Cape Town  - Shaka Zulu

Shaka Zulu.

Way back in the late 18th century when the African " Mfecane" (the forced migration of millions of African people) was taking place a baby was born into the Langeni clan. He was the illegitimate son of the chieftain Senzangakhona. From his birth in 1789 his father wanted nothing to do with him or his mother Nandi. Eventually after many attempts to deny paternity Senzangakhona installed Nandi as his third wife.

During her pregnancy the tribal elders claimed that Nandi was not pregnant but suffering from a stomach ailment caused by the iShaka beetle. It is from this beetle that Shaka got his name.

For the first six years of his life Shaka lived at his father's esiKlebeni homestead in the place known as EmaKhosini or Burial-place of the Kings, Unfortunately his stay was to be shortlived as he one day allowed one of his father's sheep to be killed by a dog. This so enraged the chieftain that he drove Shaka and Nandi from his court. In disgrace they fled to the Mhlathuze Valley where they sought refuge with the Langeni people.

Shaka and his mother were taken in by Nandi's aunt who was a member of the Mthethwa tribe led by paramount chief Dingiswayo. Here growing up as a child without a father Shaka was cruelly humiliated and bullied by the young boys of the Langeni clan when he told them his father was a chief.

Dingiswayo who was paramount chief of the Mthethwa was however more friendly than the boys and welcomed Shaka and his mother to the tribe. As Shaka grew up he became a tall and powerful young man with a thirst for power. When he was about twenty three Shaka was drafted into the Mthethwa iziCwe regiment where soon he began showing off his talents and courage on the battlefield. His prowess attracted the attention of his senior officers and he soon became one of the leading commanders in Dingiswayo's army.

In 1816 when Shaka's father died his senior brother Sigujana took over as the chieftain of the Zulu tribe from which Shaka had been ousted when he was a boy. This was the opportunity that Shaka had been waiting for and with the help of Dingiswayo he was able to assassinate his brother and take over the chieftainship of the Zulu clan. Shaka's climb to power had started. As soon as he became chief he attacked and conquered his neighbouring tribes and forced them to become part of the Zulu nation.

Over the next few years Shaka revolutionised the Zulu army by introducing a new shorter fighting assegai used in close combat, and new battle formations to allow his soldiers to get close to their enemies. He was a strict disciplinarian and anyone disobeying his commands was instantly put to death. To improve the mobility of his forces he banned sandals and forced them to run barefoot over thorns to harden their bare feet. Shaka was not finished with his quest for power and in 1818 when Dingiswayo and Zwide were locked in battle instead of entering the fray to assist Dingiswayo Shaka withheld his troops from the battle.

Dingiswayo was captured by Zwide and subsequently murdered by him. With the demise of its leader the Mthethwa state collapsed leaving the way open for Shaka to step into the breach and take over the leadership of the Mthethwa

Once in control he immediately set about attacking the surrounding chiefdoms and once he had defeated them included their forces into his armies. Zwide who had captured Dingiswayo and opened the way for Shaka to become leader decided to attack him and take over his armies but was defeated by Shaka at Gqokoli Hill when Shaka used his superior tactics to defeat him. After withdrawing his forces Zwide once again sent his armies to attack Shaka in April 1818.

This time Shaka's tactic was to pretend to withdraw his forces by falling back and dragging Zwide and his army deep into Zululand. The chase exhausted Zwide's forces and at the opportune time Shaka sent his armies into battle defeating Zwide at the Mhlathuze river. Zwide's Ndwandwe state fell apart when part of its main force fled northwards and settled near the upper Pongola river where they reformed their armies.

In 1826 the new army under a different leader once again attacked Shaka who soundly defeated them and forced them to become part of his army. Shaka was now in control of the entire Kwazulu Natal area. Unfortunately for Shaka things started to go wrong when his mother died in 1827. He became paranoid and unpredictable causing members of his inner family circle to start plotting against him.

Things came to a head in September 1828 when Shaka was assassinated by his half-brothers Dingaan and Mhlangana. After stabbing him to death with their spears they buried him with his personal possessions the next day. Shaka's reign over the Zulu nation had lasted 10 years and during this time the Zulu nation had become a powerful force in Southern Africa. With his passing the nation went into decline. Shaka's reign had a marked influence on the history of the African nations in southern Africa. He unified the many of the tribes living in the Kwazulu Natal area into the Zulu nation and those who opposed him were either killed or forced to flee and start new tribes elsewhere thus spreading African influence across South Africa where it is still found today.


Contact Details
Email :  Geoff Fairman    
6 Bothma Street, Monte Vista 7460 South Africa
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Cape Town - Shaka Zulu
Page updated 15.6.2015





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