The Zulu Battlefield Tactics


The Zulus are viewed as by far the most terrifying warriors the African continent has ever provided and they should be thankful for Shaka Zulu for that reputation. Shaka was the leader of the Zulus from 1816 right up until his murder in 1828. During this time, Shaka revolutionised the Zulu military. He replaced the original long throwing spear (Assegai) with a short stabbing spear (Iklwa) with a much wider blade. The Zulu pronunciation of i-klwa is considered to be the noises the weapon made as it was thrust in then pulled from an opponents body.

Shaka Zulu likewise arranged logistical help for his substantial armies and sorted them into grades of regiment, each using their individual distinct names and designs on their shields. Shaka Zulu was also responsible for developing the notorious Zulu combat strategies known as the “Buffalo Horns” (impondo zenkomo). This tactic had originally been used by the Zulus for hunting but Shaka Zulu tailored it for combat with devastating effect.

The Buffalo Horns formation would see the Zulus split-up their forces into 4 distinct elements. Each one represented a part of the Buffalo; the chest area (isifuba), left & right horns (izimpondo) and the loins (umuva).

The Chest of the Buffalo would take on the opposing forces head on. This component of the Zulu impi would typically consist of the best warriors, tested in combat.

While the Chest of the Buffalo was pinning down the enemy, the Horns would encircle them to the left and right, encircling the opposition. All survivors got the choice to join the Zulus, the other choice was death. Individuals who joined the Zulu army became Zulu warriors. These people renounced their previous tribal loyalties and received complete Zulu instruction. The warriors who made up the Left & Right Horns would typically be made up of more youthful, speedier warriors that could move rapidly to get behind the enemy.

The rest of the Zulus, the Loins, were more often than not the senior, more experienced warriors and were held in reserve to use as and when required. The reserve warriors would also be retained out of sight of the battle or even turned away from the action so they didn’t become over excited and join the fighting too early. Shaka Zulu or his commanders would monitor and handle their armies from high ground looking over the battlefield and communicate their instructions with a series of runners.

The “Buffalo Horns” strategies were utilized by the Zulus in tribal combat and continued to be employed decades after King Shaka’s death. On 22nd January 1879 when the Zulus assaulted the British camp at Isandlwana, it had been perceived by many as a terrible British defeat but maybe it ought to be considered an excellent Zulu triumph. Even though the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 eventually saw the destruction of the Zulu nation, the standing they earned lives on. All across the world, the Zulu is thought of as a bold and formidable warrior. In the phonetic alphabet, the letter ‘Z’ is identified by the word ‘Zulu’.

Their legacy also brings tourism to this part of South Africa with people going to visit the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift.

Categories : Africa, Big Blue Marble

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