Shaka Zulu, King of the Zulus

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Shaka kaSenzangakhona, King of the Zulus

Birthdate: (41)
Death: circa September 1828 (33-49)
Immediate Family:

Son of Senzangakhona kaJama, King of the Zulus and Nandi Ndlovukazi kaBhebe, of the eLangeni, Queen Mother of the Zulus
Brother of Nomcuba
Half brother of Ngwadi; Gqugqu kaSenzangakhona; Dingaan kaSenzangakhona, King of the Zulus; Umhlangana kaSenzangakhona; Sigujana kaSenzangakhona, heir apparent and 1 other

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About Shaka Zulu, King of the Zulus

As a youth, Shaka was the butt of many jokes because of his illegitimacy, however, such taunting turned the boy into a fearless, aggressive man. When Shaka's father died, Shaka assumed control of the Zulu clan, its 1,500 people and 150 sq.kms of territory. Shaka determined to gain hegemony over the local clans and the ritual skirmishing that had been the traditional manner of settling disputes was to change.

Shaka developed the short, large bladed stabbing spear and a means of employing it lethally and he also developed the 'chest and horns' tactic of surrounding enemy forces and annihilating them.

Within eleven years, he had accumulated and trained an army of fifty thousand warriors, defeated all the local clans and was master of most of the eastern seaboard and interior of what is now South Africa. However, he did not colonize the conquered territories but laid them waste, destroying crops, burning the kraals, driving off the cattle, killing or absorbing the men and carrying off the women and children. Shaka's Kraal Shaka built a huge kraal called Bulawayo - or the 'place of the persecuted one', referring to his father's expulsion from Zululand. It was one kilometre in diameter, five kilometres in circumference, contained 1400 huts and 12,000 warriors. This great kraal established the pattern for all the other royal kraals. It was also the custom that when a new king ascended the throne, he burnt his father's kraal and established a new one. Thus, when the white men arrived to settle at Port Natal in 1824, most of the province of Natal South of the Tugela was largely empty of human habitation. Shaka the Despot Shaka's reign was ruthless and brutal, with both commoners and those in high office being put to death for little or no reason. The kraals of chiefs whom he had deemed to offend him were also summarily torched. Outside of Shaka's second kraal is a kei apple tree known as isiHlahla amaGwala or Coward's Bush. Here, Shaka put to death those who displeased him. The bush takes its name from an incident when an unsuccessful impi (army) returned to the kraal. Shaka not only had the warriors put to death near the tree but also their families and their cattle. Gradually, his people, initially fearful, became increasingly intolerant of this wholesale slaughter. This mood of resistance was known to Shaka which only made things worse. Shaka's Mother Dies In October 1827, Nandi, Shaka's mother died. A huge crowd was gathered for the funeral. Shaka ordered some people to be put to death as a mark of respect for his mother, but as the killings commenced, such was the fear of this man that mourner set upon mourner to prove his or her devotion to Nandi and before long, seven thousand mourners were dead.

Some historians offer that Shaka (1787 - 1828) was as child of prophecy, destined to conquer and then to lead the previously unknown Zulus to unite the tribes of South Africa, through bloody spears and shields, into a strong economic co-existence... a military nation, all under a single, brilliant ruler... the warrior King... Shaka.

Shaka Zulu's journey from his mother's (Nandi) unwed pregnancy, by young Zulu Chief Senzangakhona... the young chief trying to avoid political conflict, denying responsibility by stating "perhaps she is simply bearing iShaka (an intestinal beetle)... to Nandi and unborn Shaka's virtual banishment... to Shaka becoming a young man, fighting as another tribe's common soldier, his innovative leadership eventually enabling him to quickly surpass his military trainers, teaching them new strategies and devising new weapons...

Becoming the master, he led his new army to return and conquer both his birth land and his father, where Shaka fulfilled his compelling destiny to create and lead new, dominant armies to conquer rival tribes and fold them into his newly supreme, Zulu empire.

"The Ultimate African-warrior King", his matchless armies swept through South Africa, like the Roman Legions of antiquity moved through Europe and Asia, repeatedly achieving countless victories, uniting a fractured South Africa to grow in strength and newfound prosperity.

Anticlimactically, however, and like Julius Caesar, Shaka eventually suffered betrayal and assassination by those within in his small, trusted inner circle... Dingane and Mhlangana, his half-brothers.

Shaka's famous broad-blade stabbing-spear, the "iKlwa", as legendary as King Arthur's Excalibur, is romanticized to have either been magically forged for or to have been conceived by Shaka.

Whether the sword type was already available prior to Shaka is not important, relative to history's reverent memory of the great King Shaka's renowned rise to power. His dominant leadership and conquering fame rivals that of Alexander the Great, the Caesars, Napoleon, and Genghis Khan.

At Shaka's apex, the European colonization of Africa encountered King Shaka's armies of nearly 85,000 Zulu Warriors, repeatedly suffering tremendous losses. Nonetheless, the imperialist colonists' desire to exploit the continent's abundant resources was too powerful to withstand. The Zulu empire, just as history's other great empires, declined to it demise and Shaka's assassination.

The Zulu empire had finally suffered a deathblow, and the European invaders eventually ensured the people's instability and inability to fight back, when using vastly superior firepower, they later defeated and exiled Zulu King Cetshwayo and divided the vast Zulu empire amongst 13 pro-European-colonists chiefs. Their plan has since endured, casting the nation into nearly two centuries of constant turmoil, apartheid and persistent civil wars.

Reputed by some to be heroic, and by others to be cruel and ruthless in his bloody carnage and empire building, Shaka's history will always be tainted by the fact that those events were mostly recorded by the literate Europeans who had invaded the continent, ultimately intent on its abundant riches, minerals, gold, silver, gems, and generous diamond mines. The colonists left written accounts intended to both document and serve their own interests.

Nonetheless, history's fascination with Shaka's omnipresent character, both regal and ruthless, reverberates through his descendants and the spirit of his Zulu people.

The greatest African leader in history, Shaka's strength of convictions, doctrine of discipline, powerful life force, and belief in a united South Africa has been imprinted on the annals of time and the legend of what was one of the world's most dominant empires.

One of history's greatest leaders, uniters of people, and most important warrior Kings, he is... Shaka Zulu.

1787 Shaka Born to Nandi, who was not wed to young Zulu Chief Senzangakhona. Trying to cover up his pre-marital pregnancy, Senzangakhona is said to have claimed that Nandi was suffering stomach pains from iShaka (an intestinal beetle). Nandi gave birth to Shaka, not iShaka.


1793 Shaka and Nandi go to live with the Elangeni


1803 Nandi sends Shaka to live with the Mthethwa clan


1809 Dingiswayo becomes chief of the Mthethwa clan


1810 Shaka challenges the Buthelezi warrior and Chief Pungashe is defeated


1816 Senzangakhona dies and Shaka takes over as Chief of the Zulu and establlishes his kraal at Bulawayo


1817 "Mfecane" begins and lasts until Shaka's death


1818 Death of Dingiswayo -- Battle of Qokli hill


1819 The great harvest festival - The second Ndwande war - The great hunt


1820 The new Bulawayo is built


1821 Shaka's millipede attacks the Pepeta clan - Shaka unifies the Zulu homestead


1822 Attack on the Ranisi clan


1823 Shaka sends a regiment against Mzilikazi and puts him to flight


1824 The great "smelling out" and the death of Nobela - Fynn and Farewell arrives in Port Natal - Shaka grants Farewell possession of Port Natal


1825 John Ross lands at Port Natal


1826 Death of Nandi


1828 Country released from mourning Nandi - Shaka assassinated at Dukuza in September --------------------------

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Shaka Zulu, King of the Zulus's Timeline

September 1828
Age 41