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Shaka, King of the Zulus


Mduduzi Mzulwini

The man who ruled over the Zulu clan at the time of their greatest glories, who had led their growth from a small clan into the dominant power of coast of south-east Africa, was called Shaka.

At the beginning of each winter the all-conquering Zulu regiments would gather in their ancestral lands to pledge themselves to new conquests with the salute: "Ngathi impi" and "Because of us, war." The man who ruled over the Zulu clan at the time of their greatest glories, who had led their growth from a small clan into the dominant power of coast of south-east Africa, was called Shaka. He was a fierce and militaristic king, contributing to the murder of a million people.

But to understand the man we know today as "King Shaka", we have to understand the driving force that made him to be the noted leader he was.

Shaka's mother was a child of a deceased chieftain of the eLangeni clan and her name was Nandi. Shaka's father was a chieftain of the small, then unknown Zulu clan and his name was Senzangakona. Three months after they had met, word reached Senzangakhona that Nandi was pregnant. A failed marriage forced Nandi to return to her tribe, but she was less welcomed there than with the Zulus. Shaka grew up fatherless among people who despised his mother and him. He grew up lonely and bitter with his only companion being his mother, whose life also was miserable. The intelligent and naturally sensitive boy knew of his royal blood and the origins of his tormentors. He harbored great hatred for them till his death.

However, in due course Shaka's physical development outstripped those of his peers and his stature became that of a true Zulu warrior. By the time he was 21 Shaka was 6' 3" tall, with a magnificently proportioned body, well muscled and with a true royal bearing. As a teenager, he showed exceptional fighting ability and bravery. At the age of 19 he single-handedly killed a leopard which was attacking the livestock.

At the age of 23, he was called to serve as a Mtetwa - warrior, and did so for the next six years. In battle, he found an outlet for his pent-up frustrations and developed his political policy. He saw battle as the one safe method of political growth and was never satisfied with a clan's submission before being taken to war.

Shaka became king of the Zulus in 1816 when he was about 30. Over the next few years he systematically attacked every independent group in the vicinity, either driving them away or absorbing them in the Zulu nation. The first people he attacked were the eLangeni.

Shaka's Zulu warriors or amabutho were truly legendary, and stories of the grueling and often cruel training are innumerable. However, Shaka never expected his men to do anything he couldn't or wouldn't do himself, and he set the example. He spared himself no luxury of a true king.

Forced marches of up to 70km a day, carrying weapons, and surviving on what they could
find in the bush, proficiency in handling their weapons, and the methods of dispatching the enemy were the order of the day. Shaka had soon discovered that the crude sandals traditionally worn by Zulu men hampered his speed and agility, and as a result the army marched, ran, and fought bare foot - on sharp stones, through thorn bush, in deep sand, rivers and every type of terrain possible. Another innovation of Shaka's was the short stabbing spear; a great improvement on the longer handled throwing assegais which broke when used against the enemy at close range.

One of the most successful of Shaka's great battle tactics was the fighting formation he devised. Known as the "horns of the buffalo", it was supremely simple. The warriors forming the "horns" encircled the enemy, while the "boss" or "chest" took on the main weight of the attack. Reinforcements were held in reserve behind the safety of the "chest".

At 23, Shaka was triumphant. His army was supreme, his followers delirious with success. Cattle, loot and women simply poured into their hands, and the once peaceful valley was too small to contain them all.

In the winter of 1823 Shaka began to build a new capital on site overlooking the valley of the Mhlatuze River. He named it kwaBulawayo ("the place of the persecuted man"). It was here that his mother, Nandi died in 1827. In grief, Shaka ordered several men executed but in the chaos, over 7,000 people died. Shaka practically ordered his clan to death by starvation in reverence to his mother. After three months, order was finally restored, but the seed of anguish against Shaka had been sowed. Shaka and his army began to go downhill, as Shaka seemed to increasingly lose touch with reality.

Towards sunset on 22 September 1828, Shaka was waiting to receive tribute from a visiting party of Tswanas. Two of his half brothers, Mhlangana and Dingane, suddenly strode into the cattle enclosure where Shaka was waiting and stabbed him to death.

The next day his corpse was bundled into ox-hide and buried, with a few of his belongings, in an empty corn pit.

Although some historians have described Shaka as a tyrant and a monster, his actions should be seen in the context in which they took place. A harsh land called for harsh measures, and Shaka was quick to use them. He ruled his kingdom fairly and in many cases with compassion. Shaka remains one of the greatest kings and warriors of our time. His legacy, to this day, still echoes and lives on.
Along the road between Eshowe and Melmoth, is the location of three excellent and increasingly popular Zulu "living museums" that offer visitors day-long and overnight "kraal experiences". The biggest is Shakaland, which was built for the TV epic Shaka Zulu and now comprises of a hotel, a kraal of 120 beehive huts (with en suite bathrooms) and other Zulu specialities.


  • Shaka Memorial



Bayede!!!!Wena weNdlovu!!!
A very interesting research indeed.

UShaka was a great ZULU hero. We as amaZulu are so proud of being a part of this blessed tribe. I so wish the province should be called KwaZulu Province, and throw Natal away. I understand it is a democratic South Africa, but this must be clear KwaZulu Province belong to the Zulus, so other people must not forget that, they must not come here and take over. Viva Shaka Zulu, Viva.

Posted by: missK

The Zulus are a proud and vibrant people whom are proud of being Zulus. I have had an opportunity to live amongst Zulus and it made me want to know more about my own history and culture. Shaka Zulu was the most prominent and ambitious King in Africa and he moulded his people and inspired courage and bravery into them, to date if you disrespect a Zulu man the consequences are simple and clear, you will get an swiping.... I respect Shaka the King of Zulus' vision, confidence, and audacity...Inkosi ayiqedwa...Mageba

Posted by: session

People have misconceptions about Islam and muslims both these words have nothing to do with race. Apartheid has been beaten into the minds of South Africans, they still see Islam as an Indian or Arab religion. Islam is a universal religion chosen by Our Creator as mercy to all mankind. Ngunis came from East and Central Africa where people are predominantly Muslim. Early Muslims were of African descent and outside of Mecca and Medina, Africa received Islam first before India, Pakistan, Iraq etc in the 7th century.

Islam and the Zulu culture share numerous common features for example Shaka believed in One True God uMvelinqangi not unkulunkulu which is very much significant of Islamic roots. Muslims have no image of their creator so are the Zulus, they could carve a shape of a cow but never did they think of carving out Umvelinqangi. I can give a lot more evidence to prove Ebrahim's point. Peace.

Posted by: Ali

The 'Bible' was pushed onto the blacks & many other cultures around the globe by outsiders from other countries - we know of them as missionaries. And before y'all start attacking my post - my ancestors were missionaries so, I am qualified to make this statement. I don't need to hide behind anonymous words on the internet.

PLEASE will those of you who accusing/ assuming that one poster is saying that Shaka was a Muslim, reread the post? The meaning I get is that the poster seemed to find a linking connection of the name- nowhere does he/she state Shaka was Muslim. He/ she cited some derivatives of the NAME Shaka which appear in other cultures much like the Peter (English) appears as Pieter in Dutch/ Afrikaans/ German and as Pierre in French.

Posted by: Finh

Can someone then, tell me how did the Bible get to black people?

Posted by: Bhekuyise

Im very proud to be an African child. Shaka Zulu was a very wise, brave leader protecting his nation despite all other things they say that he did. We know more about our roots and not underestimate them. I'm half coloured half Zulu and growing up in a zulu culture and I'm proud. I SAY AMANDLA AWETHU!

Posted by: chantel

Shaka Zulu was not a Muslim. He was an African warrior, and an inspiration. Well written passage.

Posted by: Myra

Hey guys, I think we had to find ourselves sometime to hear each other clearly. Though some other people think that King Shaka was a Muslim. I think he is lost, Africa was never created to be ruled by any foreign magic man. Let me put it straight, Africa is for Africans, in that note remember King Shaka as one of the people who fought against imperialist. Let me highlight this King Shaka, wanted us all to be united under one King, some chiefs wanted to rule themselves. So they ran, but he succeeded in uniting South African in spirit of ubuntu, white written history is no gain just the paint of black being barbaric.

Posted by: Collins Ndlovu

Ngiwumzulu mina phaqa and I know my history especially when it comes to King Shaka. It angers me to read such comments from EBRAHIM and at the same time I say to myself if we as the Zulu's doesn't tell our history we will have the likes of EBRAHIM thinking King Shaka was a Muslim. Let me enlighten you brother.
King Shaka was a son of Sengakhona and Queen Nandi.
Senzangakhona was a son of Jama and Queen Mthaniya.
Jama was a son of Zulu.
Zulu was a son of Malandela so I don't know where did you get this information from.
If there is anyone out there with more info on the matter we really would like to read it & pass it on to our kids. Inkinga eyafika la Emzansi abamhlophe basitshena ngo HILTER, BISMARCH, NAPOLEONS you name them when we have our own HEREOS la EMZANSI.

Bayethe uyizulu, ushaka ngiyasaba ukuthi ushaka ngoba kwakuyinkosi yasemashobeni bayethe inkosi ayiqedwa!

Posted by: Khanyisile H Mntambo

Its sad that most of the Zulus here on this page speak of shaka as the greatest warrior in Africa. Yes he was a great warrior certainly not a good leader. Remember lots of Zulu clans left the rule of shaka and went to join the Basotho and the Xhosa clans. True warrior who lacked strategy and only relied on the number of his men.

Moshoeshoe regarded as the most strategic leader in Southern Africa because he amalgamated other Sotho clan and Nguni clan into one nation. Moshoeshoe is the only leader to defeat the British and Afrikaner with the help of Germans and was able to keep his territories while negotiating with British to help protect against Afrikaners.

Fact is Mosheshoe sent messengers to ask shaka to stop fighting his own people not to pay tributaries. Zulus have a beautiful history, but it is too concentrated on frontier wars and not concentrated on Zulu nation accomplishments. Maybe some of you should study more about Zulu history and recognize the is a lot more to about shaka and his wars.

Posted by: ubuntu

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