THE BAMBATHA rebellion was a Zulu revolt against taxation in Natal in 1906. It was led by Bambatha kaMancinza, leader of the Zondi clan, who lived in the Mpanza Valley, a district near Greytown. In the years following the Anglo-Boer War, British employers in Natal had difficulty recruiting African farmworkers because of increased competition from the gold mines of the Witwatersrand.
The colonial authorities introduced a £1 poll tax in addition to the existing hut tax to pressure Zulu men to enter the labor market. Bambatha, who ruled about 5 500 people, was one of the chiefs who resisted the introduction and collection of the new tax. The government of Natal sent police officers to collect the tax from recalcitrant districts, and in February 1906 two British officers were killed near Richmond, in the Midlands. In the resulting introduction of martial law, Bambatha fled north to consult King Dinuzulu, who gave tacit support to Bambatha and invited him and his family to stay at the royal homestead.
Bambatha returned to Mpanza Valley to discover that the Natal government had deposed him as chief. He gathered together a small force of supporters and began launching a series of guerrilla attacks, using the Nkandla forest as a base. Following a series of initial successes, colonial troops under the command of Colonel Duncan McKenzie set out on an expedition in late April 1906.
Once they succeeded in getting face to face with and surrounding the rebels at Mome Gorge, the British victory in the unequal battle was inevitable, given the vast disparity of forces. As the sun rose, soldiers opened fire with machine guns and cannons on rebels armed only with traditional assegais, knobkerries, and cowhide shields.
Bambatha was killed and beheaded during the battle. However, many of his supporters believed he was still alive and his wife refused to go into mourning. Bambatha’s main ally, the 95-year-old Zulu aristocrat Inkosi Sigananda Shezi, of the amaCube clan (cousin and near-contemporary of the former Zulu king, Shaka) was captured by the colonial troops and died a few days later.
Between 3 000 and 4, 000 Zulus were killed during the revolt (some of whom died fighting on the side of the Natal government). More than 7 000 were imprisoned, and 4 000 flogged. King Dinizulu was arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment for treason.