Shaka was born in July of 1787 in southeast Africa, an area populated by several Nguni chiefdoms. Shaka’s father was Senzangakhona, ruler of a small chiefdom, the Zulu. His mother was the daughter of a Langeni chief. At the time of Shaka’s birth, his father Senzangakhona and his mother Nandi were not married, this was inconsistent with traditional customs. It is said Shaka’s name stems from his father Senzangakhona’s claim that Nandi was not pregnant but was suffering from an intestinal condition caused by the Ishaka beetle. Senzangakhona would later marry Nandi making her his third wife. Shaka’s earliest years were in his father’s village near Balonango, locally known as Burial Place of the Kings. Shaka’s father Senzangakhona’s forbearers had been Zulu chiefs for generations. The marriage between Nandi and Senzangakhona was not a pleasant one and would result in the chief removing Nandi from his court.
Nandi would seek refuge with her father’s people, the Langeni. As a fatherless child, Shaka would endure cruel humiliation by the Langeni boys. Upon growing into manhood, Shaka became tall yet powerfully built. He would be initiated into the Ibutho Lempi (fighting unit) under the leadership of Dingiswayo an Mthethwa chief. Shaka over the years would refine the Ibutho system, in the military, he found companionship he had lacked previously. Through his courage and deeds, he attracted Dingiswayo’s attention and rose rapidly through the ranks becoming one of his most trusted commanders. Shaka after learning of his father’s death in 1816 would seek to oust by assassination his elder brother Sigujana and insert himself as chieftain of the Zulu. Moreover, later forge alliances with smaller neighbors to oppose threats from the north. Early Zulu strategy was largely defensive, Shaka favored aggressiveness and the occasional assassination as a method of psychological warfare. Shaka found the battlefield to be his stage upon which he could demonstrate his cunning and courage. Militarism would become a way of life for Shaka.
In 1824 before the arrival of the first white traders, Shaka controlled a consolidated monarchy that encompassed the entire eastern coastal belt beginning with the Pongola River north extending to the Tugela in the south. Shaka bestowed the white traders with privileged treatment; he granted them land and allowed the construction of a settlement at Port Natal. Shaka was curious about these strange white men, he wanted to learn of their warfare and technological advancements, and how they could potentially benefit him. Shaka was the undisputed ruler of his land, the unquestioned authority, by some descriptions a cruel tyrant. Men were executed with a nod of his head or a simple hand gesture. Loyalties were tested as the cruelty increased. It is important to note that after Nandi’s death in 1827, during the mourning ceremonies many were executed due to their perceived lack of insufficient grief. Shaka dispatched his armies to neighboring chiefdoms with orders to force them to grieve.
During this absence of his military forces his bodyguard Mbopha and two half-brothers Dingone and Mhlangana would take Shaka’s life by stabbing at his Dukuza military barracks, they hastily buried him in a nearby grain-pit.
“I need no bodyguard at all, for even the bravest men who approach me, get weak at the knees and their hearts turn to water, whilst their heads become giddy an incapable of thinking as the sweat of fear paralyzes them.” – Shaka Zulu
The Lion has learned to write: Bo Ajala