The Battle of Ndondakusuka (Tugela)


King Cetshwayo

The Battle of Ndondakusuka, which occurred on 2 December, 1856, was essentially a battle of succession.  Indecision on the part of King Mpande regarding the successor to his throne resulted in a battle between his two eldest sons, Cetshwayo (the firstborn) and Mbuyazi (also known as Mbulazi). 

While initially appointing Cetshwayo as heir to the throne, King Mpande retracted his decision and appointed Mbuyazi instead.  A further change of heart resulted in Cetshwayo’s reinstatement as the king’s successor.  Rivalry between Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi escalated to the point of war.  Mbuyazi, of the isiGqoza faction, assembled an army of his own supporters as well as various European traders and settlers seeking sanctuary in the Natal area and marched to Ndondakusuka, a kraal formerly established by Dingane.

After two days of waiting, Cetshwayo, of the uSuthu faction, arrived with an army of around 30 000 supporters, outnumbering Mbuyazi’s army of around 20 000.  Nonetheless, the battle of succession ensued in a horrific conflict, and Mbuyazi’s army was slaughtered. 

According to Zulu custom, Cetshwayo ordered the total slaughter of the opposing faction which included several women and old men.

Tugela today

The conflict took place on the banks of a subsidiary feeding into the Tugela River and several of those who escaped death on the battlefield drowned in the river.  The resulting casualties of the battle were astronomical, and included the death of Mbuyazi and several of the opponents’ younger brothers.  The decisive victory of Cetshwayo led to his claim of kingship, and the following years saw the continuation of a power struggle between the old King and Cetshwayo.

Upon the death of King Mpande in 1873, Cetshwayo assumed the throne and ruled as chief until his defeat at the hands of the British in 1879.


• Canonici, N.N. & Cele, T.T. 1998. Cetshwayo kaMpande in Zulu Literature. Alternation, 5(2): 72-90.
• Greaves, A. 2012. Crossing the Buffalo: The Zulu War of 1879. London: Hachette UK.
• Knight, I. 2008. Companion to the Anglo-Zulu War. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books.
• Chief Cetshwayo. [Online]. Available:

Last updated : 15-Dec-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 15-Dec-2014