Zulu. For generations, the battle cry of this fierce tribe resounded through the southern tip
of Africa. The very name struck fear to tribes not yet conquered. It was an empire that had savagely conquered many tribes and was ruthlessly put in
place by one of the most skilled leaders of any nation---Shaka Zulu. Shaka had taken a small outcast tribe and built it into the dominant force of South
Africa, and when he died, his empire continued to grow. But as it spread, it came up
against a more modern empire, one at the time that was so widespread, that the sun never
set on it...the British Empire.
As the world was becoming increasingly modern and world powers began their mad scramble
for Africa, the prize of South Africa---with promises of wealth from the diamond mines
became more alluring. As the mighty British Empire attempted to flex their muscles in South Africa, the major
issue was the Zulus. They had to be dealt with, so Britain could form an alliance of all
the different nations that made up the region of South Africa. Goaded into battle by
British diplomacy, the Zulus realized that they had to strike first if they had any hope
of defeating the premier military force of the world. Casual, over-confident, and even
contemptuous, the British army initiated an ultimatum and waited for the Zulus to submit.
The sign of manhood for the Zulus was for them to "wash" their spears in
enemy blood and in January of 1879, thousands of young Zulus ascended into manhood for
they had indeed, washed their spears. The Battle of Isandhlwanda was the opening...and it ended up with the Zulus
dealing the vaunted British empire a bloody massacre....a defeat that Prime Minister
Disreali said was the beginning of the end for the British Empire.
Yet, on the same day, the British managed to secure one of their greatest victories and
one that had more Victorian Crosses issued than any battle previous or since. The battle
of Roarkes Drift, where 200 men, outnumber 20 to 1, managed to hold off the
onslaught which had just wiped out the main British army.
And it was the beginning of the end for two great empires.