Who Is Shaka Zulu?

A metal Zulu statue in South Africa.
A metal Zulu statue in South Africa.

Shaka Zulu, also known as Shaka kaSenzangakhona, was born in July of 1787, close to present-day Melmoth in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

5. Death and Legacy

Shaka Zulu was murdered by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana. These two had tried to assassinate Shaka at least twice before. With the help of some dissatisfied Mpondo and iziYendane people. They finally succeeded in 1828 with the help of an iNduna Called Mbopa.

Shaka Zulu has been honoured with an aquatic park in Durban called the uShaka Marine World which was built in 2004. The King Shaka International Airport in La Mercy Durban was also built in honour of the great Zulu leader.

4. Challenges

Shaka Zulu was hated just as much as he was loved. He faced a threat to his people and the acquired chiefdoms due to his erratic behaviour. He killed close to 7,000 people after his mother died because they were considered not grief-stricken enough. Cows were slaughtered and food bans put in place for one year as a way of mourning Nandi. Antagonizing his people in this way is believed to have contributed greatly to his assassination which was carried out by his brothers. His life was also threatened by European traders whom he had allowed into his kingdom.

3. Major Contributions

Shaka Zulu is remembered for his militaristic rule and subduing his enemies. Several innovations in the way of fighting and acquisition of followers have been attributed to him with many disagreements. Shaka Zulu has been credited with a new kind of weapons, the short spear (iklwa) and a large heavy shield. He is also said to have introduced the speedy shoeless mobility for the soldiers, logistics support for the army, the “Bull Horn” battle formation, and an organization system among his forces. His Shakan methods also competed with European technology, he sent messages by word of mouth and proved that his spears were more efficient than guns. They were fortunate to succeed during the first clash with the Voortrekkers.

2. Career

Shaka’s father Senzangakhona died in 1816, and he was succeeded by his son Sigujana. He, however, did not rule for long as Chief Dingiswayo of Mthethwa colluded with Shaka Zulu to kill Sigujana so that he (Shaka) could rule. This overthrowing was successful, and it was accepted by the Zulu people. This was the beginning of Shaka’s rule. He was, however, a vassal of Mthethwa Empire for one year until Dingiswayo was killed by Zwide, Chief of Ndwande. Shaka filled up the power vacuum left by Dingiswayo and ruled the Mthethwa Empire. This rule gave him power and influence, for instance when he moved to Qwabe he aided his choice to rule as a proxy to the Zulu Chieftain.

Shaka Zulu was determined to avenge his mentor’s death and so began his hunting of Zwide. In the process, he killed Zwide’s mother in a painful ordeal where he locked her in a room with hyenas and jackals. Finally, in 1985, the two adversaries met in war near Phongola. Shaka was victorious thus completing his quest to avenge his mentor.

1. Early Life

He was born to Nandi kaBhebhe of the Mhlongo People and Senzangakhona kaJama. Shaka is said to have been conceived during sexual foreplay that was permitted among unmarried partners. His parents got carried away leading to his being. Due to his illegitimacy, Shaka was brought up by his mother where he was initiated in a fighting unit referred to as an ibutho lempi.


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