Mbata Bhambatha was the head of the Zulu Zondi tribe that lived in the Mpanza Valley and led a rebellion against British control and taxation in the South African colony of Natal in 1906.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Zulu people found themselves grappling with the encroachment of British colonial powers. The imposition of taxes and land policies led to widespread discontent among the indigenous population.
The catalyst for the rebellion was the Natal Poll Tax, which required all adult males older than 18 in Natal to pay a £1 head tax to the British colonial government in addition to the existing hut tax. This tax disproportionately affected the Zulu population, many of whom were struggling with economic hardships. Chief Bhambatha, recognizing the severe impact of this taxation, galvanized his followers to oppose what they perceived as an unjust imposition.
Upon news of Bhambatha advocating resistance against the tax, the colonial government dispatched approximately 150 men to apprehend him. However, the situation escalated into violence as the police were ambushed, resulting in casualties. Subsequently, troops were mobilized and sent to bombard Mbata’s location.
On the morning preceding the bombardment, Bhambatha fled to Zululand to seek counsel from King Dinizulu. Upon his return, he discovered that the Natal government had deposed him as chief. Undeterred, Bhambatha rallied supporters and initiated guerrilla attacks against British colonizers, utilizing the challenging terrain to defy the advancing forces. His leadership not only resonated among Zulus but also found support among various indigenous groups that shared a common desire for autonomy.
The rebellion which posed a significant challenge to the British administration, lasted until June 10, 1906, when colonial troops managed to surround bhambatha and his rebel forces at their base at Mome Gorge valley. At daybreak, British colonial soldiers unleashed gunfire from machine guns and cannons upon rebels armed with spears, fighting sticks, and cowhide shields.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 Zulus were killed. More than 7,000 were imprisoned, and 4,000 flogged. King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, who gave tacit support to Bambatha, was also arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment for treason.
Bhambatha’s rebels captured by various forces
It was reported that Bambatha had been killed in action by Natal government forces, but this claim was disputed by his supporters, who believed that he fled to Mozambique.
Despite the tragic end to the rebellion, Chief Bhambatha’s legacy endured as a symbol of resistance and determination. His uprising played a crucial role in shaping the discourse on colonial oppression in South Africa, contributing to the broader struggle for independence in subsequent decades.
In 2006, the centennial anniversary of the rebellion saw Chief Bambatha commemorated as a national hero in post-Apartheid South Africa. A ceremony, a postage stamp featuring his image, and the renaming of a street in his honor reflected the acknowledgment of his role in the fight against colonial injustice.