The Ndwandwe, a significant Nguni group in Southern Africa, rose to prominence in the late 18th to early 19th century. Under King Zwide, they engaged in regional conflicts, notably against the Zulu. Their defeat at the hands of Shaka’s Zulu in 1819 led to their dispersal and decline.

Artist impression of a Ndwandwe woman in the form of digital art.

Fall of the Ndwandwe

But the indomitable Shaka Zulu and his fierce warriors would not be cowed and rallied the Mthethwa and other tribes to take on the Ndwandwe. In a fateful encounter at the Battle of Gqokli Hill, the Zulus emerged victorious, triggering a series of wars that would define southern Africa for generations. Though the Ndwandwe made another valiant effort to overthrow the Zulus, their forces were eventually defeated at the Battle of Mhlatuze River. This marked the beginning of the end for the Ndwandwe, as their nation splintered and their people scattered across the continent, leaving behind a legacy of enduring power and influence in Eswatini, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi.

Ndwandwe – Zulu War

The Ndwandwe–Zulu War of 1817–1819 was not just a war, but a battle of survival between two rival tribes in South Africa. It was a time of chaos and bloodshed, where the Ndwandwe people were fighting for their lands and the Zulu tribe was fighting to expand their kingdom.

Shaka, a warrior with a fiery spirit, rose to power and became the leader of the Zulus. He revolutionised the art of warfare with his new tactics and weapons, including the iklwa spear, and organized his warriors into disciplined units. His leadership and cunning strategy led the Zulus to victory against the Ndwandwe people.

Artist impression of Shaka Zulu in Digital Art form.

The Battle of Mhlatuze River was a defining moment in the war. The Ndwandwe had adopted Zulu tactics and weapons, making them a formidable enemy. But Shaka outsmarted them with his guerrilla tactics, wearing them down before launching his final attack. The Ndwandwe army was divided during the crossing of the Mhlatuze River, and this was when Shaka struck with full force, leading his warriors to victory.

The defeat of the Ndwandwe people was a turning point in history. The survivors fled their lands, forced to migrate north to establish new kingdoms in other countries. This marked the final phase of the Mfecane, a time of great suffering and upheaval in the region. The Ngoni groups that emerged used Zulu tactics in war, causing their own havoc and posing a threat to European colonisation.

Shaka emerged as the ultimate victor, and his leadership and legacy are still celebrated today throughout Zululand. The Zulu people’s customs and way of life can be traced back to Shaka’s day, and their resilience and determination continue to inspire us.

Sources “Ndwandwe Kingdom.” Accessed February 20, 2023.

Wright, J. “Rediscovering the Ndwandwe kingdom.” Published online by Cambridge University Press, 30 May 2019.

Rediscovering the Ndwandwe Kingdom.” In “Five Hundred Years Rediscovered.” Cambridge Core. Accessed February 20, 2023.