The ‘Zulu Kingdom as Scapegoat’ Argument

A central tenet of Julian Cobbing’s ‘alibi’ argument of the late 1980s was that the Zulu kingdom, which established itself as a regional power during the reign of King Shaka, was not a major factor in initiating the wars and migrations collectively termed the Mfecane  roughly 1810-1840). Cobbing claimed that Europeans were the true culprits in the upheavals. The association between the Zulu kingdom and the Mfecane, he claimed, was a colonial myth – an ‘alibi’ created to conceal the true extent of Europeans’ responsibility.  Cobbing’s argument called a large swathe of early nineteenth-century evidence into question. Figures such as Nathaniel Isaacs and Henry Francis Fynn, each of whom had long been regarded as valuable albeit biased eyewitnesses to events which took place in the Zulu kingdom during the 1820s, were branded as pro-colonial conspirators who had contributed to the cover-up. Cobbing’s argument triggered a new wave of scholarship that saw literary critics and historians begin to scrutinise numerous colonial era sources in far greater depth.

Relevant Works

Bryant, Alfred Thomas. Olden Times in Zululand and Natal, containing earlier political history of the Eastern Nguni Clans. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1929.

Cobbing, Julian. “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo”. The Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988), 487-519.

Fynn, Henry Francis. The Diary of Henry Francis Fynn: Compiled from Original Sources. Edited by Malcolm, Daniel Mck. and James Stuart. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 1950.

Etherington, Norman. “Old Wine in New Bottles: The Persistence of Narrative Structures in the Historiography of the Mfecane and the Great Trek.” In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 35-50. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Isaacs, Nathaniel. Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, Descriptive of the Zoolus, their Manners, Customs, etc. etc. with a sketch of Natal (volume 1) London: E. Churton, 1836.

Isaacs, Nathaniel. Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa, Descriptive of the Zoolus, their Manners, Customs, etc. etc. with a sketch of Natal (volume 2) London: E. Churton, 1836.

Kinsman, Margaret. “’Hungry Wolves’: The Impact of Violence on Rolong Life, 1823-1836. In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 363-394 Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Manson, Andrew. “Conflict in the Western Highveld/Southern Khalahar c. 1750-1820”. In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 351-362. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Pridmore, Julie. “Diaries and Despatches: The Life and Writing of Henry Francis Fynn (1803–61) and Henry Francis Fynn Junior (1846–1915)”. Kleio 36, no. 1 (2004), 126-147.

Pridmore, Julie. “Hunter, Trader and Explorer? The Unvarnished Reminiscences of H.F. Fynn”. Alternation 4, no. 2 (1997), 46-56.

Pridmore, Julie. “The writings of H.F. Fynn: History, Myth or Fiction?” Alternation 1, no. 1 (1994), 68-78.

Webb, Colin and John Wright. The James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples. Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1976-1986.

Wright, John. “Beyond the Concept of the ‘Zulu Expansionism’”. In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 107-122. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Wright, John. “Political Transformations in the Thukela-Mzimkhulu Region in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries”. In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 163-182. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Wylie, Dan. “Language and Assassination: Cultural Negations in White Writers’ Portrayal of Shaka and the Zulu”. In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 71-104.  Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Wylie, Dan. Savage Delight: White Myths of Shaka. Scottsville: University of Natal Press, 2000.

Wylie, Dan. “Textual Incest: Nathaniel Isaacs and the Development of the Shaka Myth”. History in Africa 19 (1992), 411-433.

Wylie, Dan. “White Writers and Shaka Zulu”. PhD. thesis, Rhodes University, 1995.

 

 

 

Online from: 16 Jul 2021