One of the most epic Generals in military history, and one of the most ruthless figures in Black history – the story of Shaka Zulu is little known, but should never be forgotten. Who is Shaka Zulu, what did he achieve, and why is he an important in this day and age? Read on.
The Birth of a King
In 1787, a woman named Nandi was courted by, made love to, and became pregnant by Prince Senzangakhona, then the heir to the throne of a small and insignificant South African tribe called the Zulu.
Nandi was a proud woman, and demanded that she become a royal wife to prevent her child being born a bastard. But when the royal council to the prince heard of his infidelity (he already had an arranged wife), they blasted her claim and even said that she wasn’t pregnant, but suffering from parasites. Soon after Shaka Zulu was born Nandi was cast out of her village, forced to wander the wilderness and foreign lands.
Understand that back then, a person who was expelled from their tribe was almost always condemned to death; exposed to the elements, forced to wander the plains, and fend for themselves. Nandi suffered the death of her mother, (Shaka’s grandmother, who followed Nandi and Shaka, but was too old to survive on the South African plains), fought off slave traders, and nearly died of starvation and fatigue while keeping Shaka alive.
As a child, Shaka was smaller than other children his age, but had an explosive temper that led to regular fights with other boys in the village. On more than one occasion, Shaka Zulu and his mother were forced out of the tribe in order to keep the peace. These early memories of rejection, inhospitality and abuse left Shaka thirsting for revenge.
Years passed before Senzangakhona reached out to his bastard son. Every year, as part of Zulu culture,
the boys that have reached manhood are summoned before the king to pledge their loyalty and
take up arms as part of the military. Messengers were sent out to Dingiswayo, chief of the
village in which Shaka and his mother had taken refuge, requesting that a teenage Shaka return
to take part in the ceremony. Shaka Zulu agreed, returned, and stood before his father with the rest
of his emDlatsheni iNtanga (age-group). But instead of pledging his allegiance, Shaka swore
before his father that he would have his revenge and, as the firstborn son of the Zulu king, take
the throne by force.
Shaka returned to Dingiswayo and joined his military with the purpose of perfecting his
knowledge of warfare and his skills on the battlefield. At first, with little influence and a weak
reputation, Shaka was able to recruit very few to his cause of unifying the land under his
leadership and control. But in battle after battle, Shaka Zulu proved to be a relentlessly violent and
proficient warrior. His valor and intelligence led to his promotion to the rank of General.
While Shaka led campaigns to unify smaller tribes into Dingiswayo’s
growing nation, his father Senzangakhona died of an unknown illness. Before he passed, he placed one of Shaka’s half brothers on the throne. Upon hearing this news, Shaka and an elite unit of his warriors raced back to the Zulu lands, where he massacred all the members of Senzangakhona’s leadership (including his half-brother), and finally claimed the Zulu throne.
It took 20 years for Shaka Zulu to realize his objective.
Legacy of Shaka Zulu
As leader of the Zulus, with iron-willed ferociousness, Shaka Zulu transformed the small and
insignificant tribe of his father into a mighty nation of over 80,000 highly trained warriors and
with that war machine he extended his borders and influence over most of southern
Africa. At the time of his death, Shaka Zulu ruled over 250,000 people in a land area greater than that of Napoleon’s, and could muster more than 50,000 warriors at any given time. In 2008, a statue of Shaka Zulu was erected in his honor in Glencoe, South Africa as a testament to his greatness.