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Dingiswayo is located in KwaZulu-Natal
Location of King Dingiswayo's kraal, Oyengweni, on a map of KwaZulu-Natal

King Dingiswayo
Reign1806 – 1817
KwaZulu-Natal, near Melmoth
Died1817 (aged 56 or 57)
IssueSomveli, Seyama, Mngoye, Sonkonde, Ngungumbana, Mthakathi, Mgcobo, Khuzwayo, Shuqu, Manqe
FatherJobe kaKhayi
MotherMabamba kaDonda
OccupationKing of the Mthethwa Kingdom/Empire

Dingiswayo (Zulu pronunciation: [diŋɡisʷaːjo]) (c. 1760 – 1817) (born Godongwana) was a Mthethwa King, well known for his mentorship over a young Zulu general, Shaka Zulu, who rose to become the greatest of the Zulu Kings. His father was the Mthethwa King, Jobe kaKayi.[1] It was under King Dingiswayo that the Mthethwa rose to prominence, mostly employing diplomacy and assimilation of nearby chiefdoms to strengthen his power base. According to Mthethwa (1995), the Mthethwas are descended from the Nguni peoples of northern Natal and the Lubombo Mountains, whose modern identity dates back some 700 years.[2]


Dingiswayo's lineage can be traced back to Mthethwa the first.[2] It is possible that Dingiswayo and Zwide kaLanga shared the same lineage through Xaba KaMadungu. Zwide was the king of the Ndwandwe, Khumalo, Msene, and Jele peoples. (There does not appear to be a direct family link between Zwide kaLanga and Soshangane kaZikode of the Nxumalo people).

Dingiswayo's Mthethwa family line is stated by Muzi Mthethwa (1995) as follows:[2]

  • Dingiswayo
  • Jobe
  • Khayi
  • Xaba
  • Madungu
  • Simamane and Wengwe
  • Ndlovu
  • Khubazi
  • Nyambose
  • Mthethwa

Early life[edit]

We first hear of Godongwana during the wanderings of Nandi and her illegitimate son Shaka, who settled with the Mthethwa under King Jobe.[clarification needed] Godongwana and his brother, Tana, plotted against their father Jobe, but their plot was discovered. Tana was killed and Godongwana made his escape. Nursed back to health by a sister, the young man found refuge in the foothills of the Drakensberg among the Qwabe and Langeni people. He changed his name to Dingiswayo, which means "one in distress or in exile".[3]

King of the Mthethwas[edit]

Upon the death of his father, he returned[where?] to claim the Kingship. He found his brother Mawewe in power. He displaced him without resistance. Mawewe fled, but was lured back and killed.[4]

Captain Goddard Edward Donovan and Dr Andrew Cowan of the 83rd Regiment who were exploring a Southern approach to the African interior[5][6] and were possibly murdered by chief Phakathwayo,[a] and Dingiswayo subsequently acquired Cowan's horse and gun.[7] Dingiswayo's new military tactics were an adoption of western techniques of drills and formation movements under a chain of command.[7]

With Shaka as his general, he attacked the Amangwane under Matiwane in about 1812 and drove them across the Buffalo river.[8] It was the first of the Mfecane migrations[9] – tribes displaced, latterly by the Zulus, and who in turn displaced others in a series of internecine wars.

Dingiswayo combined a number of smaller tribes to oppose his chief rival to the north, Chief Zwide of the Ndwandwe.[citation needed]

Death and legacy[edit]

In 1816 Shaka returned to the Zulu to claim chieftainship, while still recognising the larger Mthethwa and Dingiswayo as overlord. However, in the course of an attempted invasion of Zwide's territory, Dingiswayo was captured and beheaded by Zwide at Ngome, near Nongoma. His personal possessions were buried in his kraal. Dingiswayo's grave is on the north bank of the Tugela River, in KheKheKhe's kraal.[citation needed] The Mthethwa forces were defeated and scattered temporarily, with the remnants reforming under Shaka. Zwide was later defeated by Shaka in the Zulu Civil War.[citation needed]

Dingiswayo's career marked a watershed in the history of south-east Africa. During his exile he was exposed to European ideas and he put these into practice to produce a disciplined and highly organised army for the first time in the region. After his death, Shaka extended these ideas to create a rigidly disciplined society to complement Dingiswayo's military reforms.[10]



  1. ^ The exact fate of Cowan and Donovan is unknown, there are many conflicting stories, it may be that African oral-history relates that Cowan was murdered by Ph. Cowan's journals which were rediscovered by Crampton 2012 shed no light on what became of him. Burke 1975 offers some possible theories on what may have happened, but there is no reliable evidence of their demise


  1. ^ Ade Ajayi, J. F. (1998). Africa in the Nineteenth Century Until the 1880s: Volume 6 of General history of Africa. University of California Press. pp. 102-104. ISBN 0520067010.
  2. ^ a b c Mthethwa, Muzi (1995), The History of abakwaMthethwa (Thesis), Department of History, University of Zululand, hdl:10530/1193
  3. ^ Myeni, Derick (December 2019). "Book Review of Our Story – Godongwana becomes Dingiswayo by Jimmy Justice Maluleke et al". Yesterday and Today. 24 (24): 289–. ISSN 2223-0386.
  4. ^ "Bourne, (Rowland) Richard, (born 27 July 1940), Head, Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University, 1999–2005, Senior Research Fellow, 2006–16", Who's Who, Oxford University Press, 1 December 2007, doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u8231, retrieved 31 May 2022
  5. ^ Burke, E.E. (1975). "The Southern Approach to the "Far Interior"" (PDF). Rhodesiana (33): 19–.
  6. ^ Crampton, Hazel (2012). "The Explorer Who Got Lost: Dr Andrew Cowan's Journal Found". South African Historical Journal. 64 (4). Informa UK Limited: 747–768. doi:10.1080/02582473.2012.661448. ISSN 0258-2473. S2CID 162253922.
  7. ^ a b MacKeurtan, G. (1948). The Cradle Days of Natal (1497–1845). Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shuter. OCLC 1101353155.
  8. ^ Koopman, A. (January 1979). "Dingiswayo Rides Again". Journal of Natal and Zulu History. 2 (1): 1–12. doi:10.1080/02590123.1979.11964169. ISSN 0259-0123.
  9. ^ Otterbein, Keith F. (22 December 2020), "The Evolution of Zulu Warfare 1", Feuding and Warfare, Routledge, pp. 25–32, doi:10.4324/9781003102588-3, ISBN 978-1-003-10258-8, S2CID 228822825, retrieved 31 May 2022
  10. ^ Longman History of Southern Africa, Longman Publishing, 1978