To a lot of people the person of Shaka Zulu is no less a myth as the so many stories that are flung at children during night tales.
The case of Shaka however, is no myth as he is recorded as one of the greatest African leaders and warriors. His tales have moved a long way from being told, to sang in songs, written in books and acted in movies.
Shaka Zulu’s fame was built on his charisma and the authority he pulls to himself through extreme and sometimes exaggerated brutality.
The birth of the man who would later become the great ruler of the Zulu people who today occupy the KwaZulu-Natal area of south Africa, has sometimes been debated.
However, it is more held that he is an illegitimate child of a Zulu king, Senzangakhoma. Senzangakhoma impregnated Shaka’s mother, Nandi, whom he had to marry after she gave birth to avoid any war between the Zulus and the Langeni, whose princess Nandi was.
At birth, the name Shaka’s father gave him was Sgidi or Sikiti. The name Shaka however has been traced to either of two sources. The first was that the name came from a beetle, iShaka, which Nandi’s family claimed caused her stomach swelling and not pregnancy when she became pregnant with Shaka. The second was that it was a praise-name given him by Dingiswayo, who called him uSitshaka ka Sitshayek; He who beats but is not beaten.
As a result of his unwanted birth, Senzangakhoma and the Zulu clan treated the young Shaka and his mother brutally, forcing them to spend most of their time with the Langeni ethnic group. Even there they were not fully accepted as a result of the shame Nandi brought to the tribe as a result of the pregnancy.
Shaka and his mother however later found solace among the Mthethwa group. Here, he became friends with Dingiswayo who would later become the chief of Mthethwa. Dingiswayo mentored Shaka in the art of war.
Tall and well built, Shaka grew into a force to reckon with among the army of Dingiswayo. Soon he became a General in the army and was nicknamed Nodumehlezi; the one who when he sits the earth rumbles.
After the death of Senzangakhoma, one of his sons, Sigujana, assumed power. Siguajana who was Shaka’s half younger brother didn’t last on the throne however, as with the help of Diniswayo, Shaka ousted him and became king. However, he was Dingiswayo’s vassal.
Diniswayo was killed a year after that in a war by the king of Ndwandwe Nation, Zwide, who was working towards expanding his kingdom. In 1825, Shaka was able to kill Zwide, gaining vengeance for the death of his mentor and stopping the expansion of Zwide’s kingdom.
During his time as a king, Shaka Zulu was able to bring together the various confederate and smaller groups in the region under his authority. This allowed him set up a very strong army. In order to command loyalty among such a large group and army, he became brutal towards enemies and perceived enemies both within and outside the kingdom.
Apart from bringing together the smaller groups under one authority, Shaka’s greatest achievement was building a massive army and changing how wars were fought. Such change include inventing new weapons; bringing in an apprentice warriors in the war, where young girls would serve to provide logistic support to soldiers in terms of feeding and war materials; and inventing the Bull formation attack to the Zulu war.
In 1828, Shaka Zulu was assassinated by his half brothers who buried him in a place unknown till this day.
Although Shaka was killed in 1828, his influence on the army and his method of fighting has affected the subsequent conquests of the Zulu Kingdom. In fact fifty years later, through his methods, the Zulus would win a major battle against the conquering British army.
The Zulu king has become a legend both among the Zulu people and beyond. To capture his life, Shaka Zulu movie was released 1986. The movie which was also seen as Shaka Zulu TV series was directed by Willaim C. Faure.
Also, there was a novel, Shaka Zulu, written by Joseph Sinclair. The novel which documented the Zulu king’s life influenced the production of the movie.
There are however some parts of Shaka’s life story that are believe to be based on myth. The most popular of this is that his soldiers walked without sandals so as to toughen up. Another was the claim that his soldiers marched close to 50 miles in a day.