Shaka Zulu also known as Sigidi kaSenzangakhona, is considered one of the greatest rulers in the history of the Zulu Kingdom. He was born in 1787 in the KwaZulu Natal province. His father, Senzangakhona, was a minor chief of one of the Zulu-speaking clans and his mother, Nandi, was the daughter of Chief Mbhengi from a rival clan.  

Shaka’s birth was historic as he was born out of a ritual called the ‘ukuhlobonga’, a form of sexual foreplay allowed between unmarried couples but which must not end up in sexual penetration. It is believed Shaka’s parents got carried away in the ritual resulting in pregnancy which the father initially denied responsibility and rather claimed that Shaka’s mother was suffering from an intestinal infection by the “bee uShaka”.

Sketch by:  Lt. James King

After birth however, the father named Shaka after the same insect. As his birth was illegitimate, Shaka spent his childhood at his mother’s settlement where he was constantly teased and taunted which hardened young Shaka into becoming a dangerous and fearless warrior. Upon reaching manhood he deserted the mother’s clan (Elangeni) and became affiliated with the father’s clan (Mthethwa).

 Shaka was installed as a War Chief following the death of the father. In 1816, he took over the reigns of the then-insignificant Zulu clan in a coup and named himself King. He began his reign with a systematic re-organization of the Zulu warriors, implementing a rigid training programme, new blade weaponry replaced the traditional spear, new attack formations and a strict code of obedience. Within a decade of his reign more than hundred chiefdoms were brought together to form a revered kingdom which survived not only the death of its founder but several military and calculated attempts to break it up.

In 1827, when Shaka’s mother, Nandi died, Shaka became emotionally distraught and took to making erratic and unwise decisions including banning crop and milk productions over a year. Pregnant women were ordered to be killed along with their husbands. Cows giving birth to calves were killed instantly so that the calves would understand the grief of losing a mother. These unsettling behaviors started creating unrest within his inner circle. He also created a lot of enemies in his kingdom.

 In 1828, Shaka was assassinated by his half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana.  Dingane assumed control of the Empire which lasted another half century before finally being crushed by the British Army.

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