Bhebhe, the past chief of the Elangeni tribe, born near present day Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal Province. He was conceived out of wedlock somewhere between 1781 and 1787.
Shaka spent his childhood in his mother's settlements. He is recorded as having been initiated there and inducted into an ibutho lempi (fighting unit). In his early days, Shaka served as a warrior under the sway of local chieftain Dingiswayo and the Mthethwa, to whom the Zulu were then paying tribute
Dingiswayo called up the emDlatsheni iNtanga (age-group), of which Shaka was part, and incorporated it in the Izichwe regiment. Shaka served as a Mthethwa warrior for perhaps as long as ten years, and distinguished himself with his courage, though he did not rise, as legend has it, to a great position. Dingiswayo, having himself been exiled after a failed attempt to oust his father, had, along with a number of other groups in the region (including Mabhudu, Dlamini, Mkhize, Qwabe, and Ndwandwe, many probably responding to slaving pressures from southern Mozambique) helped develop new ideas of military and social organisation, in particular the ibutho, sometimes translated as "regiment" or "troop"; it was rather an age-based labour gang which included some better refined military activities, but by no means exclusively. Most battles before this time were to settle disputes, and while the appearance of ibutho lempi (fighting unit) dramatically changed warfare at times, it largely remained an instrument for seasonal raiding and political persuasion rather than outright slaughter. Of particular importance here is the relationship which Shaka and Dingiswayo had.
Shaka granted permission to Europeans to enter Zulu territory on rare occasions. Henry Francis Fynn provided medical treatment to the king after an assassination attempt from a rival tribe member hidden in a crowd (see account of Nathaniel Isaacs). To show his gratitude, Shaka permitted European settlers to enter and operate in the Zulu kingdom. This would open the door for future British incursions into the Zulu kingdom that were not so peaceful. Shaka observed several demonstrations of European technology and knowledge, but held that the Zulu way was superior to that of the foreigners.
Though much remains unknown about Shaka's personal appearance, sources tend to agree he had a strong, muscular body and was not fat. He was of medium height and his skin tone was dark brown. He was uncircumcised, which bucked a trend in Zulu culture near that time.
Shaka's enemies described him as ugly in some respects. He had a big nose, according to Baleka of the Qwabe, as told by her father.He also had two prominent front teeth. Her father also told Baleka that Shaka spoke as though "his tongue were too big for his mouth." Many said that he talked with a speech impediment.
There is an anecdote that Shaka joked with one of his friends, Magaye, that he could not kill Magaye because he would be laughed at. Supposedly if he killed Magaye, it would appear to be out of jealousy because Magaye was so handsome and "Shaka himself was ugly, with a protruding forehead".
The successor of Senzangakona
On the death of Senzangakona, Dingiswayo aided Shaka to defeat his brother and assume leadership ca. 1816. Shaka began to further refine the "ibutho" system used by Dingiswayo and others and, with Mthethwa's support over the next several years, forged alliances with his smaller neighbours, to counter the growing threat from Ndwandwe raiding from the north. The initial Zulu manoeuvres were primarily defensive in nature, as Shaka preferred to intervene or apply pressure diplomatically, aided by occasional judicious assassinations. His changes to local society built on existing structures. Although he preferred social and propagandistic political methods, he also engaged in a number of battles, as the Zulu sources make clear.
When Dingiswayo was murdered by Zwide, a powerful chief of the Ndwandwe (Nxumalo) clan, Shaka sought to avenge his death. At some point Zwide barely escaped Shaka, though the exact details are not known. In that encounter Zwide's mother Ntombazi, a Sangoma (Zulu seer or shaman), was killed by Shaka. Shaka chose a particularly gruesome revenge on her, locking her in a house and placing jackals or hyenas inside: they devoured her and, in the morning, Shaka burned the house to the ground. Despite carrying out this revenge, Shaka continued his pursuit of Zwide. It was not until around 1825 that the two great military men would meet, near Phongola, in what would be their final meeting. Phongola is near the present day border of KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa. Shaka was victorious in battle, although his forces sustained heavy casualties, which included his head military commander, Umgobhozi Ovela Entabeni.
In the initial years, Shaka had neither the influence nor reputation to compel any but the smallest of groups to join him, and he operated under Dingiswayo's aegis until the latter's death at the hands of Zwide's Ndwandwe. At this point, Shaka moved southwards across the Thukela River, establishing his capital Bulawayo in Qwabe territory; he never did move back into the traditional Zulu heartland. In Qwabe, Shaka may have intervened in an existing succession dispute to help his own choice, Nqetho, into power; Nqetho then ruled as a proxy chieftain for Shaka
Expansion of power and conflict with Zwide
As Shaka became more respected by his people, he was able to spread his ideas with greater ease. Because of his background as a soldier, Shaka taught the Zulus that the most effective way of becoming powerful quickly was by conquering and controlling other tribes. His teachings greatly influenced the social outlook of the Zulu people. The Zulu tribe soon developed a "warrior" mindset, which Shaka turned to his advantage.
Shaka's hegemony was primarily based on military might, smashing rivals and incorporating scattered remnants into his own army. He supplemented this with a mixture of diplomacy and patronage, incorporating friendly chieftains, including Zihlandlo of the Mkhize, Jobe of the Sithole, and Mathubane of the Thuli. These peoples were never defeated in battle by the Zulu; they did not have to be. Shaka won them over by subtler tactics, such as patronage and reward. As for the ruling Qwabe, they began re-inventing their genealogies to give the impression that Qwabe and Zulu were closely related in the past. In this way a greater sense of cohesion was created, though it never became complete, as subsequent civil wars attest. Sigujana was killed, the coup was relatively bloodless and accepted by the Zulu. Shaka still recognised Dingiswayo and his larger Mthethwa clan as overlord after he returned to the Zulu but, some years later, Dingiswayo was ambushed by Zwide's amaNdwandwe and killed. There is no evidence to suggest that Shaka betrayed Dingiswayo. Indeed, the core Zulu had to retreat before several Ndwandwe incursions; the Ndwandwe was clearly the most aggressive grouping in the sub-region.
Shaka was able to form an alliance with the leaderless Mthethwa clan and was able to establish himself amongst the Qwabe, after Phakathwayo was overthrown with relative ease. With Qwabe, Hlubi and Mkhize support, Shaka was finally able to summon a force capable of resisting the Ndwandwe (of the Nxumalo clan). Historian Donald Morris states that Shaka's first major battle against Zwide, of the Ndwandwe, was the Battle of Gqokli Hill, on the Mfolozi river. Shaka's troops maintained a strong position on the crest of the hill. A frontal assault by their opponents failed to dislodge them and Shaka sealed the victory by sending elephants in a sweep around the hill to attack the enemy's rear. Losses were high overall but the efficacy of the new Shakan innovations was proved. It is probable that, over time, the Zulu were able to hone and improve their encirclement tactics.
Another decisive fight eventually took place on the Mhlatuze river, at the confluence with the Mvuzane stream. In a two-day running battle, the Zulu inflicted a resounding defeat on their opponents. Shaka then led a fresh reserve some seventy miles to the royal kraal of Zwide, ruler of the Ndwandwe, and destroyed it. Zwide himself escaped with a handful of followers before falling foul of a chieftainess named Mjanji, ruler of the baPedi clan (he died in mysterious circumstances soon afterward). Shaka's general Soshangane (of the Shangaan) moved north towards what is now Mozambique to inflict further damage on less resistant foes and take advantage of slaving opportunities, obliging Portuguese traders to give tribute. Shaka later had to contend again with Zwide's son Sikhunyane in 1826.
Death and succession
Dingane and Mhlangana, Shaka's half-brothers, appear to have made at least two attempts to assassinate Shaka before they succeeded, with perhaps support from Mpondo elements, and some disaffected iziYendane people. While the British colonialists considered his regime to be a future threat, allegations that white traders wished his death are problematic given that Shaka had granted concessions to whites prior to his death, including the right to settle at Port Natal (now Durban). Shaka had made enough enemies among his own people to hasten his demise. It came relatively quickly after the devastation caused by Shaka's erratic behavior after the death of his mother Nandi. According to Donald Morris in this mourning period Shaka ordered that no crops should be planted during the following year, no milk (the basis of the Zulu diet at the time) was to be used, and any woman who became pregnant was to be killed along with her husband. At least 7,000 people who were deemed to be insufficiently grief-stricken were executed, though it wasn't restricted to humans, cows were slaughtered so that their calves would know what losing a mother felt like.
The Zulu monarch was killed by three assassins sometime in 1828, September is the most often cited date, when almost all available Zulu manpower had been sent on yet another mass sweep to the north. This left the royal kraal critically short of security. It was all the conspirators needed—they being Shaka's half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, and an iNduna called Mbopa. A diversion was created by Mbopa, and Dingane and Mhlangana struck the fatal blows. Shaka's corpse was dumped into an empty grain pit by his assassins and filled with stones and mud. The exact site is unknown. A monument was built at one alleged site. Historian Donald Morris holds that it is somewhere on Couper Street in the village of Stanger, South Africa.
Shaka's half-brother Mpande, who with Boer and British support, took over the Zulu leadership in 1840, and ruled for some 30 years. Later in the 19th century the Zulus would be one of the few African peoples who managed to defeat the British Army; at the Battle of Isandlwana.
ShakaZulu the TV Series
The story of Shaka, king of the Zulu nation from 1816 to 1828, and the writings of the British traders who dealt with him (as such they are portrayed very positively compared to historical accounts of their actions). Originally aired as a British mini-series, Shaka Zulu follows the rise of Shaka (Henry Cele) to the king of the Zulus during the early 19th century when the British were beginning to gain control of Africa. The series consisted of 10 episodes approximately 50 minutes each in length. The series was based on Sinclair's novel of the same name.
- Henry Cele - Shaka
- Edward Fox - Lt. Francis Farewell
- Robert Powell - Dr. Henry Fynn
- Trevor Howard - Lord Charles Henry Somerset
- Fiona Fullerton - Elizabeth Farewell
- Christopher Lee - Lord Bathurst
- Dudu Mkhize - Nandi
- Roy Dotrice - King George IV
- Gordon Jackson - Prof. Bramston
- Kenneth Griffith - Zacharias Abrahams
- Conrad Magwaza -Senzangakhona
- Patrick Ndlovu - Mudli
- Roland Mqwebu - Ngomane
- Gugu Nxumalo - Mkabayi
- Tu Nokwe - Pampata
- Daphney Hlomuka - Queen Ntombazi