An army of God under a red flag, bearing the symbol of a shield, a spear, and the flames of the divine right of a king. The Zulu Empire is many things. But a force to ignore it is not. The largest nation left in Africa, stretching from the shores of the Eastern Cape all the way to Lake Malawi. But it was not always this way. The Empire was won by blood, symbolised in its flag, and its tale is integral to Post-Cataclysm Earth.
In 1991, South Africa was facing a crossroads. While Apartheid had not yet formally ended, the country was in the throes of intense negotiation between liberation movements, politicians and civic society. In the back-drop, a low-key civil war was raging between tribalistic factions and recently decriminalised anti-Apartheid groups.
When the Vortex opened and the Cataclysm arrived, South Africa did not get to choose its own way at the crossroads. Martial law was declared, and an interim parliament and cabinet was appointed from key figures of the previous government and new liberation movements. Apartheid was ended by decree as the country faced the new threat of magic and monsters.
This martial law persisted in name only until 1993. The country was ruled by chaos, informal civil war, sorcerer warlords and hordes of monsters.
On the 10th of May 1992, the Zulu King and his heirs were killed by opportunistic criminals, backed by a sorcerer warlord. With the royal line severed, leaders elected a new man to take the place of the murdered royal family.
On the 15th of May 1992, King Ukuhleleka I was crowned. He was a decisive leader, unsatisfied with waiting for the national government to bring order. He commanded great respect among the disparate groups of the Zulu people, in part due to his sorcery and also due to his sheer drive and natural authority.
Zulu political groups, unions and outlying tribes were brought into the fold and either consensually or forcibly came in line under the King’s absolutist vision for a new Kingdom. Migrant workers, previously living far from the Zulu homeland, rushed home to be a part of the new King’s vision.
The creation of a Zulu military was an open secret, which the national government didn’t even attempt to stop, as they faced a breakdown in society.
This new military and the subsequent creation of local militia under a system of decentralised chieftaincies that all owed absolute fealty to the King, brought order and relative peace to the Zulu territories. Many policemen quit their jobs and joined the unofficial law enforcement of the King.
While the rest of the country was facing complete turmoil, worse than civil war in some instances, the Zulu territories were peaceful and prosperous. Seeing this, the King approached the government of South Africa and asked for a position in cabinet. He was refused – he suspects due to fear, spite and tribal conflict.
On the 11th of October 1993, the King led an army of 15 000 impi (warriors) to the South African capital of Pretoria. The Zulu King and his personal bodyguard (the Untouched), stormed the Union Building during a cabinet meeting. The King gave the government an ultimatum:
“Accept me as Emperor, as God has decreed, and I will save this country. We will know peace and prosperity. Our children will be able to live in safety. God knows this. My people know it. And I give you all a chance to know it for yourselves. Allow me to save this country, or die here.”
The cabinet refused and the King killed them all with a flash of immense power, leaving nothing but ash. The already large force of 15 000 was reinforced by others, including groups from the army and police who agreed with the newly crowned Zulu Emperor.
Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous and richest province, was annexed and the Emperor didn’t delay sending out his commanders to secure the rest of South Africa. A large army was sent west, towards the Cape.
The army pressed unopposed up until Port Elizabeth, where it met a concerted defence by the remainders of the South African Defence Force (SADF). The Zulu army was larger, more well-trained, and had superior access to sorcerers and mages. The SADF was crushed and had to pull back.
The Zulu advance was halted not by the SADF, but by trouble in Gauteng. Mass protest action had erupted as a result of Zulu occupation. This came to a bloody head on the 18th of November 1993, when 156 protesters were killed, and thousands were injured in clashes with Zulu impi. The protesters that survived went underground, forming a group that came to be known as Goldfield.
With this insurgent group at home, and increasing monster attacks, not to mention surviving SADF troops constantly probing for weaknesses, the Emperor’s forces were in danger on all sides.
In 1994, the Emperor struck a deal with two warlord dynasties – an Earthborn Vampire clan called the Izingane Zgazi and a cabal of Necromancers who had formed an army of the undead that came to be called Shaka’s Chosen.
The vampires and necromancers plunged into both Gauteng to hunt down insurgents, and towards the SADF front. The new forces were brutal and came to be known to kill Zulu troops alongside actual enemies. Yet, they were effective.
Goldfield attacks and an attempted coup in the heart of the Zulu homeland resulted in forces being pulled back. The SADF pressed forward and made it to Port Elizabeth once again, until they were decimated by the vampires and necromancers.
The surviving forces pulled back to a series of bridges called the Three Point Line, which they manage to hold against the Zulu Empire to this day.
Upon the Western Cape seceding under Peter Jacob’s new idea of political reformation, the Zulu Empire halted their advance towards the Three Point Line and began to consolidate their captured territories – putting down rebellions throughout the Eastern Cape and northern provinces.
Goldfield insurgency never stopped, sapping Empire resources. The use of vampiric assassins to track down the rebels started to result in many dead vampires, as Goldfield developed the Extermination Corps, dedicated to eliminating vampires and monsters.
In 1999, the biggest blow to Zulu imperial authority was dealt. While on manoeuvres with his Untouched, Emperor Ukuhleleka I was assassinated by the Mage Corps of the Goldfield Movement. His son, Ukuhleleka II took the throne immediately, but was not as fierce as his father.
The Cape Defence Force (CDF) pushed past the Three Point Line for the first time since 1993 and the Goldfield Movement came out of hiding and decisively took over Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Ukuhleleka II split his forces too thinly to attempt to combat both the CDF and to retake Pretoria and Johannesburg. The CDF managed to make it all the way to East London, where it stopped due to overstretched supply-lines.
The Zulu army faced profound defeat when attempting to re-take the Gauteng territories, and were pushed south until Goldfield owned the old territories of Gauteng, North West and the Free State.
CDF forces were only dislodged after Ukuhleleka II made a deal with the vampire clans, granting them power to rival his own over the Eastern Cape. He accepted. Vampire armies stormed the Eastern Cape.
In 2002, the CDF retreated back to the Three Point Line and accepted a ceasefire with the Zulu Empire. Conflict continued between Goldfield and the Empire until 2006, when a formal treaty was established, and the Empire agreed to recognise the Goldfield Magocracy as a sovereign state.
The Zulu Vampire Clans ruthlessly rule over the Eastern Cape, causing the international community to harshly condemn the Empire, but despite Ukuhleleka II not being his father, the Empire’s military was still the largest, most advanced and readiest armed forces in Southern Africa. International condemnation was hot air.
While skirmishes have persisted between the CDF, Goldfield, Lesotho, Swazi and other groups against the Zulu Empire, the Empire has remained as a regional hegemon. A constant in the world after the Vortex.
The Zulu Empire Military: The Impi
The Zulu Empire is a martial nation, with almost all Zulu men being expected to serve as impi, warriors. Impi are recruited and put into cohorts based on age and town of origin. Peers who grew up together often serve together. This creates a familial sense of belonging within companies. Newly established cohorts are called “Whites”. Once they have proven themselves in battle and the company has completed a tour of duty, they are upgraded to become a “Black” company.
Every company has its own unique badge, resembling a traditional cowhide shield. These badges are a source of pride, with the only change to them being the changing of its outline from white to black once the company has completed its tour.
After an impi completes his mandated tour of duty, he can continue serving or return home where he has now earned the right to marry. Marriage is heavily restricted in the Zulu Empire, with only veterans being allowed the honour. Of the impi who stay, many go on to become officers who will lead new companies in battle.
Impi are outfitted in modern fighting equipment, much of which are leftovers from the old South African army. But increasingly, there has been more innovation with the army using new Zulu designed and manufactured weapons. But even with this modernity, there is still a sense of tradition. Rank symbols resemble the old symbols of the Zulu Kingdom, with sergeants wearing badges that resemble feathered headdresses, much like their ancestors would have worn.
Precious metal assegai heads are awarded as medals, and charms are often worn to ward off evil and empower the impi.
Not all impi are Zulu. Many are auxiliaries pulled from conquered peoples. They typically serve as the vanguard, after the Shaka’s Chosen have been sent in, to soften the enemy. If auxiliaries perform well, they may become distinguished and be deemed honourary Zulu. This system of using auxiliaries has run into problems, however, as many have rebelled against their Zulu commanders and gone rogue. But for an empire as large as the Zulu, this is a small price to pay for manpower.
The Zulu Empire is a leviathan in a world of minnows. When most nations fell apart, separating into more easily manageable bites, and tormented by monsters and brigands, the Empire brought peace through unity and the head of an assegai. But is the price of peace worth it? And is the Empire a true liberator, or just another coloniser?
In the world of the Cataclysm, the red flag and assegai heads may come to mean peace for many, but bring terror to many more.