Shaka Zulu and His Ruling of the Zulu Empire

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Shaka Zulu: A Conqueror and King

Shaka Zulu is documented to have been a conqueror and a great king of the Zulu kingdom. He was born in 1787 as the son of Senzakhona who was a chief to Zulu. Shaka, having been born as a result of the ukuhlobonga act of the Zulu community, he was forced to spend his childhood with his mother, Nandi of the Langeni clan. He was initiated into a fighting unit and therefore, functioned as a warrior (Golan 8). His father had unintentionally impregnated his mother and consequently, Shaka and his mother were treated as outcasts highly diminishing their dignity in the society. Shaka spent his life with the Langeni up to the age of 15 when his father, after a long denial of paternity role, took him. When his father died in 1816, Sigujana, Shaka’s younger brother took the power of the Zulu kingdom. He was later assisted and Shaka took over becoming the king of the Zulu kingdom. In his initial years of ruling, Shaka did not have the reputation and the influence of ruling but later on perfected particularly with his influence on the military.

Expansion of Power

Shaka slowly became more respected by people of his kingdom and due to this, he managed to spread his ideas with greater ease. Besides, Shaka did accomplish in creating alliances with Mthethwa clan and also established himself in Qwabe after the overthrown of Phakathwayo. According to Madi, his military and conquest of his rivals grew significantly making him become quickly famous (Madi 17). On rare occasions, Zulu allowed the Europeans to come into the Zulu territory. For example, in the 1820s, a European named Francis Henry came to the kingdom to provide medical treatments to Shaka after attempts of his assassinations from the rival tribe. His push towards welcoming the Europeans was driven by the knowledge and technology exhibited by Europeans. However, negatively, the opening of a door to the Europeans to Zulu’s kingdom formed a foundation to the opening of the British incursions which later proved to be a great problem to the Zulu’s (Spilsbury 31).

The Zulu Military System

When power was laid into his hands, Shaka came to a recognition of the importance of the military system to his kingdom.  Having been trained as a warrior and with command of discipline, he built his forces of the military that resulted in the creation of terror on the land and against his rivals. The worries were not allowed to wear sandals as a way of hardening their feet.  His regiments had an extension into various ranks forming a dense body of the military army called chest or isifuba (Burns 51). His philosophy of battle was “Victory or death!” (Madi 49). The development of the “warrior mindset” in the tribe of Zulu turned to be an advantage to the ruling of Shaka Zulu. The authoritative and domination of Shaka was majorly found on his military influence which enabled him to smash rivals using his own army. Madi indicates that, his ruling was also backed by patronage and diplomacy which incorporated more welcoming chieftains such as that of Jobe of the Sithole, Zihlandlo of the Mkhize and Mathubane of the Thuli (Madi, 51). Despite these people having never been defeated by Zulu in fighting, Zulu managed to win them through his tactics of subtler and in regard to this, the creation of cohesion was attained in Zulu’s kingdom.

Conflict and Defeat of Zwide

Zwide was determined to smash Shaka in battles. However, with a military consisting of powerful people, Shaka achieved the building of forces which had the ability to resist the Ndwandwe clan. The first expedition Zulu’s defeat to Zwide occurred at Gqokoli Hill. In much historical documentation, it is indicated that his primary fight against the Zwide, Shaka sustained a stronger position on the crest hill which was translated to be a frontal assault in which the opponent would fail to dislodge. In this attack, losses are reported to be extremely for the Ndwandwe clan.  In another battle with Zwide, Shaka led a fresh reserve of approximately 70 miles to Zwide’s kingdom at royal Kraal causing massive destructions and making Zwide escape.

The Assassination of Shaka Zulu

Shaka was assassinated by his two step-brothers, Mhlangana and Dingane after the mental illness that Shaka later suffered posed a threat to the destruction of the Zulu tribe. When Shaka took over his ruling, his tribe was statistically recorded to be less in numbers compared to others. Most of them were killed in battles. However, the brilliance and brevity aspects he proved to possess in the military organization, as well as the commanding of regiments remodeled a newer era for the Zulu tribe. He, more quickly, conquered the Zulu rivals destabilizing the neighboring regions and causing massive migrations. After the death of his mother in 1827, Shaka lost his mind and in his grief, he commanded the killings of thousands of Zulu people (Skotnes and Stephen 37). He later prohibited the planting of crops and more devastatingly, all women who were reported to be pregnant were brutally murdered together with their partners under his order. His leadership skills on military quickly deteriorated (Skotnes and Stephen 39). The concerns of his worsened ruling raised questions and on 1828, 22 of September, the two half-brothers killed him. Eventually, Dingane succeeded Shaka Zulu.

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Works cited

Burns, James. "Terrific Majesty: The Powers Of Shaka Zulu And The Limits Of Historical Invention (Review)". Biography, vol 24, no. 2, 2001, pp. 491-493. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/bio.2001.0030.

Golan, Daphna. "The Life Story Of King Shaka Zulu". History In Africa, vol 17, 1990, pp. 95-111. Cambridge University Press (CUP), doi:10.2307/3171808.

Madi, Phinda Mzwakhe. Leadership Lessons From Emperor Shaka Zulu The Great. 1st ed., Randburg, Republic Of South Africa, Knowledge Resources, 2000.

Skotnes, Cecil and Stephen Gray. The Assassination Of Shaka. 1st ed., Johannesburg, Mcgraw-Hill, 1974.

Spilsbury, Richard. Shaka Zulu. 1st ed., Chicago, Ill., Capstone Raintree, 2014.

June 09, 2022


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