The Zulus are a Bantu people from Africa, partly settled, mainly in South Africa. The Zulu people (its name comes from the phrase Ama Zulu the people of heaven) was unified by King Chaka, who made his 1500-strong clan a formidable nation by conquest and assimilation. Zulu unification is partly responsible for the Mfecane, the chaotic clans emigration beyond the Tugela and Pongola rivers, new borders of KwaZulu. Recognized for their formidable army (the impi), the Zulu collide with Boer settlers and the British army in the nineteenth century with a relentlessness attacks that repeatedly took the Europeans unprepared (note the Zulu victory in the battle of Isandhlwana during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879).


Most of the Zulus today are farmers, but urbanization has attracted a large number in the twentieth century. Urban Zulus are mainly in the Witwatersrand, a mining area in Gauteng province including Johannesburg; and in Durban (whose Zulu name is eThekwini), an important port of KwaZulu-Natal.
Basket weaving, pearl trimming, and Zulu singing are famous. On the political front, the Zulus are currently deeply divided between supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) and those of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
The homeland of Zulus seems to be in the region of modern Tanzania. Their presence in South Africa dates back to the 14th century. Like the Xhosas who settled in South Africa during the earlier Bantu waves of migration, the Zulus have assimilated many sounds of the San and Khoi languages, those of the first inhabitants of the country. As a result, Zulu and Xhosa have preserved many click consonants (sounds only found in South Africa), despite the extinction of many San and Khoi languages. Zulu, like all native languages of South Africa, was an oral language until the arrival of European missionaries, who transcribed it using the Latin alphabet. The first document written in Zulu was a translation of the Bible, published in 1883. In 1901, John Dube, a Zulu from Natal, founded the Ohlange Institute, the first indigenous educational institution in South Africa.


The origins

The Zulus were originally a minor clan, founded in 1709 by kaNtombhela Zulu, in what is now KwaZulu-Natal. They belonged to the group of Nguni who occupied the region. The Nguni migrated from the east coast of Africa and settled in South Africa around 800 AD.

The Zulu Kingdom

The Zulus created in 1816 a powerful kingdom under the conqueror Chaka who led the army of the powerful Mweta Empire, conquered Dingiswayo and made from a confederation of heterogeneous tribes an empire under the Zulu hegemony.

War against the English

On December 11, 1878, the British issued an ultimatum to the 14 chiefs representing the king Cetshwayo kaMpande. The clauses of the ultimatum were unacceptable from the point of view of the Zulu king. British forces crossed the Thukela River at the end of December 1878. On January 22, 1879, the Zulus defeated the British at the Battle of Isandhlwana but suffered numerous losses leaving them in an uncomfortable position. The war finally ended in the Zulu defeat on July 4, 1879 after great difficulties for the English, the Zulu army proving tenacious.


After the capture of Cetshwayo kaMpande a month after the defeat, the British divided the Zulu kingdom into thirteen potentates. These small kingdoms fought each other until, in 1883, Cetshwayo kaMpande is reinstated as king of Zululand. The fighting does not stop and the king is forced to flee his territory under the victorious attacks of Zibhebhu, one of the thirteen chiefs, supported by the Boer mercenaries. Cetshwayo kaMpande died in February 1884, perhaps poisoned, and his fifteen-year-old son, Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, succeeded him. The internal wars continued for years, until the final absorption of Zululand in the colony of Cape Town.

Kwazulu flag

Under Apartheid, the Bantustan of KwaZulu (‘’Kwa’’ meaning ‘’land of’’) was created in 1970 under the name of Zululand (it took its current name in 1977). It was expected that all Zulus would become citizens of KwaZulu, thus losing their South African citizenship. The country thus created was composed of a multitude of scattered lands. Hundreds of thousands of Zulu people living outside KwaZulu were dispossessed and forcibly displaced to smaller lands.
In 1993, about 5.2 million Zulu people lived in KwaZulu and about 2 million in the rest of South Africa. The chief minister of KwaZulu was, from its creation in 1970 until 1994, Mangosuthu Buthelezi. In 1994, the province of Natal was attached to KwaZulu, now forming KwaZulu-Natal. In 1975, Buthelezi recreated the Inkatha YaKwaZulu, the predecessor of the Inkatha Party of Freedom (or IFP). This organization was theoretically a protest movement against apartheid, but more conservative than the ANC. For example, Inkatha was opposed to armed struggle and sanctions against South Africa. Inkatha was originally on good terms with the ANC, but the two organizations went into opposition in 1979 following the Soweto riots. Because of its growing posture in favour of the apartheid government, Inkatha was the only major organization recognized as representative of the South African blacks’ views by the apartheid government: the ANC and other movements were banished. Unlike the leaders of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and Venda, Buthelezi never accepted the pseudo-independence offered by the Separate Development policy, despite strong pressure from the white government. In 1985, members of opposition movements engaged in bloody struggles. Political violence first appeared between Inkatha and ANC members, resulting in atrocities committed on both sides. It is assumed that they were fed by the apartheid government through more or less direct assistance to Inkatha. Violence continued throughout the 1980s and increased in the 1990s during the first national elections of 1994.

The Zulus today

The departure of men, forced to go in search of a work, caused the disintegration of the family unit, on which rested the Zulu social organization. And polygamy, which was once the rule, has become the exception: it is difficult in today’s economic conditions to maintain several wives.
Zulu language, a Bantu language (more precisely, Nguni subgroup), is the most spoken language in South Africa where it is an official language. Half of the population of the country is able to understand it. Many Zulus also speak English, Portuguese, Tsonga, Sotho and other languages in South Africa.

Music (Siyahamba)

Some argue that the Zulus have developed an extraordinary vocal tradition because, lacking large trees, they could not make musical instruments.
This tradition has evolved, incorporating four-voice religious songs brought by European colonizers. Siyahamba is part of the current of a cappella devotional songs. The title means, “We walk in the light of God.” Zulu music and dance has been broadcast worldwide, thanks to covers of traditional songs (such as The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and international artist Johnny Clegg.


The traditional clothing of the man is usually light: a two-part apron (similar to a loincloth) that covers the genitals and buttocks. The front piece is called umutsha, and is usually made of springbok skin or another animal. The back part, which is called ibheshu, is made of a single piece of springbok skin or a cow. Its length is usually an indicator of age and social position: the longest amabheshu (ibheshu plural) are worn by older men. Married men also wear a headband, called the umqhele, which is also made of springbok skin or leopard leather for men of high social rank, such as chiefs. Men also wear bracelets and bangles called imishokobezi during ceremonies and rituals, such as weddings and dances.

Religion and beliefs

Most Zulus are belong to the Christian faith. Some of the churches to which they belong are the African Initiated Church, in particular the Zion Christian Church (also known as Boyne) and various apostolic churches. Belonging to the main European churches (the Dutch Reformed Church, the Anglican Church and Catholicism) is also quite common. Nevertheless, the Zulus preserve their pre-colonial beliefs of ancestor worship as a syncretism with Christianity. The Zulu religion possesses a creator god, Nkulunkulu, who also interacts in the daily life of humans, although this belief is revealed to be the result of the efforts of the first missionaries to adapt the Christian god to Zulu culture. Traditionally, the strongest belief among the Zulus are the spirits of the ancestors (Amatongo or Amadhlozi), who have the power to intervene for good or bad in people’s lives. This belief persists among the Zulu people.

Zulu Sangomas (sorcerers)

To communicate with the spiritual world, the sorcerer (sangoma) must invoke the ancestors through a ritual of divination. Then, an herbalist (inyanga) prepares a mixture to consume (muthi) to influence the ancestors. Sorcerers and herbalists play an important role in the daily life of the Zulus. Nevertheless, there is a difference between white muthi (umuthi omhlope), which has positive effects, such as healing, prevention or the end of bad luck, and black muthi (umuthi omnyama), which can bring diseases and death to others, or an ill-gotten health to the one who uses them. Practitioners of Black Muthi are considered wizards of evil and are rejected by society. Christianity struggled to gain the trust of the Zulu people, and did so in a syncretic way. Isaiah Shembe, considered the Zulu messiah, presents a form of Christianity mixed with local traditions.