The Nguni peoples (the Zulus, Xhosa, Matabele, Swazis) had been gradually moving southwards with their herds for over one thousand years, eventually reaching the region of the White Umfolozi River.

While some Nguni pushed further South to form the Xhosa nation, we are interested in a small clan headed by a chief called Malandela that settled in the Umfolozi River area.

Malandela’s wife was called Nozinja and they had two sons, Quabe, then Zulu (heaven). After Malandela’s death, Quabe eyed the small herd of the clan so Nozinja, Zulu and a servant moved a short distance away to found a new home.

Shaka’s Father – Senzangakhona

Eventually, Zulu married and his lineage, all bearing the name Zulu, was Punga, Mageba, Ndaba, Jama and, at the end of the 18th century, Senzangakhona. The Zulu clan was still very small and occupied only an area of a few square kilometres.

Senzangakhona had a flirtation with Nandi the daughter of a neighbouring chief of the Elangeni clan. The result of this liaison was a boy, named Shaka, born in 1787. His name comes from uShaka, a beetle said to inhabit the stomach and give rise to a bloated abdomen – as Nandi’s pregnancy progressed.

As a youth, Shaka was the butt of many jokes because of his illegitimacy, however, such taunting turned the boy into a fearless, aggressive man.When Shaka’s father died, Shaka assumed control of the Zulu clan,Statue of Shaka - kwaDukuzaits 1,500 people and 150 sq.kms of territory. Shaka determined to gain hegemony over the local clans and the ritual skirmishing that had been the traditional manner of settling disputes was to change.

Shaka developed the short, large bladed stabbing spear and a means of employing it lethally and he also developed the ‘chest and horns’ tactic of surrounding enemy forces and annihilating them.

Within eleven years, he had accumulated and trained an army of fifty thousand warriors, defeated all the local clans and was master of most of the eastern seaboard and interior of what is now South Africa.

However, he did not colonize the conquered territories but laid them waste, destroying crops, burning the kraals, driving off the cattle, killing or absorbing the men and carrying off the women and children.

Shaka’s Kraal

Shaka built a huge kraal called Bulawayo – or the ‘place of the persecuted one’, referring to his father’s expulsion from Zululand. It was one kilometre in diameter, five kilometres in circumference, contained 1400 huts and 12,000 warriors. This great kraal established the pattern for all the other royal kraals. It was also the custom that when a new king ascended the throne, he burnt his father’s kraal and established a new one.

Thus, when the white men arrived to settle at Port Natal in 1824, most of the province of Natal South of the Tugela was largely empty of human habitation.

Shaka the Despot

Shaka’s reign was ruthless and brutal, with both commoners and those in high office being put to death for little or no reason. Cowards Bush The kraals of chiefs whom he had deemed to offend him were also summarily torched. Outside of Shaka’s second kraal is a kei apple tree known as isiHlahla amaGwala or Coward’s Bush. Here, Shaka put to death those who displeased him. The bush takes its name from an incident when an unsuccessful impi (army) returned to the kraal. Shaka not only had the warriors put to death near the tree but also their families and their cattle.

Gradually, his people, initially fearful, became increasingly intolerant of this wholesale slaughter. This mood of resistance was known to Shaka which only made things worse.

Shaka’s Mother Dies

In October 1827, Nandi, Shaka’s mother died. A huge crowd was gathered for the funeral. Shaka ordered some people to be put to death as a mark of respect for his mother, but as the killings commenced, such was the fear of this man that mourner set upon mourner to prove his or her devotion to Nandi and before long, seven thousand mourners were dead.