Wed. Dec 11th, 2019

Day of Reconciliation: King Dingane and the Voortrekkers

battle of blood riverSouth Africa’s Day of Reconciliation has a long and complex history. Here we revisit Dingane and the Voortrekkers.

day of reconciliation king dingane and the voortrekkers 1024x568 - Day of Reconciliation: King Dingane and the Voortrekkers

battle of blood river - Day of Reconciliation: King Dingane and the Voortrekkers

The Day of Reconciliation is actually fairly new in its current form. First celebrated as this back in 1995, the day has a strong historical significance. 

One of the key historical figures in South Africa, King Dingane, has a strong association with this day.

Dingane ka Senzangakhona was born in 1795 to father Chief Senzangakhona and mother Mpikase kaMlilela Ngobese who was Senzangakhona’s sixth and ‘great wife’. 

Chief Senzangakhona married sixteen women in total and had fourteen known sons, daughters however were not recorded. Very little is known or recorded about Dingane’s childhood or early career.

Instead, Dingane enters the record when on the 22 of September 1828 he, with the assistance of his half-brother Mhlangana and servant Mbopha, assassinated his brother and the then Chief of the Zulu – Shaka Zulu.

Shaka, the son of Chief Senzangakhona’s third wife, had seized the Zulu chieftainship in 1816, and had thereafter extended the Zulu kingdom.

Soon after the murder of Shaka, Dingane had his half-brother Mhlangana murdered and thus rose to the position of Chief of the Zulu. Dingane moved the royal homestead from Nobamba in the emaKhosini valley to a new inland location which he called Mgungundlovu from which he reigned until 1840.

Dingane and the Voortrekkers

It was only in 1837 however, with the arrival of the Voortrekkers into the Natal region, that these negotiations would come to fruition.

In October 1837 the group of Voortrekkers led by Piet Retief reached Port Natal where they were welcomed by the British ivory traders who occupied the area. On 19 October Retief sent a letter to Dingane as a sign of peace and to inform him that he’d be coming up to Mgungundlovu to discuss the question of land.

and the Voortrekkers described Dingane as a:

‘Robust, fat man, but well
proportioned and with the regular features of a well-bred Zulu. There was
nothing at all forbidding in his appearance. He was always smiling and was
scrupulously clean, being well scrubbed every morning by some of his women in
the royal bath, a depression in the ground near his hut. He was shaved every
day as well. He hated hair on his head, and one of his women kept him as bald
and clean-shaven as a new-born babe, by means of an exceedingly sharp axe.
After his toilet, and being well rubbed with fat, he generally spent his day
sitting in an armchair attending to business, drinking beer and playing with
any new gew-gaws some European visitor might have given him, such as a
telescope to watch his people around the kraal, or a magnifying glass to burn
holes in the arms of his servants.’

Upon his arrival, Dingane entertained Retief and his men with dances, feasts and sham fights and discussions regarding the allocation of land commenced. From this point on sources differ greatly.

Dingane supposedly declared that he was prepared to grant Retief an extensive area between the Tugela and the Umzimvubu as well as the Drakensberg, on condition that Retief restored to Dingane the cattle stolen from him by Sikonyela (the Tlokwa chief).

Dingane felt that this would prove to him that Sikonyela and not the Voortrekkers had in fact stolen the cattle. Some sources claim that Dingane also demanded rifles. With the wisdom of hindsight, it seems that Retief was incredibly naive in his dealings with Dingane.

What is also evident is that Dingane had experienced more than enough trouble from the handful of whites at Port Natal and probably never had any intention of allowing a large amount of heavily armed farmers to settle permanently in his immediate neighbourhood.

The Voortrekkers obtained the cattle from the Sikonyela as per the deal with Dingane. Retief surrendered the cattle but refused to hand over the horses and the guns he had taken from the Tlokwa.

In the meantime, however, Dingane’s agents, who had accompanied Retief to supervise the return of the cattle, reported that even before the land claim had been signed, Voortrekkers were streaming down the Drakensberg passes in large numbers.

These allegations allegedly fueled a mistrust between Retief and Dingane. On the 6 February Dingane requested that Retief and his men visit his royal kraal without their guns to drink beer as a farewell gesture.

This request was strictly in accordance with Zulu protocol – that nobody appeared armed before the King. Retief suspected no foul play and accepted the invitation. As soon as the Voortrekker party was inside the royal kraal, Dingane gave the order and his regiments overpowered Retief and his men, and took them up to a hill to be executed.

Dingane subsequently sent out his warriors to kill the rest of the Voortrekkers awaiting Retief’s return from Mgungundlovu. Hundreds of Voortrekkers were consequently killed at Bloukrans and Moordspruit which set off months of bloody conflict between the Voortrekkers and Dingane’s Zulus.

In response, Voortrekker leaders Hendrik Potgieter and Piet Uys sent out an expedition against Dingane, but were defeated at Italeni. The conflict culminated in the battle at the Ngome River on 16 December 1838, in which the Zulus suffered a severe defeat.

The Ngome River was subsequently renamed Bloedriver or Blood River, referring to the deep red colour of the river filled with Zulu blood. The incident became known as the Battle of Blood River.

Led by new Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, a Voortrekker commando went to Mgungundlovu to confront Dingane.

But Dingane had burned down his whole kraal and the Zulus launched an attack on the command at the White Umfolozi River. In the meantime, the British occupied Port Natal (now Durban). From there, they advanced on Dingane, but were defeated at the Tugela River. Dingane’s warriors also attacked the settlement at Port Natal.

In September 1839, another half-brother of Dingane, Mpande, defected with many followers to Natal. There, the Voortrekkers recognised his as the ‘Prince of the Emigrant Zulus’. On Christmas Eve 1839, the British garrison withdrew from Port Natal. Almost at once, the Voortrekkers hoisted the flag of the Republic of Natalia and made an alliance with Mpande’s supporters to make a joint attack on Dingane. In February 1840, Mpande’s forces finally decisively defeated Dingane on the Maqongqo hills. He fled north across the Phongolo River, where it is believed he met his death in the Lebombo Mountains at the hands of the Nyawo and his old enemy, the Swazi.

This article was republished from South African History Online,], for the full version, read King Dingane ka Senzangakhona’s profile and The Battle of Blood River.

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