Sir Bartle Frere was appointed British high commissioner to South Africa in 1879 to realise the policy of confederation (policy to bring the various British colonies, Boer republics and independent African groups under common control, with the objective of implementing a policy of economic development). Sir Bartle Frere saw the self-reliant Zulu kingdom as a threat to this policy, a belief supported by Shepstone (Secretary for Native Affairs) who averred that the Zulu people had revived their military power under Cetshwayo, making them more of a threat to peace and prosperity in South Africa. In December 1878, under the flimsy pretext of a few minor border incursions into Natal by Cetshwayo''s followers, the Zulu were given an impossible ultimatum that they should disarm and Cetshwayo should forsake his sovereignty.
The inevitable invasion of Zululand began after the ultimatum had expired a month later in January 1879. Under the command of Lord Chelmsford, the British forces -many of them colonials (whites) or members of the Natal Native Contingent (blacks) - began carrying out the general plan put in place for the invasion of Zululand.
The first attack of the war took place on 12 January 1879. Sihayo''s kraal, situated in the Batshe valley threatened the advancement of the British column. Chelmsford gave the order to attack the kraal. Early on 12 January the attacking force moved across the Batshe to attack a rocky gorge into which Sihayo''s men had retreated, driving their cattle before them. The Natal Native Contingent showed reluctance to face the Zulus, some of whom were armed with rifles. Stones were also rolled down on the attackers. After a sharp action the Zulus retreated, with 30 dead, 4 wounded and 10 captured. The British suffered 2 casualties and 15 wounded.