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There are so many pictures of Shaka Zulu, the great Zulu king that lived between 1787 and 1828. People have seen these pictures enough to convince themselves that the pictures are of the real Zulu legendary king. They are not. They are of a man called Henry Cele.

Henry Cele is a South African actor, whose portrayal of Shaka Zulu in the mini-series Shaka Zulu, and later the movie; Shaka Zulu: The Citadel, won him much respect.

Henry Cele: Life before Shaka

Henry Cele was born in Durban’s KwaMashu in 1949. He was referred to as Megaye or Ndosi, based on the family he came from.

Before the screen, Cele had played football as a goalkeeper. In the 1960s, he played in the former South African Soccer League (SASL), for the Aces United. He also had a playing record with Durity Football club of Durban.

He as well played in Lamontville Township for the Zulu Royals (AmaZulu). It was during his playing years that he was given the name, “Black Cat” as a result of his performance as a goalkeeper.

Acting Life

The acting life of the man who portrayed Shaka, was spent between the stage, south Africa and the United States.

Cele’s acting life went back to 1986 when he acted the role of Shaka, in a mini-series; Shaka Zulu. The series which aired in South Africa at the period, tried to capture the life of the former Zulu king.

In 1988, he acted in the movies, Mercenary Fighters, Rage to Kill, Blind Justice, and Bush Shrink. In 1989 he acted in the movies; The Tangent Affair and In the name of Blood. In the 1990s, the actor featured in more than seven movies including Killer Instincts, Curse III and The Ghost and the Darkness. He as well acted in another TV Series; Sweating Blood in 1993.

It was however in 2001 that he acted the most acclaimed Shaka Film; Shaka Zulu: The Citadel. The movie was written and directed by John Sinclair. Others that were in the movie included Grace Jones, David Hasselhoff, and Jaren Allesn.

The American movies Cele acted in included The Ghost and The Darkness, which was written by William Goldman and directed by Stephen Hopkins. The movie was produced in 1996. Earlier in 1993 however, he was a cast in the movie; Point of Impact. The movie was directed by Bob Misirowski.

Henry Cele’s most popular international outing however, still remains Shaka Zulu: The Citadel. The movie is also known as Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior.

In 2006, he was awarded the Golden Plume Award for his acting.

 Shaka Zulu

Shaka Zulu whose portrayal gave Henry Cele much of his popularity, was a Zulu King who reigned from 1816 to 1828.

Zulu’s fame rose as a result of his knowledge of the art of war, bravery as well as his ability to bring together the Zulu nation. More than these however, he is recorded for his share brutality, which was noted as not only against other ethnic groups but against his people as well.

The legacies of Shaka Zulu are basically the unification of the Zulu Nation as well as his ability to forge new weapons of war and various war tactics, which would see the Zulu warriors win a major battle against the ravaging British long after he was dead. It was estimated that at a point, Shaka had an army of close to 50 thousand men.

It is claimed that for not mourning his mother whom he revered so much after she died, Shaka executed thousands of his people. Shortly after this, he was assassinated by his half brothers.

It is after him that London’s largest South African restaurant, Shaka Zulu Club was named.

Shaka Zulu Quotes

Most Shaka quotes show his brutal military nature. Some are:

  • Strike an enemy once and for all. Let him cease to exist as a tribe or he will live to fly in your throat again
  • Up children of Zulu, your day has come! Up! And destroy them all
  • Women that bear children must exist in Zululand only.


Death of Henry Cele

Henry Cele died in 2007 at the age of 58. The actor died after being admitted in Durban’s St Augustine’s Hospital for two weeks as a result of a chest infection. Before his death, Cele was reported to have been in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Cele had four children from an earlier marriage. Before his death he was married to Jenny Hollander, with whom he had no child.