Shaka Zulu, The Great Warrior of Southern Africa


Across history, many remember Shaka as a prominent Zulu monarch for his great prowess as a warrior. He not only led countless wars but also emerged victoriously. However, some people perceive Shaka as a ruthless ruler, consumed by rage and desire to fight. Needless, his reputation as a potent leader who extended the territory of the Zulus and built a strong army outstands the pessimism.

Though he was full of anger because of his past bitter experiences, he is among one of a kind leaders. Some may not salute him for his works, but he is among the founding fathers of South African history.

Early Life Of Shaka

Shaka was born in 1787 in Southern Africa during the 19th century by a woman named Nandi. His birth was unprecedented since his father, chief Senzangakhona, refuted impregnating his mother.  Shaka’s birth, was, therefore, received with so much hostility. His father had failed to acknowledge him as his son. This led to the community banning both Shaka and his mother from the village. According to the traditions of the community, it was taboo to get children out of wedlock. Hence, they had a tradition that permitted unmarried couples to engage in sexual activities without having intercourse to minimize lust and prevent pregnancies.

Origin Of The Name Shaka

The name Shaka, came from a disease which many knew as ‘ishaka.’ This disease affected mostly women. It caused their bodies to become sore, bulge, and even worn out. When Nandi, who was still unmarried at that time became pregnant, people thought she was suffering from ishaka. Hence that was why she had missed her periods. However, it was not until nine months later that she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. Therefore, she decided to name him Shaka. This is how the name Shaka came into existence.

Shaka and his mother traveled to different villages in search of a home. However, most of the time they encountered unfriendliness. Kids would often bully, harass, and torment Shaka. Many times, his mother defended him from endless intimidation from his age mates. Upon continuous search for a home, Shaka and Nandi found shelter in the Mthethwa clan. Chief Dingiswayo was the ruler of Mthethwa. He had built a federation of nearly 50 tribes through great diplomacy and outright war.

Rise Of Shaka

During his childhood, Shaka looked after the herd and learned to defend them from wild animals. There was even an instance when he killed a leopard alone and skinned it to make hides. Therefore, by the time he was 16 years of age, news about him had traveled the village to the chief.  The latter had played a significant role in mentoring Shaka Zulu to become one of the greatest Zulu Kings.  As a brave and dedicated young man, Shaka stole the heart of many, including Chief Dingiswayo. The latter had given him the duty to look after his herd.

As time went by, Shaka became stronger, masculine, and more courageous. He had outgrown the role of a herd boy and become a warrior.  Back then battles did not involve a lot of bloodsheds. As often the losing team would drop their weapons and retreat. However, Shaka thought this form of combat was pointless. He wanted to intensify the war and make them effective in determining a victor.  He wanted blood.

As a result, he came up with a new fighting technic. Shaka would use his shield to defend himself from oncoming spears and charge towards the enemy when the battlefield was clear. The Zulus applied this tactic during their war with the British during the precolonial error. The great warrior had even made his special spear for battles since the normal battle spears would often break amid battles.

When he heard of his father’s death, Shaka reclaimed his father’s throne with assistance from Dingiswayo. He trained his clan warriors in the defense and attack system of war, thereby managed to build a powerful army.

Shaka had grown to become an authoritative warrior leader. He was never afraid when it came to disciplining his men. He ordered the assassination of all those who showed any form of weakness. Warriors who sympathized with the enemy, the injured ones, and those who failed to should during wars. He even went to the extremities of killing the concubines who were pregnant for him. He was trying to prevent any instance of having his child rebel against him.

Nonetheless, amid all the brutality, Shaka had a deep spot in his heart for his mother. During his early age as a child, he had no one to protect him but his mother. Therefore, it took his heart and soul to care for and love his mother. When Shaka’s mother passed away, the repercussions were extreme. Shaka had demanded the clan members to mourn for his loss. Failure to which, he would have the person killed. Other than mourning, he expected the people to show sympathy for his mother.

Throughout the entire period, he had banned planting new crops and milking, an act that led to the starvation of many.

He also ordered the assassination of all pregnant women. Shaka wanted his misery to be a first-hand incident, commemorated by many. It was during this mourning period that many people died from the Zulu Kingdom.

Fall Of Shaka

In 1828, Shaka’s half-brother had plotted to kill him. He and his accomplices were tired of Shaka’s authoritative reign. Dingane and Mhlangana, both half-brothers to Shaka had ambushed him. When they apprehended Shaka, they killed him and dumped his body. To date, no one knows the exact location where Shaka’s body lay.

They had formed alliances with some people from Mpondo and iziYendane who were enemies of Shaka. At the same time, Shaka had good relations with the white traders. He had even allowed them to trade in his land. As such, his regime falling would pose a great challenge to the white traders. Mostly since the other Zulus didn’t like white men.

Amid his reign, Shaka had sure developed a strong enmity with his people. As such, he had a high chance of being murdered. The bad blood between Shaka and his people had thrived when he decided to punish the people for his mother’s death. He forced every member of the community to mourn with him as a symbol of respect to his mother.

It was in 1828, that Shaka’s half-brothers successfully managed to kill him. Together with their accomplices, they were tired of Shaka’s authoritative reign. It was in September when all the Zulu warriors, guards went to the north on a mass sweep. This has always been a ritual for the Zulus to come every September. As such, during those times, the royal kingdom didn’t have enough guards. Therefore it was susceptible to attacks at any time.


That was the right time for Dingane and Mhlangana to strike. Together with the Mbopa, they had divided themselves into groups. Meanwhile, Shaka had no idea what was coming his way. And of course, had let his guard down.


Dingane and Mhlangana, both half-brothers to Shaka had ambushed him. When they apprehended Shaka, they killed him and dumped his body into an empty grain pit which they then filled with mud and stones. To date, no one knows the exact location where Shaka’s body lay.


It was almost immediately after Shaka’s demise that Dingane, his half brother sat on the royal throne. Dingane’s victory made most of the Zulus happy. This is because they perceived he had rescued them from the fierce reign of his brother. Nonetheless, Dingane was never comfortable on his throne, considering he was a usurper.


Though he was now the king, he had not created good relations with the older political leaders. He, therefore, had a great challenge in gaining their trust. As such, he adopted to the assassination and social fission as a tactic to eliminate his enemies. Dingane had failed to meet the virtues of his brother Shaka. Unlike Shaka, he was a jealous, untrusting, inconstant, and a lazy king. Therefore to secure his position, he exterminated and terrorized those who opposed his government.


Dingane however did not manage to inflict his warriors with fierce fighting skills. In most of the battles that they participated in, they lost terribly to their opponents. Since Dingane feared starting trouble with the white traders who had settled in the land, he had no choice but to tolerate them. These white settlers owned firearms, therefore giving them more power. Many times they disobeyed Dingane’s rules despite settling in his land.


As time went by, the relationship between Dingane and the traders had worsened. However, 1837 marked the downfall of Dingane. It was during this time when a large army of Afrikaner emigrants confronted him. Since this group of emigrants is prominent for rebelling against the colonials, they had an experience in using the ammunition. Dingane, therefore, decided to consent to the demands of the Afrikaners for fear of losing his warriors and kingdom amid battles. However, later when Dingane attempted to get rid of the intruders, he failed.




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