Bambata that he threatened the European in question with reprisal. For all his past demeanours and general behaviour Bambata was deposed from his position and his younger brother Funizwe succeeded him, and old Magwababa, Bambata's uncle, was once more appointed Regent.

In 1905 a poll tax of £1 on all adult males was imposed by the Natal legislature; this tax was the ostensible cause of a revolt in 1906 among the natives of Natal wno were of Zulu origin. In the colony of Natal a feeling of unrest had been, early in 1906, for some time generating among the Kaffirs, outnumbering the white population, it must be remembered, by nine to one. This state of things was due, as was so often the case, to the work of Christian teachers, who, in this instance, were certain coloured missionaries from the United States, preaching doctrines of equality of blacks with whites, and instilling the notion of 'Africa for the Africans.' The outcome of this agitation was a refusal on the part of many natives, headed by chiefs of seditious disposition, to pay the poll-tax.

On February 8th a large party of natives, armed with assegais, ambushed a police-patrol of fourteen men, and killed a sub-inspector and a trooper, compelling the rest to beat a hasty retreat. The Natal Government called out some of the Militia, and commenced operations against the rebels. Two of the natives concerned in the attack were captured, tried by court-martial, and shot, and several others were either killed or taken prisoners by loyal natives. The kraals and crops of some of the rebellious party were destroyed, and these proceedings, along with the display of a considerable force in the proper quarter, soon restored order among the disaffected tribesmen. The mutinous chiefs submitted and brought in their people to pay the tax.

The Natal Government, perfectly aware of the serious nature, as a symptom, of the outbreak, decided on severe measures against the natives guilty of the murder of the police. A number of Kaffirs were arrested, and a careful trial by court-martial, lasting for eight days and involving the examination of several white and over a score of native witnesses, ended in the sentencing of twelve men to be shot on condemnation for murder. On April 2nd the twelve natives were duly shot at Richmond, in Natal, in presence of many native spectators. The prisoners, who belonged to what is called the 'Ethiopian Church,' spent the whole of the previous night in praying and singing hymns. Before paying their penalty they confessed their guilt, and expressed regret for their crime.

Early in April, a more serious matter engaged the attention of the Natal Government. This was a rebellion in northern Natal and Zululand, planned and headed by the chief Bambata, who had been deposed by the Government, and had fled to the mountains. This man, with singular daring, returned to his 'kraal,' and carried off his uncle, who had been appointed regent. The rebels under Bambata then cut the telegraph wires, pillaged two farms, seizing arms and ammunition, and assailed a party of police and civilians near Greytown, killing four troopers and wounding others. The rising quickly assumed large proportions, the rebels being much aided by the dense bush in effecting surprise-attacks. Bambata, the leader of the revolt, took refuge in the dense bush in the Nkandhla highlands, where Cetywayo's grave became the rallying-point of the rebels.

A large force of militia and other troops took the field, and the Zulus were severely handled in various encounters beyond the Tugela, where they took refuge in almost impenetrable forests. Loyal natives were of great service to the Natal forces as guides into the recesses of the hilly country, and the Boers of the Transvaal, alive to the general danger of white folk in South Africa from any native success, promptly sent 500 volunteers from Johannesburg. Colonel Mackenzie marched from Pietermaritzburg with 2000 men, having a famous soldier in the South African War, Colonel Sir A. Wools-Sampson, of the Imperial Light Horse, as his chief of the staff.

On the other side, a powerful chief named Sigananda joined Bambata. Sigananda was in trouble about thirty-five years earlier in the days of Mpande when he fled into Natal and was received by Bambata's grandfather, Jangeni, the Chief of the Amazondi tribe. By the law of gratitude Sigananda was bound to receive Bambata. Having secured Sigananda as an ally, Bambata thus became the commander-in-chief of the rebel Zulu impis. His enemies could not help admiring his intrepidity and his rapid advance to the position of leader.

Early in May some sharp fighting took place with Zulus desperately charging 'home' on marching British forces, who repelled them with severe loss. The Zulus were also punished in the destruction of kraals, and especially in the seizure of large numbers of the cattle and goats which form their chief wealth. The Natal Government abstained from seeking the aid of Imperial forces, and the local troops steadily pursued the rebels into their fastnesses, operating in various quarters with a field-force of about 6000 men.

On June 1st Sigananda's stronghold was shelled and his kraal burnt, and the British success was such that Silwane, the most powerful Natal chieftain, sent 1000 men in aid against the rebels. A few days later, in a general action, the colonial forces completely defeated the enemy. Some hundreds of Zulus fell, with a principal chief, and about the middle of June the rising was practically suppressed in the killing of Bambata (June 10th); his head was cut off for purposes of identification, but afterwards buried with the body.

The decapitation of Bambata—which called forth so much bitter condemnation of Natal from those people in England who unfortunately seem to seize upon any pretext to vilify their countrymen abroad—was an act which has been amply justified by the effect it has had. Amongst the hundreds of dead bodies which lay in the Mome Gorge, Bambata's was recognised by a native who chanced to go through the gorge a few days after the fight. The discovery was reported, but more certain identification was required than the recognition by a single individual. It was not possible to convey the body to the camp owing to decomposition and to the almost inaccessible place in which it lay. Accordingly the head was severed from the trunk and conveyed to the camp, where it was recognised as Bambata's by all those who had been acquainted with him and who were available. The exhibition of the head (to be seen by official permit only) undoubtedly had the effect of dispelling a superstition, deep rooted in the mind of the natives, that Bambata was invulnerable.

In all some 3500 Zulus were killed and about 3000 taken prisoners, the majority of the prisoners being released in 1907. Zululand remained, however, in a disturbed condition, and a number of white traders and officials were murdered. Dinizulu had been accused of harboring Bambata, and in December 1907 the Natal government felt justified in charging him with high treason, murder and other crimes. A military force entered Zululand, and Dinizulu surrendered without opposition. He was brought to trial in November 1908, and in March 1909 was found guilty of harboring rebels. The more serious charges against him were not proved. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment and deprived of his position as a government induna. Other Zulu chiefs were convicted of various offences and sentenced to imprisonment. At his trial Dinizulu was defended by W. P. Schreiner, ex-premier of Cape Colony, while Miss H. E. Colenso (a daughter of Bishop Colenso) constituted herself his champion in the press of Natal and Great Britain. On the day that the Union of South Africa was established (31st of May 1910), the Botha ministry released Dinizulu from prison. He was subsequently settled on a farm in the Transvaal and given a pension of £500 a year.

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Page last modified: 25-10-2012 15:51:21 ZULU