In 1816 Shaka acceded to the Zulu throne. Within a year he had conquered the neighboring clans, and had made the Zulu into the most important ally of the large Mtetwa clan, which was in competition with the Ndwandwe clan for domination of the northern part of modern day KwaZulu-Natal.
He also initiated many military, social, cultural and political reforms, creating a well organized centralized Zulu state. The most important of these were the transformation of the army, thanks to innovative tactics and weapons he conceived, and a showdown with the spiritual leadership, clipping the wings, claws and fangs of the witchdoctors, effectively ensuring the subservience of the "Zulu church" to the state.
Another important reform was to integrate defeated clans into the Zulu, on a basis of full equality, with promotions in the army and civil service being a matter of merit rather then circumstance of birth.
After the death of Mtetwa king Dingiswayo around 1818, at the hands of Zwide king of the Ndwandwe, Shaka assumed leadership of the entire Mtetwa alliance. The alliance under his leadership survived Zwide's first assault at the Battle of Gqokli Hill. Within two years he had defeated Zwide at the Battle of Mhlatuze River and broken up the Ndwandwe alliance, some of whom in turn began a murderous campaign against other Nguni tibes and clans, setting in motion what has come to be known as Defecane or Mfecane, a mass migration of tribes fleeing tribes fleeing the remnants of the Ndwandwe fleeing the Zulu. By 1825 he had conqured a huge empire covering a vast area from the sea in the east to the Drakensberg mountains in the west, and from the Pongola River in the north to the Bashee river in the south, not far from the modern day city of East London.
Shaka, who had had contacts with English explorers realized that the white man posed a threat to local populations, and had planned to begin an intensive program of education to enable the Nguni people to catch up with the Europeans. However in 1828 he was assassinated by his half brother Dingane, who succeeded him. Dingane was responsible for the execution of Piet Retief and a number of Boers in 1838. In 1840 Dingane was murdered near Hlatikhulu Forest on the Lebombo Mountains near Ingwavuma. Under his successors Mpande (another half-brother), who reigned till 1878, and Mpande's son Cetshwayo the Zulu were able to rebuff Boer attempts to conquer them.
However, they then were presented with the problem of the British. In 1878 Sir Henry Bartle Frere, British Commissioner for South Africa, issued an ultimatum that he disband his army and concede to a number of demands. (This ultimatum was delivered at the Ultimatum tree, which can still be visited on the Natal bank of the Tugela river, below the present-day N2 highway bridge). The Anglo-Zulu War resulted.
Initially the British suffered heavy defeats at the Battle of Isandlwana January 22, 1879 where more than 1000 British soldiers were killed on one day by the Zulu army. This was worst defeat the British army had ever suffered at the hands of a non-European fighting force at the Battle of Isandlwana. The defeat prompted a reorganisation of the war and more troops were sent to Natal to ensure a British victory at Ulundi in 1879. Cetshwayo was exiled and Zululand was cut up into 13 regions each administered by a kinglet. The largest of these was given to John Dunn, a white hunter who had befriended Cetshwayo.
After the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 a British resident Melmoth Osborne was appointed to mediate between the local chiefs and the British government, but continuing strife prompted the annexation of Zululand on May 9, 1887, followed by its attachment to Natal on December 31, 1897. (say more about the administration of Zululand)
A post office was established in Eshowe in 1887, but an official postal system was not started until May 1, 1888, at which time both Zululand and Natal became members of the Universal Postal Union. At first, the territory used postage stamps of Great Britain and Natal overprinted "ZULULAND"; regular ("Key Plate ") issues with a profile of Queen Victoria, inscribed "ZULULAND" appeared in 1894 and were in use at 21 post offices, up until the annexation by Natal. Only the lowest values are commonly seen today, priced at US$2 or so, while some higher values are worth hundreds of dollars.