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DateOriginal Topic
12th January 2005Isandhlwana/Dien Bien Phu
By Rich
I see a new book is out on the French debacle
at the hands of the Vietminh. It was such a blow that the French couldn't recover and abandoned Indochina. I couldn't help but think that considering Isandhlwana was an overhwhelming Zulu victory and in boxing parlance a big big KO the Zulus just couldn't be like the Vietminh and got on to followup their complete victory at the time and destroy their enemy. The circumstances in '79 appear similar- you had an army far from home which suffered many casualties and were psychologically at a disadvantage. Perhaps the Zulus did not have that psychological insight as the Vietminh had to understand the strategic situation to followup and apply more crushing victories? After Isandhlwana, Rorkes Drift for the Zulu was a "downer" and had to have dampened the Isandhlwana rout celebrations.
12th January 2005Paul Cubbin
I think probably there were a number of reasons why the Zulu victory did not bring them a long term victory. Firstly, Zulu religion demanded a purification ceremony after battle (or your enemy's spirit would follow you). This was done at the home kraal and could last several days. Also, although classed as a 'victory' since the British and allies were pretty much wiped out, leaving the Zulus in possession of the field of battle, the casualties the Zulus suffered were horrific. Numbers vary, but it was something like 3 or 4 percent of their entire population. "An assegai has been thrust into the belly of the Zulu nation," as poor Cetewayo said. Thirdly, the British have a martial history slightly different from the French. I won't say any more about that, we all know.
13th January 2005Rich
With all that you noted, perhaps the Zulus could have "won" if they could have implemented guerrilla tactics? In hindsight, the set piece battle always favored the British.
13th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Definitely. Guerilla tactics would have been their only option. Unfortunately their whole ethos and way of life was built around cattle. All the British had to do was gather the cattle (Chelmsford was prepared for this and had already started in fact) and the Zulus would eventually starve to death. The Zulus certainly appear to have had very rigid doctrines, religious, social and military, that probably helped the British to engineer their downfall.
14th January 2005Derek C
Paul, I question your theory of the Zulus "eventuallystarving to death". Cattle to the Zulus' are a measure of wealth (status). They only slaughter cattle for celebrations, numbers are more important, like a bank balance if you will. Their staple diet was grain and they were/are a nation of subsistance farmers. To this very day, cattle are a measure of wealth, do a Google on "labola", where a bride is "sold" for cattle.

How do I know this.... I spent 32 years in Natal. Don't underestimate the Zulus' like Chelmsford did! Steal their cattle and you just make them really, really mad!

As far as guerrilla tactics are concerned, this is not practical for a small band of people armed with shields & spears up against M.H. rifles. The Boers were the masters of guerrilla tactics, fine horsemen, blended in with the enviroment, carried their rations with them, and above all, could shoot straight with smokeless powder. Hardly practical for the Zulu's. To this day, the power of the aBantu in South Africa is in pure numbers.

While I cannot deny the courage of the men at Rorke's Drift, and at Isandlawana, did S.A. really need the Brits to start annexing the Cape, Natal, the Gold & Diamond mines, crushing the Zulus'? Were millionaires Rhodes & Beit acting in South Africa's best interest? Concentration camps at the end of the Anglo/Boer war?

While it's fun to get all warm & fuzzy over certain certain small "victories", remember that the internet is a huge luxury in S.A. I personally would welcome more Zulu input. Read The Zulu Perspective on this very web sight, and if you get the chance, listen to David Rattray's "Day of the Dead Moon".

I guess what I'm trying to say is that .... Did S.A. really need the Brits?
14th January 2005Michael Boyle

re:"Did S.A. really need the Brits?"

Speaking as an ex-Colonial with paternal Irish ancestory(and raised in the Dutch Reformed Church) ; Did anyone? However I feel the question is much broader than that. Did anyone need the Spanish,the Portugese,the French or the Germans? What of the Ottoman, Chinese,Japanese,Mongols, Huns,Romans,Greeks,Persians to mention the Native American's need of anyone else.) In fact did S.A. really need the Zulus?

As you can see the point I'm trying to make is that history seems to be a chronicle of the stronger attempting to incorporate the weaker and the concept of need was defined by the 'needers' toward the percieved 'needees'.

As far as I can reckon thus far, the British Government's desire in South Africa was simply for a couple of secure ports to ensure supply and fueling stations for their commercial shipping to and from India (notice how I'm adroitly avoiding India's 'needs'). Had the Suez Canal been constructed a few decades earlier I think that Britain's involvement in South Africa would have been mooted.(This of course begs the question of the Boers who seem to have antedated all but the Bushman and "Hottentots".)

My comments of course apply only to the situation in South Africa not the overall scheme of British Imperial history. Of course a valid argument could made that both are inseperable, however I have been led to think that the British Government had to be drug 'kicking and screaming' into conflicts there by other 'interested parties' whose interests lay outside a 'balanced exchequer'(both within and outside the government).

These comments are in no way intended as an apologia for the British Empire (reference the first sentence) but I can't help but think that the situation in South Africa was unique to British Imperial history and quite possibly part of the reason for many of our interests in it.

As for the 'cattle rustlin' I quite agree with you however the British also made a point of destroying crops and storage facilities as well and if I'm not mistaken the only reason the Impis were seen at Isandhlwana was because they had sent out foragers.

The fact that they were ill equipped to be effective guerilla fighters or attackers against against an entreched enemy was not lost on Cetshwayo who seemed to do everything in his power to curtail the conflict. I seem to recall a reference that at the the time Durnford's men discovered the main body the inDunas were discussing how to send an emissary the following day.

That's not to say that given a few years of proper fire arm training and reliable ammunition supply they wouldn't have proved to be a formidable guerilla force indeed!



14th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Derek - yep, point taken. I bow to your superior argument. Even with the cattle gone, they would have been forced to adapt. Which probably then points towards Mike's point about training in firearms. I think any weapon can be effective for guerillas when placed alongside the main weapon of concealment. Poisoned wells, crippled cattle, murdered officers...none of these are too difficult for spear armed infiltrators. But rifles certainly would've been useful too.
And as for 'Did SA need the Brits?' Again, I'm with Mike. I really fail to see why so many British people these days appear apologetic for the British Empire. Sure, it made mistakes, but mostly the Empire grew through trade, not war. It was a damn sight more humane than any other Empire I can think of and was largely welcomed by those who became Imperial subjects (at least at first) and already, well before 1879, the British government had realised that more money was being spent on the upkeep of the Empire than was being generated by it. The Victorians especially felt a huge responsibilty for the welfare of those within the Imperial umbrella and treated them in a manner that was relevant to the values at the time. I truly believe that Britain stands alone in the manner in which it attempted to reduce its Empire as painlessly as possible, whilst maintaining a responsibilty to those people affected by it. It is all too clear to see how many countries took a massive backward slide in fortune after cutting ties with the Crown. Remember also, many of these nations did not even exist before the various minor territories were amalgamated into a whole. Back to 'Did SA need the Brits?' For what? For becoming a successful, thriving nation? I think it needed someone. Without getting too political, the only other major 'European' power in the area was the Boers...not the most sensitive to the indigenous population. As soon as white settlers appeared and began their 'Micky Mouse' trade agreements with the native peoples of South Africa, peace was doomed. I think without Britain's protection, a much more destructive war would have occurred and Natal would be lucky to have survived it.
14th January 2005Rich
You know from the fine foregoing comments I'd think that the Zulus could have caused Chelmsford big problems if they simply did not let his army "win" and by that I mean by letting them just mow down many warriors in set all or nothing battles. That was the "killer app" so to speak. Would have been interesting if they adopted a "Fabian" strategy (Quintus Fabius vs Hannibal) where they would not offer battle against a seemingly stronger adversary. Arguably hit and run attacks on British outposts could have made a difference.
and especially if losses continuosly mounted among the force in Natal. I don't think the British would have countenaced losing their soldiers under such circumstances at the time.
"They'll be an awful row at home about this"......
15th January 2005Martin Conway
In Vietnam the Viet Minh and, later, the Viet Cong, had efficient supply lines. They also had Chinese help. The Zulus wouldn't had had such good organisation. The French and later the Americans didn't learn the lessons of the British in Malaya. I like to think that some similar 'lateral thinking' would have been employed had the Zulus adopted guerrilla tactics.