Shaka becomes King

shaka_300He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown…

Traditional Zulu praise song, English translation by Ezekiel Mphahlele,_KwaZulu-Natal

In 1815 King Senzangakhona, Shaka`s father, became ill and despite the fact that Shaka had made a impression on him and was a protégé of  Dingiswayo, Senzangakhona nominated one of his younger sons, Sigujana, to succeed him. When Sigujana was killed by Ngwadi, Shaka`s half-brother the way was open for Shaka to return to the eMakhosini and with the support and approval of Dingiswayo and the Mthethwa he was installed at eSiklebeni,his father`s capital. He immediately selected a new site for his kraal as it was not customary to occupy the kraal of a  deceased king. He chose a site on a ridge on the east bank of the Mhode stream near the present farmhouse of Koningskroon just below the Mthonjaneni Ridge. He had returned to a site very near the original settlement of his ancestor,Zulu.

Shaka immediately organised his army calling up all the Zulu males between 20 and 40 years and formed regiments. He also built military settlements between his capital and the White Umfolozi river.His first military attack was one of revenge against his mother`s people, the eLangeni               tribe.

Shaka established a new royal residence, kwaBulawayo I and a number of similar royal homesteads known as amakhanda (of royal authority) were built around his kingdom. These  served as centres of administration and regimental barracks.

Much of what we know of Shaka comes from accounts  of the first white adventurers  who established a settlement at Port Natal-  modern day Durban – in 1824.  Mostly British, they thrived under the protection of Shaka while hunting for ivory and trading with the Zulu Kingdom. In return, in their written accounts, they created a image of Shaka as a bloodthirsty  psychopath and despot. This seems contradictory when  he was openly affectionate towards his female relatives   and the fact that he supported his father`s sons despite the fact that they posed a political threat.

It is clear though that he was a ruthless leader who knew the value of terror in creating a kingdom.It is also in 1824 that Henry Francis Fynn and Francis Farewell first paid Shaka a visit. He was curious about their technological advancements and anxious to learn more about warfare and especially interested in their culture. Mostly though, he was aware of the advantages that their trade might bring to him.

kraal_300‘On arriving within a mile of the king’s residence [KwaBulawayo], we were directed to wait under a large tree . . . The kraal was nearly two miles in circumference. At the time of our entering the gates, the kraal was surrounded by about 12 000 men in their war attire . . . After exhibiting their cattle for two hours, they drew together in a circle, and sang and danced to the war-whoop . . The women now entered the kraal, each having a long thin stick in the right hand, and moving it in time to the song. They had not been dancing many minutes when they had to make way for the ladies of the seraglio . . These danced in parties of eight, each party wearing different coloured beads, which were crossed from the shoulders to the knees. Each wore a headdress of black feathers, and four brass collars fitting close to the neck . . . On the following morning we found him [Shaka] sitting under a tree, in the act of decorating himself. He was surrounded by about 200 people, a servant standing at his side, and holding a shield over him to keep the glare of the sun from him. Round his forehead he wore a turban of otter-skin, with a feather of a crane erect in front, full two feet long . . From shoulder to shoulder he wore bunches, three inches in length, of skins of monkeys and genets hanging half down the body. Round the ring of the head . . . were a dozen bunches of the red feathers of the loerie, tastefully tied to thorns which were stuck into the hair. Round his arms were white ox-tails, cut down to the middle so as to allow the hairs to hang about the arm. Round the waist a

petticoat, resembling the highland plaid, made of skins of monkeys and genets reaching to the knees, below which were ox-tails to fit round the legs, so as to hang to the ankles. He had a white shield with a single black spot, and an assegaai.’

From The Diary of Henry Francis Fynn.

In 1826, in order to be closer to the settlers at Port Natal he moved his capital to kwaDukuza (the maze/place where one gets lost) near Stanger. It was 80 km further south of kwaBulawayo. This kraal consisted of about 2000 beehive-shaped huts and was used as a halfway trading station between Zululand and Natal. The Zulu Kingdom grew extraodinarily rich on cattle captured during this period of almost constant military action.By 1827, Shaka held central Zululand – between the Black Mfolozi in the north and the Thukela river in the south- firmly under his control. During his rule there were no conflicts between the whites and the Zulus, as Shaka did not want to precipitate clashes with the military forces of the Cape colonial government.

A cruel tyrant, he had men executed at the nod of his head and the loyalties of his people were severely strained as his cruelties increased steadily. The climax came at the death of Nandi, in October 1827. Vast numbers of people were put to death during mourning ceremonies if they showed insufficient grief, and armies were sent out to force the surrounding chiefdoms to grieve.

By  1828,  however there were signs that Shaka was beginning to lose his grip on his kingdom. He had survived one assassination attempt and on 24 September 1828, he fell victim to a coup orchestrated by his brothers Dingane and Mhlangana and was stabbed to death.

On 24 September 1828 Shaka was sitting on a rock*(8) looking at some of his cattle in a small cattle kraal known as the Nyakamubi, when his two half-brothers and Mbopa*(9), Shaka`s trusted body-servant, approached him and began stabbing him. Badly wounded and near death he addressed his murderers  and it is said prophesied: `Do you think that you will rule the land?..Not you, but the white people will  rule the land.`

According to custom his body was draped in the skin of a black ox and the following day he was buried with all his possessions in a newly dug grain-pit and covered with rocks.*(10)


*(8) The rock was  later moved across the road and now stands behind his memorial.

*(9) Early on Nandi expressed her dislike and mistrust of Mbopa, telling Shaka Mbopa`s clan name was `blood` and that she saw his, Shaka`s, blood.Shaka refused to kill him.

*(10)`In 1932 the Zulu people erected a white memorial over the grave. In 1946 the rock

(see above)was rolled across the road to its present site. Each year on 24 September, the Zulu king, his royal household, dignitaries and thousands of warriors gather in traditional dress at this grave to honor the man who is acclaimed to have been the founder of the Zulu nation.