Queen Nandi-Fact or Fiction

nandi_300Umfudukazi,  Nandi kaBebe eLangeni, born c1766, died 10th October 1827

(Painting by: Rahsaan Fort. www.ancienthistotysociety.org)

`The story of Queen Nandi, for example bears a message that gives recognition

to a person who embodies the true spirit of the Zulu people, as her story is a story of courage and steadfast devotion.

Historically significant events such as the life and times of Queen Nandi have largely been misinterpreted, thus their true meaning diminished.`

( Quoted from a speech by KwaZulu Natal Premier Sibusiso Ndebele, 30 August 2008)

The Early Years and the Birth of Shaka

Ndlorukazi Nandi kaBebe eLangeni,(the sweet one) was the daughter of a minor Langeni chief, Bhebhe *(2) Mhlongo and his wife Mfunda,and was born in 1766*(3) at the eBonzini umuzi on what later became the Bull`s Run estate on the banks of the Mhlatuze river. ( in close proximity to the present day Phobane Lake).Little is known about her early childhood but one can presume she grew up according to Zulu customs and fulfilled the various chores a young girl would in the household.

On her way with friends to visit relatives near the Babanango hills, she passed close to Senzagakhona`s ikhanda esiKlebe which was  situated very near the area where the Babanango road turns off from the R34 Melmoth/Vryheid road. Taking the location of Siklebeni and the various watercourses in the vicinity into consideration there can be little doubt that a meeting took place between Nandi`s party and a group of young men that included Senzagakhona kaJama. This meeting took place south of the White Umfolozi river in the wooded bed of the Mkumbane river.( probably upstream from the bridge where the present Melmoth/Vryheid road crosses it.) It seems as though they met again on their return journey and this time the flirting between Nandi and Senzagakhona could not have been so innocent as she fell pregnant by him.


*(2) Also referred to as Bheki

*(3)Lineage of Zulu Kings http://www.uq.net.au/~zzhsoszy/states/southafrica/zulu.html


It is claimed that Shaka was born at Senzangakhona`s household and although Nandi was betrothed to Senzagakhona, they were not yet married according to traditional custom. This however seems unlikely as the relationship was illicit and it is more than likely that Shaka was born `esihlahleni` – (literally meaning,  in the bushes or outside the normal social setting for a birth), in 1787  in the Langeni territory at the Nguga homestead of Nandi`s uncle. According to Zulu custom in that time pregnant women who were not married were sent away with the child, to live in obscurity and their children were never recognised as being of Royal blood.

When Nandi first reported her pregnancy to Senzangakhona the tribal elders claimed that she was not pregnant but suffering from a stomach ailment caused by the iShaka beetle- an intestinal beetle on which menstrual irregularities were usually blamed – as Nandi was said to be suffering from this because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.  When the child was eventually born, the child and Nandi were taken to the Zulu capital with much shame and no welcoming festivities as there were no ceremonial celebration for a woman already with child. Nandi took the child to Senzangakhona and presented him with his son and named him `Shaka`.

Despite Senzangakona`s attempts to deny paternity, he eventually married Nandi and she was relegated to the lowly position of his third wife.  According to E.A Ritter`s book*(4), Nandi was not only a mother but also in a interclan marriage which was forbidden. This came about because Nandi`s mother Mfunda, was the daughter of Kondlo, a Qwabe chief, with whom clan intermarriage with the Zulu was unacceptable.

Shaka and Nandi spent his early years at Senzagakona`s esiKlebeni  homestead near the present day Babanango. Nandi appeared to have a fiery temperament but was devoted to her son. Although it seems the relationship between Nandi and Senzagakhona was never happy for long she did bear him a second child, a girl named Nomcuba.  It seems Nandi was not very popular and found herself unwelcome and neglected. Fortunately Mkabi (the wife of Jama) to whom Nandi as Um-Lobokazi (young wife), was entrusted, was a close relation to Nandi`s mother, Mfunda, and  took her under her care displaying some sympathy towards her.

The version given by Henry Francis Fynn differs from the above and although he also wasn`t present the oral representation in time frame is much closer and he may also have gleaned information from Shaka. According to Fynn, Senzangakona, was uncircumsized at the time of his encounter with Nandi. Although a chief may have set aside a group of women, the women were not allowed to conceive before his circumcision was completed. According to Fynn, Nandi was included in this group and within six months became pregnant with Senzangakona`s illigitimate child. The other women in the group publicly charged Nandi with having illicit intercourse. Senzangakona, to avoid disgrace in the estimation of his people, told the other women that she suffered from itshaka, a looseness of the bowels, and that was the cause of the swelling. In time of course, Shaka was born. Henry Francis Fynn also gives more insight as to the temperment of Nandi. He describes her as being of a `violent, passionate disposition and during her residence with Senzagakhona she frequently got into fits of outrageous violence`. (*5) Fynn also states that Nandi and Shaka`s expulsion from Senzangakhona`s presence came as a result of Nandi striking one of his leading men over the head with a knobstick. In consequence of this she was on the point of being killed, but Senzangakhona ordered her from his presence and told her to never return.

(*4) E.A Ritter – Shaka Zulu

(*5)  In the book, Natal and the Zulu Country by T.V Bulpin he states that Nandi was `a                                                                                                                          masculine, savage woman with  a tongue like a rasp.`


Other sources(*6) describe the events differently. When Shaka was six years old he allowed a dog to kill one of Senzagakhona`s pet sheep. A quarrel ensued between an arrogant Nandi and Senzagakhona when he treatened Shaka with a beating. As a result Nandi, Shaka and Nomcuba, Shaka`s younger sister, were ordered to return to Nandi`s own people, the Langeni.

Senzangakhona married several other wives and appointed Bibi, the daughter of Sompisi, chief of the Ntuli tribe, as his queen. She bore him a son named, Sigujana who was to become king after Senzangakhona. Other sons, notably Mhlangane, Dingane and Mpande were born to the other wives.