King Shaka Zulu

King Shaka KaSenzangakhona, is the first illegitimate son of the Zulu Chief Senzangkhona KaJama and Nandi (daughter of a Langeni Chief). He was born in 1787 and was assassinated by his brothers: Dingane and Mhlangana on 24 September 1828 (age 41) in KwaDukuza (Stanger), KwaZulu-Natal.
During King Shaka’s Short reign he brought an amount of over one hundred, chiefdom’s together into a Zulu Kingdom, which was so strong that it survived King Shaka’s death and the Military defeat known as “The Battle of Blood River”.
Young Shaka lived his early childhood years at his father’s esiKlebeni homestead near the present Babanango, in a place known as the “Emakhosini” or the “Burial-Place of the Kings”, where Senzangahona’s ancestors of the Zulu (Nkosinikulu) descent were chiefs for generations.
Shaka’s name comes from his father’s speculation that Nandi wasn’t pregnant and that she instead, had an intestine problem caused by an iShaka beetle. Even though SenZangakhona tried to deny his role in the pregnancy he did eventually take responsibility and made Nandi his third wife. However SenZangakhona and Nandi were not happy in their relationship and Nandi was eventually driven out of his court.
Nandi and her son went to live in the Mhlathuze Valley of the Langeni people, which left Shaka growing up without his father. Due to this, other boys often bullied Shaka. During the great famine of Madlantule (food shortage) in 1802, Nandi and Shaka relocated to the Mthethwa people, where they lived with her aunt.
Shaka therefore grew up in the court of Chief Dingiswayo who led the Mthethwa people. As Shaka grew into a man he begun to discover his own talents, he was taller and built stronger than the other boys. He was trained to be part of the Mthethwa army and in battle he did exceptionally well, to such a degree that he was given the name “Nodumehlez” meaning “the one who when seated causes the earth to rumble”. Shaka became a military commander and due to this role he became very obsessive with military tactics, this however helped him further on in his life.

The death of SenZangakhona

SenZangakhona died in 1816, making the new Chief, Chief Sigujna, Shaka’s half-brother. Upon hearing of this, with the help of Dingiswayo, Shaka assassinated his brother making him the Chief of the Zulu’s. Shaka begun to make his kingdom bigger and conquered the neighbouring clans, which include: the Buthelezi and the Langeni clans.

The death of Dingiswayo

Zwide captured Dingiswayo in battle. Shaka arrived too late at the battle and kept his forces from attacking and thus he betrayed Dingiswayo. Shaka then took charge of the Mthethwa as they were leaderless making his kingdom more powerful.

After defeating Ndwandwe, (Zwide’s army) Shaka had no more rivals. Shaka then developed what was called the Zulu Military System:

First he changed the assegai: the traditional assegai was not very useful in close combat so Shaka changed the assegai so that it was “short-handed” and therefore it could be used as a stabbing spear instead, making it easier for close combat victory.

Shaka installed a more disciplined mind set: his warriors were not allowed to wear sandals, which hardened their feet up and made it possible for them to walk on any terrene. He kept his “impi’ on military training until he thought that they were fit to wear the head-ring (isicoc) symbolising manhood, there after they were allowed to get married.

Women amabutho, were regarded as the woman who danced in ceremonies. When the men amabutho was ready to get married they could choose from the women ambutho. Sexual relations between amnutho women and men before marriage was prohibited, those who broke the rules where punished with death.

The Royal women: each settlement had a section of royal women and they were normally controlled by one of Shaka’s Aunts, however Shaka did not have a legitimate heir and he never got married. Woman that were found to be pregnant that had intercourse with him were killed, his households were dominated by older authoritarian women and an induna, which was favoured by the king. The identity of the kingdom was based on the Military system.


KwaBulawayo was the first capital of King Shaka. It was located on the banks of the Mhodi River, which got its water from the Mkhumane River located in the Bahanango District. Shaka named the place KwaBulawayo meaning “at the place of murder”. His kingdom grew with the royal household huts extending to 1400 huts into the Mhlathuze Valley. These huts are about 27 kilometres away from the oldest European settlement in KwaZulu-Natal and it is called Eshowe.

Economically King Shaka and the military were really well off in cattle, however in 1825 the European settlers went to talk with King Shaka (keeping in mind that by that time King Shaka had land from the eastern coast till the past Tugela river in the south). Lieutenant James King also visited King Shaka and upon this visit he sent a goodwill delegation to Major J Cloete, the Cape government representative at Port Elizabeth stating that he is giving the White traders land to build their own settlement at Port Natal. Shaka built a large barracks at Dukuza meaning “the place where one gets lost” so that they could be more mobile to traders.

While King Shaka was in power there were no clashes between the Zulu’s and the White settlers. This ensured that King Shaka had no restrictions unlike the other chiefdoms. Shaka show his power and begun effortlessly executing people. When his mother Zandi died in 1827 his people didn’t show any remorse as they where no longer loyal to him due to his cruelty, due to this King Shaka sent out his armies to force his people to grief for his mother.

Due to the absence of his army his bodyguard and his half brothers Dingane and Mhlanga assassinated him on 24 September 1828. They buried his body in a grain pit close by. Shaka didn’t have an heir and due to this his brother Dingane took over as King Dingane.

24 September was first known as "Shaka Day", however it wasn’t part of the national public holidays. "Shaka Day" is a day that the Zulu tribes celebrate in honour of the legacy of their Zulu King Shaka and till today with his death, King Shaka still unites his people on the 24 September yearly.
However the name was changed to Heritage Day in 1995 when the first democratically elected government decided to change it. The Inkatha Freedom Party opposed this as they have a great fellowship of Zulu supporters. However "Shaka Day" was used as a stepping-stone for Heritage day as King Shaka's "Shaka Day" united the Zulu Clans and Heritage day is about uniting South Africa as a Rainbow Nation.
Former President Nelson Mandela explained the change of name in his Heritage Speech of 1995; he said, “When our first democratically elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation. We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy."