By:Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare


Shaka KaSenzangakhona, (better-known-as Shaka Zulu), was born in July of 1787 in Mthethwa Paramountcy (sometimes called the Mthethwa Empire). He was the son of Senzangakhona Kajama (who was a chief of the Zulu clan). Because he was viewed by some as an illegitimate son to Sebzangakhona Kajama (because his parents were of the same clan), Shaka spent much of his adolescents in the community of his mother. There he joined an Ibutho Iempi, which was a militia unit, where he would be under the command of Dingiswayo, (king of the Kingdom of Mthethwa).


As Shaka gained experience in warfare and his knowledge in military strategy grew, Shaka used his new found skills to improve the military system of the Ibutho. Knowing that warfare is also about building alliances, Shaka used the support and influence of the empire of Mthethwa to form necessary alliances with neighboring kingdoms and tribes to combat the powerful Ndwandwe nation (which consisted of a people who spoke the Bantu Nguni language). When possible Shaka preferred to use diplomacy rather than combat to the death, but he wasn’t opposed to ordering political assassinations when required.


When Shaka’s father,Senzanakhona died in 1816, Shaka’s younger half-brother Sigujana (who was seen by some people as a more legitimate heir),became the new chieftain of the Zulu clan. Dingiswayo, Shaka’s mentor would use this time of slight succession uncertainty to put his prized pupil on the throne. Dingiswayo, would give Shaka a military brigade, which he would use to perform a fairly peaceful and relatively bloodless coup d’etat on the Zulu chiefdom. However, in the military takeover of Zululand, Shaka would have his younger half-brother, Sigujana put to death. As chief of the Zulu clan, Shaka would still remain an important leader in the imperial army of Mthethwa. Shaka’s mentor and emperor of the Mthethwa empire, Dingiswayo would die in battle in 1817, at the hands of Zwide Kalnaga, who was the King of the Ndwandwe (Nxumalo) Kingdom. When the empire of Mthethwa was defeated, it would collapse, Shaka would seize the opportunity to fill the power vacuum, by reuniting and unifying the scattered people of Mthethwa and other regional chiefdoms. In the Zulu-Ndwandwe war (1817-19), Zwide and his army would be defeated. However, Zwide and most of his army would live to fight another battle and it wouldn’t be until 1825 that Shaka and Zwide would meet again on the battlefield, near the village of Pongola. Shaka would be the victor on that day. As Shaka’s reputation and respect in his Zulu tribe grew, he was able to encourage his people (who he transformed to be a Spartan-like people), to conquer rival surrounding tribes, that along with uniting with friendly tribes, he was able to transform the Zulu clan, into the Zulu Kingdom, which was rapidly becoming the Zulu empire


In 1828, sadly Shaka’s ultimate demise would not come at the hands of a rival African king like his mentor Dingiswayo, a soldier or European imperialist, rather he would be assassinated by his family. It is believed that his half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana and a third co-conspirator. Most likely it was because Shaka began to be seen by some as a tyrant-like leader with erratic behavior, it also could of been simple jealousy or sibling rivalry (seeing as Shaka also gained the throne by having a sibling killed). His half-brother, Dingane would assume leadership of the Zulu nation, and he would have Shaka loyalist purged from the government of the Zulu empire. Shaka is still seen by many as a legendary African leader within South Africa and in the African diaspora. There have been movies, books and articles made about his life, and there is even an aquatic theme park on Durban Beach named Ushaka Marine World and King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy.

External Education Resources