Sigananda Shezi, the Zulu Chief Who Was Imprisoned for Rebelling Against British Rule and Taxation in 1906

Inkosi Sigananda Shezi born in 1810 was a Zulu Chief who was imprisoned in 1906 for rebelling against British rule and against the imposition of the Poll Tax by the colonial government.

Sigananda, the Zulu Chief Who Was Imprisoned for Rebelling Against British Rule and Taxation in 1906

Sigananda kaZokufa was an aristocrat whose life and career spanned the reigns of four Zulu kings in southern Africa.

First was Shaka (1816 – 1828), his father had been one of Shaka’s contemporaries and as a kid, Sigananda was a mat-bearer for Shaka.

Dingane (1828 – 1840): After Shaka’s assassination by his half-brother in 1828, Dingane took over power and Sigananda stayed with him and served in a military regiment known as the uMkhulutshane ibutho.

Mpande (1840 – 1872): After Dingane was overthrown, he was succeeded by his half-brother Mpande in 1840. Sigananda remained an important ally of king Mpande until after the Battle of Ndondakusuka in 1856, when Sigananda sided with the young prince Cetshwayo against Mpande’s favourite son Mbuyazi.

The Battle of Ndondakusuka had been about who was the rightful heir to Mpande’s throne on his death. Although it had always been assumed Cetshwayo was the rightful heir, Mpande had apparently grown wary of his elder son’s ambitions and had encouraged his favourite, Mbuyazi, to stake a claim. The result was a tremendous confrontation between the two sides, which resulted in Mbuyazi’s defeat and death.

Mpande grudgingly acknowledged Cetshwayo’s claim, but shortly afterwards Sigananda went on exile and took refuge with the Zondi clan.

Inkosi Sigananda Shezi

He was later recalled back to Zululand on Cetshwayo’s ascension to the throne in 1872, and was installed as chief of the amaChube people. Sigananda’s base was in the rainy Nkandla Forest.

Sigananda survived the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, in which the British invaded Zululand and overthrew the Zulu kingdom. After the war, Zululand was divided into 13 chieftainships and the king of the Zulus, Cetshwayo, was exiled to Cape Town.

After dismantling Zulu land into several chieftainships, the British employed the use of divide and rule tactics to keep the different Zulu regions divided. This prevented them from uniting in opposition and allowed the British to maintain their power and control over Zululand. The divide and rule tactics eventually led to a civil war between the Mandlakazi and the royalist uSuthu (led by Cetshwayo on his return from exile)

Sigananda fought in the civil war on the side of the exiled King Cetshwayo but the uSuthus were no match for the Mandlakazi.

Bambatha Rebellion of 1906

After the Mandlakazi won the war, Sigananda came to the rescue of king Cetshwayo by providing refuge for him in the Nkandla forest. Cetshwayo died soon after, and was buried in Sigananda’s territory.

In 1906 Sigananda joined his ally Chief Bambatha and other chiefs in a rebellion (Bambatha Rebellion) against the imposition of the Poll Tax by the British colonial government in the Colony of Natal, South Africa.

With a small force of supporters, they fought the colonial government by launching a series of guerrilla attacks, using the Nkandla forest as a base.

The British government eventually got to know of their hiding spot in Nkandla, and sent in colonial militia units to spots around the area. On the night of 9 June, colonial troops received another intelligence that the rebels had united, and were gearing to enter a feature known as the Mome Gorge, which happened to be the traditional hiding place of the Chube people.

The British troops succeeded in getting face to face with and surrounding the rebels at Mome Gorge. As the sun rose, British colonial soldiers opened fire with machine guns and cannon, on rebels equipped mostly with spears, fighting sticks and cowhide shields.

Inkosi Sigananda Shezi captured by British forces

Between 500 and 600 Zulus were killed and many more were imprisoned. On the British Government side, 18 white troops had died as a result of enemy action, and a further six from other causes whilst on campaign.

Sigananda became a fugitive after the rebellion collapsed, successfully evading the government’s troops for some time. He eventually surrendered to the British in 1906 and was immediately placed in prison. One soldier was moved to remark that an old man nearing 100, and so obviously adored by his people, had no place in the dank prison to which he had been confined. While awaiting his sentence under martial law Sigananda fell sick and eventually died under mysterious circumstances at the ripe age of 96.

Mr Madu
Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.


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