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John Dunn and Cetshwayo: the Material Foundations of Political Power in the Zulu Kingdom, 1857–1878

  • Charles Ballard (a1)

John Dunn entered Zululand in 1857. He observed Zulu customs and law and he exploited Zulu soial institutions to his political and economic advantage. His accumulation of land, cattle, wives and clients made him one of the wealthiest men in the Zulu kingdom. Dunn manipulated and utilized his wealth to increase his status and influence. His privileged position with Cetshwayo, his alliances with many clans through marriage and his access to firearms made Dunn a powerful figure in the Zulu kingdom.

Dunn's varied career as a trader, labour recruiter, arms supplier and adviser underlines the freedom of political and economic action available to white frontiersmen operating in those zones that straddled the boundaries separating black African states from white colonial societies. The failure of the Zulu royal family to solve the succession question – the essential malaise that plagued the Zulu political system periodically throughout much of the kingdom's history and which, at times, threatened to destroy national unity – presented opportunities for white frontiersmen, like Dunn, to advance their careers. Dunn became involved in Zululand's internal affairs during a period of political turbulence and internecine warfare. The civil war of 1856 had killed off no less than eight potential heirs to the throne and sent Mpande's political career into permanent decline. But new rivalries between the royal princes Cetshwayo, Hamu and Zibepu emerged almost immediately. Cetshwayo used Dunn's assistance to secure his claim to the throne. Dunn's own economic interests prompted him to support Cetshwayo's political aspirations. The control of vital resources, strategic trade routes and firearms was a crucial factor in Cetshwayo's accession in 1873. John Dunn played a major role in providing the material foundations of Cetshwayo's power.

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1 Binns, C. T., The Last Zulu King (London, 1965), 186.

2 Cf. Brookes, E. H. and Webb, C. de B., A History of Natal (Pietermaritzburg, 1965), 99.

3 Moodie, D. C. F. (ed.), John Dunn, Cetywayo and the Three Generals (Pietermaritzburg, 1886), 57.

4 Webb, C. de B. and Wright, J. (eds.), The James Stuart Archive (Pietermaritzburg, 1976), 1, 3.

5 Moodie, , Three Generals, 7.

6 Ibid. 10–12.

7 Ibid. 13.

8 File, John Dunn, Campbell, Killie Africana Library (K.C.L.), copy of letter from Shepstone to Scott, 2 December 1856.

9 Ibid. Scott to Sir George Grey, 15 December 1856.

10 Moodie, , Three Generals, 14.

11 Domenic Dunn Papers (K.C.L.), MS Dun. 2.09, MS 1459, 3. The papers of Domenic Dunn, a son of John Dunn, are an invaluable collection of unpublished memoirs, family history and praise songs. A wealth of detailed information related to John Dunn's domestic establishment, political acquaintances and economic pursuits are contained therein.

12 Ibid. 2.

13 Ibid. MS 1467a, 31, 32.

14 Webb, and Wright, , Stuart Archive, 99.

15 Legassick, Martin, ‘The Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana, and the Missionaries, 1780–1840: The Politics of a Frontier Zone’ (Ph.D. thesis, U.C.L.A., 1969), 9.

16 Webb, and Wright, , Stuart Archive, 111–12.

17 Ballard, C., ‘Natal, 1824–1844: The Emergence and Decline of a Frontier Zone’ (unpublished seminar paper presented at the University of Natal, Department of History, Oct. 1977), 89.

18 Morris, Donald, The Washing of the Spears (London, 1966), 170.

19 Moodie, , Three Generals, 3.

20 See Allen, and Isaacman, Barbara, ‘The Prazeros as Transfrontiersmen: A study in Social and Cultural Change’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, viii (1975), 2.

21 Moodie, , Three Generals, 94.

22 Ballard, C., ‘Migrant Labour in Natal 1860–1879: With Special Reference to Zululand and the Delagoa Bay Hinterland’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History, i (1978), 35.

23 See the collected papers of Guy, J. J., Colenbrander, P. and Kennedy, P. presented at the Workshop on Production and Reproduction in the Zulu Kingdom (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, Oct. 1977).

24 Dunn Papers, MS 1467a, 31–2.

25 See Guy, J. J., ‘A Note on Firearms in the Zulu Kingdom: With Special Reference to the Anglo-Zulu War, 1879’, Journal of African History, xii, (1971), 559–60.

26 Dunn Papers, MS 1459, 8.

27 Ibid.

28 Guy, , ‘The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom: The Civil War in Zululand, 1879–1884’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1975), 57.

29 Wilson, Monica, ‘Changes in Social Structure in Southern Africa’ in Thompson, L. (ed.), African Societies in Southern Africa (London, 1969), 78.

30 Bryant, A. T., Olden Times in Zululand and Natal (London, 1929), see map, 698.

31 Harries, P., ‘Labour Migration from the Delagoa Bay Hinterland to South Africa: 1852–1895’, The Societies of Southern Africa in the 19th and 20th Centuries, vii (Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London, 1977), 63.

32 Dunn Papers, MS Dun. 1.092, 6. Information taken from the unpublished memoirs of Domenic Dunn entitled ‘This is my Country’.

33 Moodie, , Three Generals, 30.

34 Dunn Papers, MS Dun. 1.092, 2.

35 Krige, E., The Social System of the Zulus (London, 1936), 39.

36 Dunn Papers, MS Dun. 1.092, 2.

37 Ibid. 10.

38 Ibid. MS 1467, 31.

39 Ibid. MS 1459, 6–7.

40 Moodie, , Three Generals, 120–3.

41 Mitford, B., Through the Zulu Country (London, 1883), 198.

42 Moodie, , Three Generals, 26–7.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid. 28.

45 Ibid.

46 Brookes, and Webb, , History of Natal, 99.

47 Moodie, , Three Generals, 29.

48 See Barber, S. R., ‘John Dunn and Zululand, 1857–1883’ (Honours thesis, University of Natal, 1972).

49 Gluckman, Max, Ideas and Procedures in African Customary Law (Oxford, 1969), 256.

50 Moodie, , Three Generals, 2930.

51 Ibid. 94.

52 Dunn Papers, MS 1459, 3.

53 Leroux, S. D., Pioneers and Sportsmen of South Africa (Salisbury, 1930), 106.

54 Krige, , Social System, 241.

55 Dunn Papers, MS 1459, 5.

56 Ibid. MS 1.092, 2.

57 See Ritter, E. A., Shaka Zulu (London, 1968), 14, and Omer-Cooper, J. D., The Zulu Aftermath (London, 1966), 46–7 and 171–3.

58 Etherington, Norman, ‘The Rise of the Kholwa in South-East Africa: African Christian Communities in Natal, Pondoland, Zululand’ (Ph.D. thesis, Yale University, 1971), 184; see also idem, Preachers, Peasants and Politics in South-East Africa, 1835–1880 (London, 1978).

59 See Mael, R., ‘The Problem of Political Integration in the Zulu Empire’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1974).

60 See Kennedy, P., ‘The Transformation of Mpande’ (unpublished paper presented to the Workshop on Production and Reproduction in the Zulu Kingdom, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, October 1977).

61 Gibson, , Story of the Zulus, 123.

62 Ibid.

63 Mael, , ‘Political Integration’, 321.

64 Morris, , Washing of the Spears, 200.

65 Moodie, , Three Generals, 58. Dunn claimed that the 1873 coronation was successful because Cetshwayo had proved his military superiority; he said that ‘after this things went on well and peacefully; owing, I am sure, to nothing but my having advised Cetywayo, and shown – to the intimidation of the rival factions – that he could produce a good stand of arms.’

66 Ibid. 42.

67 Parl. Pap. C-1137 of 1875, ‘Report of the Expedition to Install Cetywayo as King of the Zulus’. Theophilus Shepstone noted that Hamu professed his allegiance to Cetshwayo at the coronation and he considered this event to be of major importance in legitimizing the new king's authority.

68 Gibson, , Story of the Zulus, 123.

69 Guy, , ‘Note on Firearms’, 559.

70 C.O. 879/16/204, enclosure in no. III, 5, Bulwer, to Hicks-Beach, , 3 April 1879.

71 Guy, , ‘Note on Firearms’, 559.

72 Moodie, , Three Generals, 14, 71.

73 Theophilus Shepstone Papers (Pietermaritzburg: Natal Archives), Shepstone, to Wolseley, , 24 October 1876.

74 Moodie, , Three Generals, 127–31.

75 Ballard, C., ‘The role of tributary labour in the Zulu political economy, 1865–1879’, in Moss, G. and Maré, G. (eds.), Conference on the History of Opposition in Southern Africa (Johannesburg, 1978), 68.

76 Ballard, C., ‘Migrant Labour’, 35–8.

77 Ibid. 34.

78 Brookes, and Webb, , History of Natal, 99.

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