Sir. Theophilus Shepstone

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Synopsis:

British South African statesman, an administrator of native affairs, who was responsible for the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877.

Title: 
Sir.
First name: 
Theophilus
Last name: 
Shepstone
Date of birth: 
8 January 1817
Location of birth: 
Westbury, Bristol, England
Date of death: 
23 June 1893
Location of death: 
Pietermaritzburg, Natal colony

Theophilus Shepston was born near Bristol in 1817, the son of the Reverend J William Shepstone, who became an 1820 settler, and his wife Elizabeth Brooks, a Quaker. Shepstone's father was entered as a stonemason on the 1820 settler's list. Their first home was a rough shelter near Bathurst where William eked out a living as a builder while working as a lay Wesleyan preacher. Shepstone's linguistic ability gave him his first government post as interpreter to Sir Benjamin D'Urban during the Sixth Frontier War of 1834-35, and he acted as interpreter for Colonel Harry Smith in his many negotiations with Paramount Chief Hintsa. On the 11th November 1838, Shepstone married Maria Palmer of Grahamstown. Together with his wife and four children, Shepstone returned to Natal in 1845, where he took up the post of Diplomatic Agent to the Native Tribes in Natal. As the son of a frontiersman, he had valuable qualities for a job as African intermediary; as an Englishman with an imperialist background, he had grown up at a time when humanism determined the views and actions of missionaries.

During these years, his system of administration began to take shape, and his intimate knowledge of and views on African affairs played a significant part in the actions of the government. His particular headache was the problem of scattered refugees who had squatted on areas occupied by white farmers. At this time, Shepstone was eyeing the sparsely populated countryside along the western borders of Zululand, which Chief Langalibalele's people, the amaHlubi, had abandoned in the early days of Mpande's rule. Shepstone believed that, as most of the Natal refugees were Zulu, it could usefully serve as another reservation for the rapidly expanding African population of Natal. Naturally, this idea was not well received by the encroaching Transvaal Boers. Shepstone reasoned that by extending British rule over the north-west area, the British would be able to block the landlocked Transvaal's efforts to create a corridor to the sea and so prevent its burghers from gaining a trading outlet that would attract foreign powers. Never far from his thoughts were schemes to improve the economy of Natal. He wanted to divert from the Cape to Natal the transit trade with the interior - an objective that horrified Cape officials.

The new Anglican Bishop of Natal, John William Colenso admired Shepstone's attitude. While in Britain he wrote enthusiastically to the Secretary of State for the Colonies about Shepstone's scheme to resettle Zulus in the south of the colony. Colenso's letter was referred to Sir George Grey, who had recently been appointed High Commissioner and Governor of the Cape Colony. But Sir George certainly did not want another tribal problem on the Cape frontier and he rejected Shepstone's suggestion outright. The Colonial Office vetoed his other ideas about education and training, saying his plans were too ambitious and would cost too much. Nevertheless, Shepstone managed to settle 80,000 refugees brought up under the shadow of Shaka and Dingane in homes of their own and he did not lose a single.

Shepstone's relations with Mpande and Cetshwayo.

 

Shepstone's great value to King Mpande lay in his ability to hold the equilibrium; and as long as Shepstone was able to keep Zulu relations with Natal amicable and control Mpande's ambitious son Cetshwayo in the guise of the protector of the Zulus against the Boers, peace was maintained. For years, there had been an argument between the Boers and the Zulus about Boer occupation of Zulu territory; but in 1861, the Boers had recognized Cetshwayo as Zulu heir, and this had aroused Mpande's fears that Cetshwayo was preparing to grant the Boers more concessions. In haste, Mpande sent a message to Shepstone asking him once again to mediate for him.

Mpande's death

 

Mpande died in October 1872. After his burial, Cetshwayo invited Shepstone to pay him a visit to strengthen relations with Natal and show support on his behalf in the matter of the Disputed Territory. Shepstone had his own reasons for wanting to officiate at Cetshwayo's coronation. He wanted to increase his personal influence in Zululand, of course, but he also dreamed of tapping the great wealth in minerals and migrant labour within the African interior and channelling it through the port of Durban whose potential as a commercial port he foresaw. He accepted Cetshwayo's invitation with alacrity.

Shepstone's Expedition to Take Part in the Coronation Of Cetshwayo

 

In August 1873, to impress Cetshwayo with Natal's military effectiveness, Shepstone took a delegation to Zululand that included an armed escort of 110 officers and men of the Natal Volunteers, two field guns, and some 300 Natal levies. He hoped Cetshwayo would be so impressed by this show of force that he would accept at least some degree of indirect rule. Shepstone intended to push him in that direction by enacting his own style of semi-British coronation. For this, the escort carried some specially designed coronation paraphernalia, including a tinsel crown and a scarlet and gold cloak. Cetshwayo saw through such diplomatic duplicity and was in no mood to bow to Shepstone and he made it very clear that he had an agenda of his own. On the way to crown the king, Shepstone learned to his chagrin that the Zulus had already proclaimed Cetshwayo as king. Cetshwayo made the Natal entourage hang around for weeks while he did some ritual hunting and made other sham delays calculated to annoy Natal's imposing potentate. Eventually, they met and after several meetings, decided on their public pronouncements. Then Cetshwayo graciously consented to attend Shepstone's superfluous coronation ceremony.

The 'coronation'

 

On 1 September, outside a specially erected marquee, Shepstone lengthily addressed the crowd, instructing them that indiscriminate shedding of blood must cease, fewer death sentences should be imposed on wrongdoers; all trials should be open; and there should be unrestricted right of appeal to the king. No life should be taken without the king's prior knowledge and consent. When Shepstone had extracted the vocal assent of Cetshwayo and his izinduna to these announcements, he ushered the Zulu king into the marquee, invested him with the scarlet and gold cloak, and placed upon his head the tinsel crown devised by a regimental tailor. Then Shepstone led him out arrayed in all his tawdry glory to take his seat upon a chair placed upon a red carpet. The band struck up. The artillery fired a seventeen-gun salute, and Shepstone 'presented' the King to his people. No sooner had Shepstone and his entourage marched away than the great Zulu councillors - who had not missed the assault on their king's dignity - stood up and left the scene. They were angrily aware that Cetshwayo has used the coronation to assert his power over them. He alone had agreed upon the coronation pronouncements: they had not been consulted. They had to put up with John Dunn acting like a great chief and now Cetshwayo was leaning on Shepstone as if he was the Zulu Prime Minister. They resented that Cetshwayo was trying to tame them by means of foreign laws. On his return to Natal after the coronation, Shepstone wrote to Governor Sir Benjamin Pine recording these impressions of Cetshwayo:

Cetywayo is a man of considerable ability, much force of character, and has a dignified manner; in all my conversations with him, he was remarkably frank, straightforward, and he ranks in every respect far above any native Chief I have ever had to do with. I do not think his disposition is very warlike, and if it is, his obesity will impose prudence, but he is naturally proud of the military traditions of his family, especially the policy and deeds of his Uncle and predecessor, Chaka, to which he made frequent reference. His sagacity enables him, however, to see clearly the bearing of the new circumstances by which he is surrounded and the necessity of so adjusting his policy to suit them.

Nevertheless, Shepstone worried that he could not control Cetshwayo or the intractable great chiefs and concluded that force was required where animosities abounded.

Results

 

The coronation farce was a diplomatic disaster. Shepstone's lengthy sermon and commands were intrusive acts in a sovereign state; the king ceded none of his independence; the great chiefs were even more determined to retain theirs; and British and Natal officials brushed off Shepstone's speech as being without legal force. More significantly, the 'coronation laws' later rebounded disastrously on Cetshwayo because British officials presumed they had been proclaimed to restrict his kingly right - rather than that of his chiefs - to put his subjects to death. Five years later Sir Bartle Frere cited Shepstone's coronation pronouncements as 'laws' that had been broken and used this as one of his excuses for making war on the Zulu.

The Langalibalele Affair

 

The initially insignificant Langalibalele affair had striking results. It had become the practice for the diamond diggers to pay black workers with guns to attract them to work at the newly opened diamond mines. In Natal, no law had been passed forbidding blacks to own guns, but they had to register them. They soon learned that registration was an excuse to confiscate guns. Many young men of Chief Langalibalele's amaHlubi had accumulated a small arsenal in the chiefdom. Langalibalele's troubles began in 1873, when some amaHlubi were ordered to bring in certain guns for registration and they were not returned. When Langalibalele complained, he was ordered to hand in all the amaHlubi guns. The chief hedged and then refused outright. In April, Shepstone summoned him to Pietermaritzburg. Langalibalele did not trust the Shepstones or their messengers. He was afraid that one would come treacherously among them and shoot him, as had happened in 1858, in the case of another chief, Matyana. On this occasion, Langalibalele had been present when John Shepstone pulled out his gun and fired at Matyana, and, although he missed his mark, his intention was clear to all present. Langalibalele was not putting himself in a similar position. The coronation over, on 4 October 1873, Shepstone sent a third deputation to confront the chief. Shepstone's envoys were brought into Langalibalele's presence stripped naked, insulted and manhandled - so the messengers said. According to Bishop Colenso's informers, the messengers on examination had lied: all they were asked was to take off their coats to prove they were unarmed. Nevertheless, the messengers' tale was believed. Shepstone warned Pine that such open defiance could bring their whole reserve system into jeopardy. He said he looked on the treatment of his messenger as a personal insult and promised he would fetch Langalibalele himself, if he did not obey orders. Had the Governor permitted Shepstone to see the chief personally, Shepstone could have negotiated it to everyone's satisfaction, for the chief was already on the point of giving in. But Sir Benjamin Pine was a man of action who liked his own way. He ordered a mixed force of 6,000 Native levies and 300 Natal volunteers to assemble on 29 October. Deeply alarmed at the sudden military activity, Langalibalele set out with the bulk of his people and cattle for the nearest high mountain pass into Basutoland. In fact, no law denied him the right to move into Basutoland if he chose. Shepstone, however, was loath to see him go, because if Langalibalele left Natal with 10,000 amaHlubi, the chief's act of defiance might well destroy his precarious control over the hereditary chieftains.

Shepstone and Colenso quarrel

 

The colonists rallied round, solidly in favour of the punitive expedition against Langalibalele. One figure stood out alone among them: Bishop Colenso. In doing so, he alienated the colonists who heartily criticized him for his forthright views and he quarrelled with his most influential supporter and greatest friend, Theophilus Shepstone. Colenso accused Shepstone of a policy of expediency at the sacrifice of honesty. Shepstone countered that his duty lay first in the direction of peace and safety. At Bushmans Nek Pass, the amaHlubi defied the troops and resorted to arms, killing three colonials and two Basotho. Panic-stricken, the young Carbineers fled and the day went to the amaHlubi. The defeat of the troops was a greater disaster than the testimony of the casualty list, for what Shepstone had sought to prevent had happened.

The campaign

 

The colonists worked off their humiliation in a ferocious campaign in which soldiers and volunteers hunted down and shot more than two hundred people, mainly the old, and women with children who were hiding in caves. Then they looted and burned the homes of the amaHlubi and their neighbours and gave their captives out to the settlers as 'apprentices' (slaves). Afterwards, Lieutenant Governor Pine pardoned everyone for all atrocities committed during the affair by passing a formal act of indemnity.

Capture of Langalibalele

 

Langalibalele disappeared into the heart of Basutoland where he took refuge with a Basotho chief, who betrayed him. Heavily chained, the old chief was brought to Pietermaritzburg towards the end of December. By January, the rebellion that was a manhunt had sputtered out.

A scurrilous court case

 

Chief Langalibalele's trial took place in January 1874. He was charged with murder, treason, and rebellion. Pine sat as Supreme Chieftain of the Zulus in Natal, assisted by Shepstone as Secretary of Native Affairs, four magistrates and six appointed 'loyal' chiefs. Shepstone decided to try the prisoner using Native Customary Law. The prosecution was entrusted to John Shepstone, who enjoyed every advantage, since the final authority was his brother. When the court opened it at once discarded Native Law and resorted to English law by calling upon the prisoner to plead. No defending counsel was allowed and the two judges were biased, since both Shepstone and Pine had participated in the expedition against the prisoner. Moreover, the prisoner was not allowed to cross-examine the witnesses, and, finding themselves surrounded by red jackets and fixed bayonets, no witness dared speak out for the chief. In this way, all the disadvantages of both systems were arrayed against him. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. Langalibalele was found guilty of treason and rebellion and banished to Robben Island at the Cape for life. His sons and indunas were given severe sentences as well; and the amaHlubi and the amaPhutini were scattered. The trial was unfair, the sentence was harsh, and Natal had no right to transport convicts to the jurisdiction of another colony. Pine had to persuade the Cape government to pass a special act allowing this to be done. Pine, who had been at loggerheads with Shepstone during his first term of office in Natal, in his second term of office had shown that he was determined to remain on friendly terms with him, especially since the treatment of the amaHlubi had discredited him and he needed allies. Stoked by Bishop Colenso, the Langalibalele rebellion had provoked some righteous protest in Britain from Humanitarians. Alarmed, Pine decided to send Shepstone over to London to justify the proceedings in Natal. He should have been more wary. Shepstone needed to survive the Langalibalele debacle, too, and he did his best to show himself up in a good light.

Shepstone and Carnarvon

 

At the Colonial Office Lord Carnarvon asked Shepstone to explain his ideas on native administration fully to him. Shepstone considered Natal the model on which native policy elsewhere should be framed. He believed that imperial control would solve all the problems with neighbouring tribes as well as providing extra land for Natal's surplus refugee population. Seeing that he was enjoying the confidence of the Secretary of State, Shepstone moved swiftly to undermine Pine. He impressed Carnarvon with the power of his reasoning and his ideas fitted in with the plans Carnarvon was formulating to federate South Africa. Carnarvon decided to retain Shepstone's services. For the moment, the Colonial Office accepted Shepstone's account about the Langalibalele affair. It did not believe him, but Shepstone was too useful to jettison.

'Memorandum on Native Affairs'

 

Before Shepstone left London, he presented to Carnarvon his 'Memorandum on Native Affairs', dated 28 November 1874. In this document, Shepstone recommended that the existing system of Native administration in Natal be retained; that his own powers as Secretary for Native Affairs be strengthened; and that the authority of the Supreme Chief vested in the Lieutenant Governor be transferred to him. The Colonial Office came out in full support of Shepstone. They gave him a free hand in drawing up the legislation that would make him as Secretary for Native Affairs, lawgiver, lawmaker and judge. Shepstone had resisted codifying the Native laws of Natal for years, but he was obliged to accept a Native Law Commission of seven members, which was given the task of writing down the Native Law of Natal in two years.

Outcome of the Langalibalele trial

 

In London, the Langalibalele trial was regarded as a travesty of justice. The Queen and her advisers reversed the sentence of Sir Benjamin Pine on the old chief. The whole blame for the affair was cast upon Pine who was recalled, whereas Shepstone, unblamed, was knighted in 1876 and became master of the whole position. Langalibalele was released and allowed to settle in the Cape Colony and then in Natal. The confiscated lands and cattle, contrary to the British government's instructions, were never restored to the amaHlubi. The Natal government broke up their locations, and a large area was opened up for white settlement. Over £24,500 was added to Natal government funds through the sale of cattle captured from the amaHlubi and the amaPhutini. The breach between Shepstone and Colenso was never healed, and both men suffered for it. It marked a turning point in both lives, Shepstone became more reserved, cautious, and sensitive than ever, and Colenso lost the support of the Natal colonists and his influence waned.

Plans for confederation

 

The indecisive war that the South African Republic (Transvaal) had waged against the Pedi became a crucial factor in the grand imperial expansionist plan; but Cape officials saw very clearly that in a confederation the Cape would be landed with paying for this kind of unrewarding conflict. To reassure the Cape that this would not be the case, the British government began taking steps to annex the Boer republic across the Vaal River because it was a necessary component in the confederation medley, although its burghers would not relish throwing in their lot once more with the British. The South African Republic was lapsing into bankruptcy so Lord Carnarvon, the Colonial Secretary, decided to take advantage of this vulnerable situation. He took a shortcut in the federation direction by advising Shepstone to secure the Transvaal for the proposed confederation, by persuasion if possible, or by proclamation if necessary.

Shepstone moves to the Transvaal

 

On 22 January 1877, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, Secretary for Native Affairs in Natal for almost forty years, rode into the Transvaal with 25 Natal Mounted Police, eight civil servants (one of whom was Rider Haggard) and a discretely cased Union Jack. British traders enthusiastically welcomed them lustily singing, 'God Save the Queen'. Shepstone took up residence in Pretoria and played a skilful waiting game. Cetshwayo mobilized his army and moved towards his northern frontier at a hint from Shepstone. The danger of Cetshwayo's impis was an important factor in Shepstone's exchanges with President Burger's representatives. Cetshwayo was about to march upon the disunited and helpless Boers, when - fortunately for them - Shepstone used his enormous influence to restrain him. Cetshwayo dispersed his warriors with every regret. What he had not predicted, however, was that Shepstone would overturn his earlier attitude towards the disputed Blood River Territory, and side with the Boers against him. Believing he was in a good position to press forward the expansionist programmes he had long recommended for Natal's development, Shepstone threw his erstwhile Zulu allies to the wolves - and with them all his diplomatic advantages. From this moment, Shepstone's diplomacy was driven by the need to put an end to the threat of the Zulu military system.

Shepstone annexes the Transvaal

 

On 12 April 1877, at Britain's behest, Shepstone effortlessly annexed the South African Republic to the Crown, hoisted the Union Jack, and stayed on as its Administrator. In Pretoria, nobody resisted annexation. Not a gun was fired. Now Britain had the minerals of the newly formed British Colony of Transvaal and as Administrator, Shepstone had become the protector of the Boers, the hereditary enemy of the Zulus. With one stroke of his pen, Shepstone had destroyed the equilibrium he had managed to keep finely balanced for so many years. Moreover, opposition to annexation was more widespread than Shepstone had expected. In its final session, the Volksraad appointed a delegation led by Paul Kruger to go to London to make a formal protest about it.

Administrator of the Transvaal

 

As the new administrator, Shepstone was keen to win over the Boers who would not accept the loss of their independence. He planned on showing them some advantages to be gained from British rule, but the chief weakness in his administration was its lack of finance. To raise revenue, Shepstone introduced financial and administrative reforms such as taxing the black population, but it was impossible to extract enough from the Transvaal Africans. Hearing that Shepstone intended to tax them too, initial Boer passivity soon gave way to sullen resentment. Anger and bitterness increased when the new British authorities did not make provisions for an elected assembly, and the longer they withheld this right, the more deep-rooted became their hostility to the British annexation.

Conference Hill

 

The Zulus were coming to the boil too, because Shepstone had made clear his change of support. On 18 October 1877, Shepstone met a large gathering of important Zulu chiefs on the kingdom's western borders. The acrimonious meeting took place on a hill, now known as Conference Hill, overlooking the west bank of the Ncome (Blood) River. Cetshwayo's wealthy prime minister, Mnyamana ka Ngqengelele, chief of the Buthelezi, led the Zulu delegation Mnyamana insisted the Zulu nation would not abandon its land claims, furiously deriding Shepstone for going over to the Boers. The chiefs accused him of deserting the king and betraying their friendship. Shepstone tried to wriggle out of the accusation but a great rumble of anger cut short his words and the Zulus stormed away from the meeting. His standing with the Zulus was never the same again. Of Shepstone's betrayal, the king's councillors said scornfully: "He turned his coat in the most shameless manner!" They were convinced that Shepstone was intent on making war against them, and they were right. Shepstone wrote to Sir Bartle Frere, Governor of the Cape, saying:

One thing is quite certain, that if we are forced into hostilities, we cannot stop short of breaking down the Zulu power, which after all, is the root and real strength of all native difficulties in South Africa.

Frere, who was also the High Commissioner, needed no persuading that the Zulu kingdom was the key piece in the southern African puzzle. He believed that once the most formidable African military power and natural rallying point for any general resistance to white authority was removed, imperial prestige would be raised; and an atmosphere of goodwill would be created in which federation could be fulfilled.

The Pedi

 

In February 1878, the Pedi attacked a clan that had shown willingness to come under Transvaal protection, slaughtering the villagers and driving off their herds, while the hopelessly outnumbered Transvaal garrison stood by helplessly. Shepstone appealed to the Boers to come forward and assist, but they had been unwilling to help their own president and showed even greater reluctance to aid their British Administrator. Shepstone feared that the Zulus, encouraged by the inability of the Boer commandos to defeat the Pedi, were stirring up resentfulness among all the black tribes in southern Africa against white domination. Convinced the Pedi were colluding with the Zulus, Shepstone appealed for additional imperial troops to help him subject the rebellious tribes and sent off a dispatch to his superiors in Britain expounding on the dangers to southern Africa of the Zulu military system. He maintained that Zululand was a 'war machine' and Cetshwayo was the match that would light the explosion of a general uprising. This was a very different opinion from the one he had expressed to the Colonial Secretary after Cetshwayo's coronation in 1874. Had Shepstone's dealings in the Transvaal influenced his change of direction so much, or was he hoping to incorporate the Transvaal and Zululand into Natal with confederation? Whatever the case, Frere eagerly accepted Shepstone's statements. In October 1877, Shepstone sent secret messages to Anglican and Norwegian missionaries that a British invasion of Zululand was imminent. But by January 1878, when Shepstone's dispatch of dire warnings arrived in London, British relations with Russia over the war in Afghanistan had become so strained that Carnarvon was obliged to put plans to provoke another 'native war' on the back burner. Carnarvon resigned from the Cabinet soon afterwards and his successor Sir Michael Hicks Beach did not want a Zulu war at any price. Without support from London, Shepstone and Frere needed a good reason to provoke the 'inevitable' war. The most suitable ploy was the border dispute.

The Boundary Commission

 

The Lieutenant Governor of Natal, Sir Henry Bulwer, had approached Sir Bartle Frere about the long-drawn out wrangle concerning the rights of the Zulu to the land that the Boers were claiming. Frere agreed to hold a commission of inquiry followed by an award, mainly because Shepstone had told him that he had himself seen 'the most incontrovertible, overwhelming and clear evidence' of which he had previously been unaware, which would prove that the Boers had full title to the disputed land. Frere was satisfied that Shepstone had the matter all sewn up: the Boers would win the award, and agriculture and mining would benefit by gaining a corridor to the labour in Tongaland and Mozambique. In June 1878, the boundary commissioners handed their carefully completed report to Governor Bulwer. All the evidence confirmed the Zulus' right to the land east of the Ncome River. The Boers had encroached. Frere received it on 15 July and stared at it in disbelief. As High Commissioner, he was about to visit the Transvaal. He had been intending to offer the Transvaal burghers a measure of self-government in return for co-operating in his confederation. The 'Disputed Territory' would have been a useful sweetener, but now the Boundary Commission's findings would be a bitter pill for them to swallow.

The ultimatum

 

On 11 December 1878, Frere had John Shepstone announce the results of the Commission to a Zulu delegation, but linked it to the announcement that the Boers would be allowed to stay in the disputed area. He then went on to deliver an ultimatum amounting to a declaration of war, which Cetshwayo would never accept, as it required the destruction of the social and political structure of the Zulu kingdom.

The Zulu War

 

The Zulu War began on 12 January 1879. On 25 May 1879, Lieutenant General Lord Chelmsford decisively defeated a Zulu impi at the royal homestead of Ulundi. Three days later, Sir Garnet Wolseley was appointed Governor of Natal and the Transvaal and High Commissioner for the adjacent territories as well as Commander in Chief of the forces in the field, superseding Sir Bartle Frere in Natal and Zululand. Cetshwayo, who had never wanted the war, made peace overtures, but his envoys were turned away on 27 June, and the British army marched on to Ulundi. On 4 July, the last battle began and the Zulu army was defeated. Chelmsford resigned. Cetshwayo was captured on 28 August and imprisoned in the Castle at Cape Town.

The Settlement

 

In 1879, Shepstone was removed from his post in the Transvaal and he returned to Natal where he became deeply implicated in the settlement of Zululand. Wolseley ceded the entire former Disputed Territory to the Transvaal, but to the Natal colonists' disappointment, Zululand was not thrown open for development and the Zulu were not brought onto the labour market. At first Wolseley intended to divide Zululand into only five or six territories, but in a letter to Sir Michael Hicks Beach dated 9 October 1879, he wrote that Shepstone said, '.it would be much better and safer for the country, which would be more manageable also, if these districts would be smaller and more numerous'. To meet Shepstone's point of view, Wolseley finally decided to increase the number chieftainships to thirteen. However, Shepstone had envisaged a British Resident exercising real power over the impotent 'kinglets' and real British intervention, but for the next seven years the British Government did its best to avoid responsibility for Zululand.

Shepstone's proposals for the administration of Zululand

 

In 1880, when the Transvaal fought for its independence, Shepstone repeatedly expressed his concerns about the fate of Zululand. Sharply aware of the perils of a headlong transition from indigenous to colonial-style administration, Shepstone envisaged annexing Zululand to Natal. He proposed substituting Wolseley's settlement with the system of indirect rule that he had successfully put into place in Natal, where hereditary chiefs retained their civil powers under the supervision of white officials. In Natal, this had gradually negated the authority of chiefs as their supporters increasingly realized that effective power resided in the white officials set over them. Even though Natal was not opened to white settlement, he advised that Zululand could at least serve to resettle Natal's excess black population, which was mainly Zulu. He foresaw that the imposition of an annual hut tax would pay for the resettlement and, without breaking the continuity of the past, oblige the Zulu to begin working as wage-earners. Shepstone thought this could easily be done as Wolseley's settlement had already weakened the existing political structures. For Shepstone, the foundation of any arrangement imposed on the Zulu required establishing indirect rule and counteracting the power of uSuthu royalists by supporting and elevating collaborators loyal to Britain. Shepstone's ideas on 'native affairs' thoroughly pervaded the whole colonial administration, especially through his brother John and Melmoth Osborn, the first British Resident in Zululand, who reinforced Shepstone's advice. Consequently, they actively supported the rivals of the uSuthu, especially John Dunn and Zibhebhu. Bishop Colenso and his daughters, Harriet and Frances, were fiercely opposed to this and warned that any settlement of Zululand that excluded the king and left the country in the hands of rival chiefs would certainly produce civil war. They were right.

Cetshwayo's restoration

 

Divided against itself, and with no controlling power, Zululand became a hive of discontent, of rival factions seizing cattle, burning homes and killing each other. Sir Evelyn Wood, the new Governor of Natal attempted to broker reconciliation. Cetshwayo was allowed to travel to England and was graciously received by the Queen. Gladstone's Liberal Party condemned the Zulu War, begun by the opposition Conservative administration, as unjust; and the British agreed to restore Cetshwayo to his kingdom. However, his restoration was a mockery. Shepstone was called out of retirement to handle this. He kept Cetshwayo's arrival in Zululand a secret and with an escort of the 6th Dragoon Guards went to meet him. Only a few of Cetshwayo's supporters were at Port Durnford when Cetshwayo landed on 10 January 1883. Cetshwayo returned to a greatly restricted kingdom, which retained his archenemy Zibhebhu's independent sovereignty on its border and antagonistic anti-uSuthu officials in the south. Zibhebhu left no doubt about his intentions. On 28 January, the day before Cetshwayo's installation, flanked by a body of his fully armed supporters, he rode into the encampment, insolently ignored Cetshwayo, paid his respects to Shepstone, and left.

Civil war

 

No responsible supervision by the British Government existed in Zululand and Wolseley's settlement failed to provide a mechanism to contain spiralling conflict, which threatened to spill over into Natal and colonists' opposition to the settlement grew vociferous. Within three month's of Cetshwayo's installation civil war broke out in Zululand, begun by the uSuthu. The colonial authorities blamed the Colensos for encouraging the uSuthu initiative, but because the king had been left without cattle, he needed to seize herds to survive - a certain recipe for conflict. Calamities engulfed the uSuthu, and on 21 July 1883, Cetshwayo suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of Zibhebhu. On 8 February 1884, Cetshwayo died suddenly. More than likely, he was poisoned on Zibhebhu's instructions, as at the same time Mnyamana was poisoned but survived.

Annexation of Zululand

 

Zululand became a British possession on 19 May 1887. As Shepstone had advised, a hut tax financed its administration. Zululand's handful of administrators were all part of the Natal official establishment and all were prepared to extend to Zululand the Shepstone system of Natal. The Zulu royal house remained the greatest threat to its success.

Death

 

Shepstones life was extraordinarily interwoven with the lives of the two Zulu kings, Mpande and Cetshwayo, and he retains an important place in the history of colonial administration. He died full of years and honours on 23 June 1893.

Last updated : 12-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011