Information about the Zulu

The Zulu are an African ethnic group of about 11 million people who live mainly in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Their language derives originally from Bantu; more recently from the Nguni subgroup. The Zulu Kingdom played a major role in South African History during the 19th century. Under apartheid, Zulu people were classed as second-class citizens and discriminated against. Today, they are the most numerous ethnic group in the country, and have equal rights along with all other South Africans.



The Zulu were a minor clan in what is today Northern KwaZulu-Natal, founded ca. 1709 by Zulu kaNtombhela. At that time, the area was occupied by many small Nguni tribes and clans.


Shaka Zulu was the illegitimate son of Senzangakona, chief of the Zulus. He was born ca 1787. He and his mother, Nandi, were exiled by Senzangakona, and found refuge with the Mthethwa. Shaka fought as a warrior under Dingiswayo, chief of the Mthethwa. When Senzangakona died, Dingiswayo helped Shaka claim his place as chief of the Zulus. The two fought together against common foes. After Dingiswayo was murdered by king Zwide of the Ndwandwe, the Mthethwa placed themselves under Shaka's rule, and took on the name Zulu.

Shaka built upon Dingiswayo's military reforms, and, using superior tactics, expanded the territory controlled by the Zulu to form the Zulu Kingdom. Some of the conflicts involved in this process fall under the Zulu Civil War. The Zulus at this point constituted a great nation between the Tugela River and the Pongola River. This process of expansion played a major role in the occurrence of the Mfecane - the catastrophic forced migration of many clans around Zululand.

Shaka was succeeded by Dingane, his half brother, who conspired to murder him.

Interaction with the Voortrekkers

Dingane suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838, when he attacked a group of 470 Voortrekker settlers.

Anglo-Zulu War

The Anglo-Zulu War was fought between the Zulus, under Cetshwayo and the British in 1879. The British ruled the colony of Natal, which bordered on the Zulu Kingdom at the time. Despite defeating the British at Isandlwana on January 22, the Zulus lost the war at the Battle of Ulundi on July 4.

Cetshwayo was forced to flee, and the British forcibly restructured the Zulu aristocracy.

Apartheid Years

Under apartheid, Zululand was declared a homeland, and a large proportion of the Zulu people forced to live there. Zulu people were classed as "black" in South Africa, and as such were heavily discriminated against.

Rural vs urban Zulu people

The modern Zulu population is fairly evenly divided into urban and rural groups.

Rural Zulu people

Rural Zulu people live in villages, often without electricity and running water, in houses constructed from a mixture of mud brick and more modern, but cheap, materials. The Zulu aristocracy still tends to play a major role in the leadership of rural Zulu people. Local amaKhosi (literally lords, though "chiefs" is a more common translation) tend to hold a certain amount of sway over the people in their area. Some rural Zulu people make a living selling basketry and beadwork to tourists and city dwellers. Some are also subsistence farmers, although a more prominent trend is for one member of a family to get a job in a nearby city, from the income of which they support the rest of the family.

Urban Zulu people

Poorer urban Zulu people live in Townships, which came about as a result of apartheid. However, a large number of Zulu people are now members of the middle class, living in suburban houses, and having fairly common middle class first world jobs. A number of Zulu people are prominent business men and women, and a number are parliamentarians.

Zulu music

The singing styles of the Zulu people and their Nguni heritage are worthy of special mention. As in much of Africa, music is highly regarded, enabling the communication of emotions and situations which could not be explained by talking. Zulu music incorporates rhythm, melody and harmony — the latter is usually dominant and known as "isigubudu" (which can be translated as converging horns on a beast, with tips touching the animal, a spiralling inward that reflects inner feelings).

Maskandi and Mbhaqanga are other Zulu music genres. Notable Maskandi musicians include Phuzekhemisi and Mfazomnyama.

Zulu music has also been carried worldwide, often by white musicians using Zulu backing singers, or performing songs by Zulu composers. Examples of the former are Paul Simon and South African Johnny Clegg. Examples of the latter are the song "Wimoweh" and several tunes on the first album by Bow Wow Wow. In the case of both Bow Wow Wow and to a lesser extent "Wimoweh", the original Zulu musicians went largely unidentified and uncompensated by the white musicians.

The internationally successful Zulu group Ladysmith Black Mambazo are among the artists who have made Zulu musical traditions known throughout the world. After contributing to Paul Simon's Graceland album they have toured the world with numerous stars and received two Grammy Awards.


Their language is Zulu (the word means "heaven" or "sky"). Many Zulu people today speak English, Afrikaans, and others of South Africa's 11 official languages.

Zulu is the most widely spoken language in South Africa, with over half of South Africans able to understand it, and is regarded as the easiest to learn.

Zulu is also spoken in some other African countries, where it was brought by South African exiles during apartheid.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia

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