Shaka Zulu, often written Chaka or Tshaka, was a Zulu leader and the founder of the Zulu Empire in Southern Africa.
He was born around 1787 and died on September 22, 1828. He is credited with developing a fighting army that completely destroyed the area.
Numerous vivid and exaggerated tales about his life have been written, many of which historians dispute.
Shaka Zulu otherwise written Shaka kaSenzangakhona, the Zulu ruler and the founder of the Zulu empire, was assassinated at kwaDukuza in 1828 by his two half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana; one date reported is September 24. Following the assassination, Dingane ascended to the throne.
The early life of Shaka Zulu
Senzangakona, the chief of the Zulu people, and Nandi, an orphaned princess of the nearby Langeni clan, were the parents of Shaka Zulu. His parents’ union broke Zulu tradition because they belonged to the same clan, and the shame of this transferred to the child.
Shaka’s parents divorced when he was six years old, and Nandi brought her son back to the Langeni, where he spent his fatherless youth surrounded by those who detested his mother.
Nandi was ultimately able to find refuge with the Dletsheni, a subclan of the formidable Mthethwa, when the Langeni drove her out in 1802.
Shaka Zulu was drafted into the military at the age of 23 by Dingiswayo, the paramount chief of the Mthethwa tribe. He served the Mthethwa with honor as a warrior for six years.
Senzangakona passed away in 1816, and Dingiswayo ordered Shaka to lead the Zulu, who at the time likely numbered little more than 1,500 and were occupying territory along the White Umfolozi River.
Of the more than 800 Eastern Nguni-Bantu clans, they were among the smallest, but they started their ascent to fame the day Shaka Zulu arrived. Shaka Zulu established his reign with an iron fist, punishing any opposition with immediate execution.
Shaka was able to convey his views more easily as he gained the respect of his people. Shaka taught the Zulus that conquering and subduing other tribes was the fastest and most efficient way to become powerful.
Shaka had a military experience. The Zulus’ societal outlook was strongly influenced by his teachings. Shaka used the Zulu tribe’s rapid emergence of a warrior mentality to his advantage.
Shaka Zulu and the Zulu Empire
In empires all around the world and throughout history, assassinations committed by heir apparent was a common occurrence.
While his half-brother Dingane was a legal son of Senzangakhona, a petty chief, Shaka was an illegitimate child. Nandi, the mother of Shaka, was finally appointed as this chief’s third wife, but due to their strained marriage, both she and her son were eventually expelled.
Shaka enlisted in the Mthethwa army under the command of chief Dingiswayo. Dingiswayo assisted Shaka in assassinating his older brother, Sigujuana, who had ascended to the throne, after Shaka’s father passed away in 1816.
Shaka was the Zulu leader at the time, yet he was Dingiswayo’s subordinate. Shaka became the Mthethwa state’s and army’s head after Zwide assassinated Dingiswayo.
Shaka’s influence increased as the Zulu military structure was changed. More success on the battlefield resulted from improvements like the long-bladed assegai and the bullhorn formation. He used both men and young people in his forces, and he possessed harsh military discipline. He prohibited the union of his soldiers.
He seized surrounding lands or formed alliances until he had total authority over modern-day Natal. As a result, many opponents were compelled to leave their homes and migrate, which upheaved the entire region.
He was not at odds with the local Europeans, though. Some European settlers were permitted into the Zulu nation by him.
Reorganization of the army
The army was reorganized as his first action. The Zulu were armed with oxhide shields and spindly throwing spears, just as the other clans.
Battles were essentially brief, bloodless encounters when the outnumbered side wisely yielded before suffering significant casualties. With long-bladed, short-hafted stabbing assegais, Shaka initially rearmed his warriors, forcing them to engage in close-quarters combat.
The regimental system was then put into place, based on age groupings, and was identified by uniform markings on shields as well as different combinations of headdress and ornamentation. Regiments were quartered in separate kraals (villages).
The Zulu adopted his normal fighting strategies in all engagements. Four groups were created from the available regiments (together referred to as the impi).
The two “horns” ran out to surround and attack the adversary from behind as the strongest, known as the “chest,” closed with him to pin him down.
The “loins,” a reserve who could be summoned to reinforce any portion of the ring if the enemy threatened to break out, were seated close by with their backs to the action to prevent getting overly excited. Officers known as indunas oversaw the combat and used hand signals to lead the troops.
Shaka Zulu battled for eradication and assimilated the Zulu with the remnants of the clans he destroyed. He began by wiping out the local tiny clans, beginning with the Langeni.
He then went in search of the men who had made his boyhood miserable and impaled them on the pointed spikes of their own kraal fences.
The Zulu population—along with their army—had doubled in less than a year. After Dingiswayo, who was still Shaka’s ruler, was killed in 1817, the last restriction on Zulu growth was lifted.
Shaka Zulu defeated the only tribes large enough to be a threat to him in less than two years, the Ndwandwe and the Qwabe.
He then attacked and destroyed the intricate network of clans that resided to the south of the Zulu kingdoms in a series of annual campaigns.
By 1823, the area had become a burning wreck devoid of people, and the terrified survivors had disrupted local tribal patterns all the way in the Cape Colony.
The Mfecane of the 1820s
The Mfecane (“Crushing”), which wrecked the inland plateau in the early 1820s, was indirectly caused by Shaka’s raids, despite the fact that they were restricted to the coastal region.
In an attempt to escape the Zulu wrath and find land, marauding clans began a deadly game of musical chairs that destroyed the interior’s clan system and left two million people dead in its aftermath.
This region was spanned by the Boer Great Trek in the 1830s, which was only successful because there was essentially no one left to resist them.
In 1824, the first Europeans traveled to Port Natal (modern-day Durban). The Farewell Trading Company’s group of twelve immigrants erected a post on the landlocked bay and soon communicated with Shaka, whose kraal Bulawayo was located 160 kilometers (100 miles) to the north.
Also read: History on the Anglo-Zulu War (1879-1896)
He allowed them to stay because he was fascinated by their customs and artifacts but was confident in the superiority of his own civilization.
Henry Francis Fynn and Nathaniel Isaacs, two of the first settlers, learned Zulu fluently, and it is largely thanks to their works that early Nguni history is now understood.
Nandi passed away in 1827, and Shaka’s mother’s passing led to his open psychosis. In the early apoplexy of his grief, almost 7,000 Zulus perished, and for a year no crops were grown or milk—the cornerstone of the Zulu food staple—could not be used.
Hundreds of milch cows were also killed along with thousands of pregnant women so that even the calves may experience what it was like to lose a mother.
Why Was Shaka Zulu Assassinated?
In October 1827, Shaka’s mother Nandi passed away, and his grief caused him to act strangely.
He demanded that everyone weep alongside him, and he murdered up to 7,000 persons he thought weren’t grieving enough.
He gave the orders to not sow any crops and not consume any milk, which will undoubtedly result in starvation. The husband and any pregnant woman would be put to death.
The two half-brothers of Shaka repeatedly attempted to kill him. Their successful effort took place when security at the royal kraal was weak and the majority of the Zulu troops had been transferred north.
Mbopa, a servant, joined the brothers in the death of Shaka Zulu. Whether the servant or the brothers actually committed the murder is quite uncertain. The precise location is also uncertain since they dumped his body in an empty grain pit and then filled the pit.
Shaka’s supporters were expelled once Dingane ascended to the king. Dingane, Shaka’s half-brother, rose to power and began a series of purges to secure his position.
He maintained the loyalty of the Zulu fighting regiments by allowing them to marry and have homesteads, as well as giving them cattle. He also ruled through fear, killing anyone suspected of challenging his authority.
Dingane established his main residence at Mgungundlovu and controlled the Zulu kingdom for about 12 years.
He faced a defeat in a battle against the Voortrekkers and was eventually overthrown by his half-brother Mpande with the support of Boer and British forces. Mpande then ruled as the Zulu leader for 30 years.