THE SIEGE OF ESHOWE
Although one of the most powerful tribes in southern Africa, the Zulus struggled to implement firearms into their warfighting despite having many thousands of guns
By the Anglo-Zulu War, the regiments of the Zulu Impi were still equipped in the manner introduced by Shaka. The Zulu king had developed a number of military and tactical reforms to the Impi, changing how it fought and was armed.
He developed the classic ‘bull, horns and loins’ envelopment tactics, and rejected the traditional throwing spear (Assegai) for the shorter thrusting spear (Iklwa), though Assegais were retained for skirmishing. Both were paired with a hide shield (Isihlangu) and Zulus also carried war clubs (Knobkerries).
The Zulu armoury also included firearms (broadly known as Isibhamu) and, in fact, the Zulus had more guns than the invading British – one report in 1878 suggested the Zulus had as many as 20,000. However, just 500 were modern breech-loaders while another 3,000 were older percussion cap firearms. Cetshwayo purchased more modern guns, and at least 1,000 Martini-Henry rifles and half-amillion rounds were captured at Isandlwana (most of these were later recaptured). Also, for years, traders and adventurers had sold other guns to them.