The Great Shaka

Few military leaders in history can be considered as revolutionary to his nation as Shaka of the Zulu, who took a small tribe in southern Africa, and forged an empire that would forever change the face of African warfare. 

Shaka was born in 1787 in Melmoth (modern day KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), the son Senzangakhona, who at the time of Shaka's birth was the chief of a small Zulu tribe, and his mother was the daughter of the the Langeni chief.

Shaka was born out of wedlock which was uncustomary at the time, however his parents married when he was young, although it didn’t last long. Shaka and his mother were forced out of the kingdom when he was young and they took refuge with the Langeni.

Shaka spent most of his childhood being bullied by the tribes boys as was shipped from tribe to tribe, where he eventually landed with the Mthethwa people, under Dingiswayo, and although he was accepted, the other boys of the tribe wouldn’t accepted his claims to chiefdom.

Once he became a man he was brought into the fighting regiment of the tribe, which is where he finally found his true calling, where he could bring and use the skills he had learned growing up, and grew a thirst for battle. In a short span of time he had gained the recognition he wanted, rising quickly in the ranks to become a commander of the Mthethwa.

In 1816, once word had reached Shaka that his father had passed and his brother Sigujana had ascended, the Mthethwa lent Shaka the support necessary to assassinate his brother and take the kingdom. Shaka used this support to also take the Buthelezi and Langenitribes at the time, a move that made his chief of the Zulu.

About a year later Dingiswayo was killed in battle by the leader of the Ndwandwe while Shaka was away, following the defeat the Mthethwa had scattered but Shaka quickly drew them back in, to defeat the Ndwandwe in the Zulu Civil War.

Over the next few years Shaka continued the wide expansion of the Zulu, taking kingdom by kingdom, with ruthless brutality. Shaka had forged his army into structured combat regiments, who often went through intense periods of training.

Shaka was known as an unpredictable and often cruel leader at times, he often executed men of his army on a whim,especially if they looked at him wrong or spoke ill of his mother. He became even more unstable following the death of his mother, where over 7,000 soldiers were put to death for not showing enough grief at the mourning ceremonies. At this time Shaka had sent most of his armies out to the kingdoms to ensure the kingdoms all grieved appropriately.

The unrest within the Zulu at Shaka's rule was well noted at this time, and with his armies away, a conspiracy to assassinate him was forged. In 1828 Shaka was assassinated by three assassins, two of which were his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana. Dingane assumed rule following this and ended up being just as ruthless, wiping out any pro-Shaka elements of the army.

Dingane was able to rule the Zulu for over a decade, until he lost the leadership to his half-brother Mpande who had the assistance of the Boer's and the British.

Mpande was able to rule the Zulu's for another 30 years until the outbreak of the Anglo-Zulu war, where initially Mpande was able to inflict defeat on the British Army.

In his 12 year reign of the Zulu, Shaka had taken the Zulu from a 1,500 person tribe, to a 250,000 strong empire, spanning across Southern Africa, including introducing military strategy and new weaponry never before seen in tribal Africa. It is estimated that over 2 million were killed by the Zulu during Shaka's reign.