Zibhebhu after the battle of oNdini, July 1884.
The most innovative and resourceful Zulu general of the 1880s. A cousin of King Cetshwayo and chief of the Mandlakazi people in northeastern Zululand, Zibhebhu counseled against war with Britain in 1879 but nevertheless fought gallantly throughout the Anglo-Zulu War. He was slightly wounded at Isandlwana on 22 January while serving as senior induna (officer) of the uDloko ibutho (age-grade regiment) and was one of the junior commanders at the Battle of Khambula on 29 March. On 3 July, he was in command of the mounted scouts who drew a British reconnaissance-in-force into a successful ambush in the Mahlabathini plain.
In the settlement that followed their victory in Zululand, the British appointed compliant chiefs (including Zibhebhu) over the 13 chiefdoms into which they divided the former kingdom. Zibhebhu remained their staunchest ally in Zululand, collaborating with the British to suppress the aspirations of the royal house and their supporters, known as the uSuthu.
When the British restored Cetshwayo in 1883 to part of Zululand, civil war broke out between the uSuthu and Mandlakazi. At Msebe on 30 March 1883, Zibhebhu made effective use of mounted riflemen (supplemented by white mercenaries) to ambush, outflank, and pursue Cetshwayo’s numerically superior army. After a forced night march, he surprised the uSuthu at oNdini on 21 July 1883 and scattered them, forcing Cetshwayo to take refuge with the British in southern Zululand. Zibhebhu proceeded to ravage uSuthu territory, and in 1884 Cetshwayo’s desperate successor, Dinuzulu, formed an alliance with the neighboring Boers. The Boer commando’s firepower proved crucial on 5 June 1884 in defeating Zibhebhu, who had attempted to lay an ambush at Tshaneni, and in his turn Zibhebhu was compelled to take refuge with the British.
In May 1887, the British finally annexed Zululand and in November 1887 restored Zibhebhu to his chiefdom to act as a counterweight against Dinuzulu and the uSuthu, who were resisting their administration. On 23 June 1888, Dinuzulu, copying Zibhebhu’s own successful tactics of 1883, surprised him at Ivuna after a night march and routed the Mandlakazi. Zibhebhu and his people were again resettled in southern Zululand. In 1898, the colonial authorities allowed Zibhebhu to return to his old chiefdom as part of a general settlement of the warring Zulu factions.
References and further reading: Knight, Ian. Great Zulu Commanders 1838-1906. London: Arms and Armour and Sterling Publishing, 1999. Laband, John. The Atlas of the Later Zulu Wars 1883-1888. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of Natal Press, 2001.