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Shaka Zulu (c. 1787 – 22 September 1828)

Shaka Zulu was born as Shaka kaSenzangakhona (his father was called Senzangakhona kaJama). He was born near a place called Melmoth, which is in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. His father was the chief of the Zulus, who were a powerful clan that had been founded in 1709 (by Zulu kaMalandela).

Dan the Info-man
This image shows a statue of Shaka that is in Camden Market, London.

Becoming ruler and consolidating power

Shaka's father died in 1816, and through various deals (and assassinations), Shaka managed to become king. He decided to expand the Zulu Empire at the cost of neighboring kingdoms. Shaka was a strict military leader and soldier; he made sure his warriors were fighting fit and introduced new weapons to improve the capabilities of his army (although some of his innovations are disputed by historians). War was going to cement Shaka's reputation...

Ndwandwe–Zulu War 1817–1819

Also known as the Zulu Civil War, this conflict featured Shaka's warriors fighting against the Ndwandwe tribe under King Zwide kaLanga. Various battles and skirmishes were fought between the two sides, until Shaka's superior tactics (dividing enemy forces, laying ambushes) sealed victory for the Zulus. However, not all his decisions had long-term benefits for his people...

Zulu Kingdom opens up to Europe

Shaka had kept his kingdom closed to Europeans, who had already established themselves in places such as Cape Colony (occupied by the Dutch and British). However, a British settler called Henry Francis Fynn gave the king medical treatment after a failed assassination attempt, making Shaka relax his concerns about Europeans. Settlers started arriving in Zulu land, which decades later would eventually lead to the devastating Anglo-Zulu War (1879). In 1827, Shaka's mother, Nandi, died. Her death was the beginning of his downfall...

Madness and murder

Shaka was clearly devastated by his mother's death. He ordered his people to mourn her; anyone who seemed to ignore this order was executed. Pregnant women were murdered, no crops were planted and the drinking of milk was forbidden. Shaka had already survived numerous attempts on his life, but his luck was to run out. He was killed by his own half-brothers in 1828.

A force to be reckoned with...

Shaka only reigned for 10 years, but his changes to the Zulu military had far-reaching consequences. For example, a Zulu force massacred 1,300 British soldiers at the Battle of Isandlwana (1879) partially due to Shakan methods. He made his army extremely mobile, had children assist with logistics and he implemented the "buffalo horns" formation (an encircling tactic that was used at Isandlwana).

Dan the Info-man
This picture shows Zulu warriors ("impi") with their shields and hand weapons.

Shaka Zulu - TV series (1986)

Like many historical military commanders, Shaka has had great influence over modern culture. He has featured in television, books, games and in music.

Dan the Info-man
Shaka Zulu is also the name of a 1987 album by South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording.
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