Zulu Kings and Their Armies

Zulu Kings and Their Armies


  • Author: Jonathan Sutherland & Diane Canwell
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Publishing
  • ISBN: 1-84415-060-7

Review By : Ian Knight

This book attempts something of history of – it does pretty much what it says on the cover – the Zulu kings, their military institutions and most significant conflicts aimed squarely at the popular market. In itself, this is not a bad idea, since the Zulu perspective is still traditionally under-represented in books aimed at a general readership, which still inclines towards what inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi dismissively describes as ‘redcoat history’. The problem here, however, is that the authors are freelance writers with no background of scholarship in the field – and it shows. The choice of subject matter is obvious enough – a quick run-through of the careers of the great nineteenth-century Zulu kings, a bit of background on the army, and case studies of various battles – but all of it has been lifted pretty squarely from other books currently in print. Indeed, at the risk of seeming immodest, I recognised most of it from my own ‘Great Zulu Battles’ and ‘Great Zulu Commanders’, with just a few inconsistent and inaccurate spellings of Zulu names, and confused understanding of Zulu institutions, to give it a spice of sorts.

 The illustrations are mostly reproductions of postcards produced in the 1900s, when interest in the Zulu people was spread abroad by troops serving in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War; most of the images were in fact of Natal Africans, rather than those who had given their political allegiance to the old Zulu kingdom, and they reveal nothing which was distinctive to life under the Zulu kings. They represent, in short, an early marketing of the Zulu ‘brand name’ which has bedevilled a true understanding of the complex relationship between the various groups that made up the old kingdom, and with their neighbours beyond. Their use in a volume such as this, together with photographs of re-enactors and Zulu men in modern tourist regalia, is as good an indication as any of its shallow approach to a complex issue. There are also some striking photographs of weapons, described as Zulu – several of which are actually Swazi in origin.

A particularly pointless book, particularly given the number of good scholarly books on the Zulu kingdom by authors such as John Laband and Jeff Guy which are still readily available.

Thursday 12th of January 2006 08:48:55 PM