The Zulu people are one of the best-known cultural groups in South Africa because of their rich artistic traditions, their historical military prowess, and their legacy in shaping modern South Africa. If you want to know more about the Zulu people (and thus more about South Africa) start by visiting these top 15 Zulu sites for cultural and battle history.
Ulundi was once the capital of the Zulu Kingdom, but is better known as the site of the final battle of the Anglo-Zulu War — the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, 1879 — during which the Boers were defeated. Visitors to Ulundi can see Zulu King Cetshwayo’s royal residence (reconstructed) and learn about Zulu history in the small museum there. Ulundi is located between Nongoma and Melmoth off Route 66.
The name Eshowe likely comes from the isiZulu word “ishongwe” which means milkbush. In 1860, King Cetshwayo built a kraal at Eshowe and the town became his headquarters. Eshowe is historically significant as the site of a siege that lasted from Jan. 22 to April 3 in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War. Nearby is Fort Nongqai which was constructed after the Anglo-Zulu war and now houses a cultural museum.
3. Isandlwana Battlefield
On Jan. 22, 1879, the Ango-Zulu War began with a battle at Isandlwana. The Zulu humiliated the British with this initial victory by completely wiping out their camp. The site now has monuments to the fallen British and Zulu fighters.
4. Rorke’s Drift Battlefield
The battle at Rorke’s Drift occurred at virtually the same time as the Isandlwana Battle on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23, 1879, but the outcome was very different. Even though the Zulu heavily outnumbered the British, they were unable to penetrate the British fort and were killed with gunfire. The site has a small museum and there is also a famous art center nearby.
5. Ondini Historical Reserve
Ondini offers many attractions for people interested in Zulu culture. The KwaZulu Cultural Museum has an impressive collection of beadwork, and also provides visitors with a great overview of Zulu history and culture. There is a reconstruction of Zulu King Cetshwayo’s royal kraal and also Anglo-Zulu battle sites around the area.
6. Shakaland Zulu Cultural Village
Visitors to Shakaland can experience Zulu culture firsthand through a day tour, or by staying overnight in hut lodging. There are several tours available which, depending on the program, include documentary videos, music and dancing shows, a beer drinking ceremony, and traditional food.
Gingindlovu is famous as an important battle site of the Anglo-Zulu War. During the battle on April 2, 1879, the Zulu army of about 10,000 men was defeated by the British. The site is also important culturally as it is the place where Cetshwayo struggled with his brother Mbulazi for the Zulu throne and won. Visitors to Gingindlovu can also enjoy wildlife in the nearby Amatikulu Game Reserve.
Empangeni is located off of R102 and R34 to the west of Richards Bay. It was originally established as a Norwegian mission in 1851, but the mission was later moved to Eschowe. Even though the town is now modernized, it still retains its old-style charm and is a good place to get acquainted with Zulu hospitality. The Empangeni Museum features many displays on Zulu culture and history.
Hluhluwe is a village located just west of Lake St. Lucia off of R22. The nature in the area is stunning, featuring many wetlands and game reserves. Culturally, Hluhluwe is important as the home of the Zulu kings Shaka and Dingiswayo. Shaka is said to have made the first conservation laws. The first game reserve — the Hluhluwe and Umfolozi Game Reserve — was established in the country in 1895. Visitors to Hluhluwe can go to the DumaZulu Traditional Village where cultural shows are performed and traditional food is served.
10. King Shaka’s Grave in KwaDukuza
King Shaka is credited with unifying the many tribes of the area into the Zulu Kingdom. He founded the town of KwaDukuza in 1820 (also known as Stanger). The name means “Place of the Lost Person,” apparently because of the labyrinth-like layout of the huts. It was here in KwaDukuza that King Shaka was killed by his half brothers Dingane and Mhlangana. He was buried in the town, and a monument has been erected next to his grave. There is also a small museum near the monument where visitors can learn about Shaka, his reign, and the Zulu Kingdom.
11. eMakhosini Ophate Heritage Park
Called the ‘Valley of the Kings’, this is where you will find the burial places of a number of early Zulu kings. Also within the park is Mgungundlovu, the Royal Residence of King Dingane and kwaMatiwane. This residence is where Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and his men were killed, and buried. Make sure to visit the Spirit of eMakhosini monument. A guide will accompany you to the monument.
This was the location of the battle between Prince Cetshwayo and his brother Prince Mbuyazi, which is recorded as possibly the bloodiest battle in Zulu history. The battle followed the path of a stream in the valley, now known as Mathambo (the place of the bones).
13. Gqokli Hill Battlefield
Located about 10 kilometers south-west of Ulundi, this is the site of an epic battle between King Shaka and Chief Zwide of the Ndwandwe community in April 1818. The strength of Zulu forces were concealed from the Ndwandwe, and heavy casualties were inflicted.
14. King Senzangakhona’s Grave, Ulundi Area
The father of King Shaka Zulu, King Zenzangakhona is buried in the Ulundi Area at esiKlebheni. There is no onsite information but you can have the services of a guide from the nearby Mgungundlovu Interpretation Centre.
15. Fort Pearson and the Ultimatum Tree
Although there never was a fort as such, it was named after Colonel Charles Pearson, who led one of the columns to invade Zululand in 1879. The site itself was initially just trenches and tents. The Ultimatum Tree is so named as it was under the tree that delegates of King Cetshwayo were told to pay taxes to the British government and return the cattle they had stolen by January 1879, or war would follow.