Fearing the growing might of Zululand and in particular the Zulu army, the British authorities in Natal set about a plan to disarm the Zulu forces.
On 11 December 1878, a meeting took place on the southern bank of the Thukela River under a large Umkiwane (Wild Fig) tree. Representatives of King Cetshwayo and a delegation from the British Government met to discuss issues related to the King’s alleged non-compliance with an earlier agreement.
Inkosi Uvumandada along with fifty, or so, delegates listened to the Zulu translation of a document read by Hon. J. W. Shepstone. The King’s delegation was satisfied with the terms of the document. However, the British presented a second document, in effect an ultimatum, demanding the disbanding of the Zulu army within 30 days.
This was an impossible demand as the army and it's age-regiment system was integral to the functioning of Zulu society. A clash was inevitable – so began the Zulu War of 1879.
The Wild Fig tree thus became known as the Ultimatum Tree. Over the years fire and floods damaged the tree and today all that remains of it is a large stump. (However a young tree propagated from the original has been planted on the site.)