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9 things you didn’t know about Shaka Zulu

Shaka Zulu is the most famous African ruler to ever walk South African soil. Popular stereotypes imposed on the modern-day Zulu people continue to be influenced by facts and myths about Shaka. We all know that Shaka remodeled the assegai, turning a long, throwing weapon into a much more effective, short stabbing one. Now QINISO MBILI shares some lesser-known facts about the Zulu king.

1. Illegitimate child
It’s believed the founder of the Zulu clan was conceived through what started out as ukuhlobonga, a sexual act without actual penetration, allowed to unmarried couples, during which Senzangakhona and Nandi got carried away. As a consequence to his illegitimacy, Shaka was raised in his mother’s settlements. He was trained and served as a warrior under Dingiswayo, chief of the Mthethwa clan.

2. Sgidi, not Shaka
Senzangakhona, his father, never called his son Shaka. He named him Sgidi and the child resented being called Shaka. The name he would eventually become known by was a reference to his illegitimacy. Nandi’s clan at first refused to believe she could be pregnant, as she was not married, and instead thought her pregnancy symptoms to be the result of a disease known as “utshaka”.

3. Curiosity drove him
Shaka was a curious person. He wanted to know how things worked, whatever the cost. Besides the infamous event in which Shaka sliced a live pregnant woman’s belly open to see how the unborn baby occupied that space, historians claim he once ordered a man’s eyes to be taken out so that he could observe how the man would adapt to his new circumstances. He also planned to send one of his most loyal men, Sotobe, overseas to England to learn more about the British invaders and their weaponry. But Sotobe only made it as far as the Cape Colony and returned after Shaka’s death.

4. Shaka the traveller
Shaka was fond of traveling. It is reported that he sat very little indoors and travelled the country by foot. Many places known today in KwaZulu-Natal were named according to Shaka’s first interactions with them, for example he found the water of Amanzimtoti “sweet or tasty”, he survived an assassination attack at the place now known as KwaDukuza (“dukuza” is isiZulu for  lightly stabbing), and many people from his tribe were grabbed (in isiZulu “phanga”) by crocodiles at the place known as Mpangeni.

Shaka Zulu 1 [wikimedia]5. Spartan approach to his people
His capital kraal was called KwaBulawayo, which means “where they are killed”. People deemed unfit to live were brought to KwaBulawayo to be killed off. These included short men, deemed useless as they would not be able to see approaching enemy impi (warriors) from afar; troops who had wounds in their backs after a battle, as this meant they’d been running away; and anyone who went against his will.

6. How Shaka grew the Zulu clan
Shaka sought to change things that did not make sense to him. He was a singleminded dictator who killed thousands of people, some of them his own, for the sake of unifying the Zulu tribes. He used warfare to achieve his political agenda and to instill fear and respect for his rule. Tribes like the Mkhize, Sithole and Luthuli were won over through patronage and reward rather than war and intimidation, and the chiefs of tribes who surrendered to him were made Izinduna – commanders in his own tribe. Unifying the people of Zululand took him about 10 years, during which time Shaka exponentially expanded the Zulu clan.

7. Respect for a select few
Few men were allowed to challenge Shaka’s decisions. One of them was Ngqengelele kaMvuyana, a Buthelezi who had arrived as a stranger to Mthaniya’s place but was later adopted and gradually earned Shaka’s respect. Another wasShaka’s protégé, Zulu kaNogandaya, who had almost equal rights to Shaka. Zulu kaNogandaya could do as he pleased with Shaka’s support, and was one of few people who ate with Shaka. (No one else had the courage or rank to do so.)

8. Anti-marriage stance
Shaka prevented his troops, even old men, from marrying, as he believed that marital affairs would weaken the men’s combat skills. He would claim that he was saving them from the evils present in marriage.

9. Killed by a servant
Although it is popularly believed Shaka was killed by his half-brothers, an oral testimony in the James Stuart archive suggests Shaka was killed by, or at the direction of, Mbopha, a servant who sought to avenge his mother’s death at Shaka’s hands. At the time of his death, Shaka ruled over 250,000 people. White adventurers met Shaka only in the last four years of his life.

– Further reading: James Stuart Archive and Myth of Iron: Shaka in History by Dan Wylie.
– Images by Jacob Truedson Demitz for Ristesson History and James King, both via Wikimedia Commons
23 Comments
  1. Jose says

    I love this story. It is a pity so few have tried to understand this character. at one point he controled so much. From the Pongola River in the north to Tugela in the south.

  2. Richard says

    This is revisionist bs. Shaka was a killer and you all know it. I don’t see how this article fixes anything.

    1. Shawn says

      Now what regime hasn’t killed in the name of power, why does this seem to fly over head. So the English settlers did not kill to get what they want.

  3. Xaba says

    Shaka’s history has been distorted a lot by colonizers who used his story to miseducated Southern Africans about their real history… He was Imbube/Induna yezikhali and served under King Menzi the true founder of the Zulu nation. Menzi placed Senzangakhona as the protector of the nation and when he rejected his son, it was Menzi’s wife who raised Shaka – he is still today known or referred to as “uNodumehlezi kaMenzi” literally meaning he gained fame by residing in Menzi’s home. Menzi had a son he named Nkayishana. If you do your research you will know that amaZulu refer to themselves as “abeNkayishana kaMenzi” literally meaning they belong to the son of Menzi; Nkayishana – even the current Zulu monarch’s clan praise refers to that. I can go on and on about this but the point is

    HISTORY WRITTEN OR CAPTURED BY COLONIZERS HAS BEEN DISTORTED TO SUIT THEM AND THEIR MISSION TO MISEDUCATE AND EVENTUALLY TAKE OVER OUR BEAUTIFUL CONTINENT.

    1. Vuyisile says

      Uyishaye eskhonkosini mfo ka Xaba … colonizers distorted everything you can think of about black

    2. Thuthuka says

      Hawu! Menzi and Senzangakhona is the same person my brother. Also Shaka was called Sigidi later in his life because he deemed to rule over millions “isigidi”.

      1. Mbuso Xaba says

        Menzi and Senzangakhona are not the same person uMenzi ubaba ozala uNkay’shane since kuthiwa uNkay’shane ka Menzi and uShaka is known to be called uShaka ka Senzangakhona so this explains that uShaka grew up under the sandla sika Menzi not under his father since Shaka is called u”Nodumehlezi ka Menzi”……Thuthuka do some research mfethu

    3. Bilal says

      Thank you, the evil European settlers destroyed south Africa and are still destroying the world, they are the filth, distort the truth about everything, first Africa and The true America, now it’s the Middle East, the scum the filth.

      1. Bilal says

        When I looked at your comment Brother Bilal. It was as if I wrote it.
        Your name and mine is not only the same but our thinking are also alike.

    4. Nkayishana ka Menzi's House says

      African Royal King: Menzi “Pete” Xaba is the father to the Royal King: Nkayishana “King Moshoeshoe I” Xaba father to Nkwankwini “Moshe” Xaba who is the brother to Mpangele “Aron” Xaba the biological father to King Dinizulu “INkayishana encane kaMenzi” Xaba who is the father of Princess Magogo who is the biological mother to Prince: Dr Mangosuthu G Buthelezi (IFP Leader)

      Royal King: Nkayishana “King Moshoeshoe I” was buried alive chained both hands and legs by the White People on the 5th of May 1603 Friday and that day was celebrated till date as “Good Friday” meaning the Royal King position was led by the African Royal King (Black person) and the Royal Queen position led and still in hands of Royal Queen (White People)

      The African Royal King: Menzi “Pete” Xaba is also the founder of the so called “Royal Education” which later known as “OBE/ CAPS”. The Xaba surname was Qaba before it became Xaba due to the fact that Xaba people are the San/ Khoisan aka Abathwa as some of you know them as “Abathwa baka Menzi”

      The Xaba Royal Kingdom position consists of the three (3) Royal Kingdom seats namely:

      a) ISilo: Menzi/ Nkayishana
      b) IBhubesi: Royal King-Menzi appointed Langalibalele Hadebe to lead that department
      &
      c) IMbube: Royal King-Menzi appointed Shaka kaSenzangakhona aka “uNodumehlezi kaMenzi” to lead that department later under the leadership of Goodwill Zwelithini Lifelolenja not Zulu (His hidden surname)

      Several Xaba men, women, children were kidnapped to America and other countries and those who went to America were humiliated so hard in order to force them change their original XABA surname into a new surname “Jackson” (Jack is the most powerful tool on earth and Son-people/ Nation) which existed as from 1603 till date. The White people did their best to destroy Xaba Royal Kingdom and spread false history about this royal family.

      Please allow me to leave here it long and painful but thanks God we are the Peace Ambassadors among other existing Nations on planet. Today on the 19th of August 2017 our Royal King: Nkayishana “King Moshoeshoe I” Xaba is making the 414 years buried alive chained both hands and legs.

      The White led Government knew about this
      The Black led Government knew and know about this (From Hon. PW Botha to Hon. Pres-JG Zuma

      Shwele….

      1. Smish Gararo says

        how can I get hold of you Man… that history make sense to me

    5. Mzwandile Mbambo says

      Mhh thank you so much Mnumzane Xaba

  4. Hubhu kaBhejane says

    This is all bull,Senzangakhona named Shaka Mandlesilo not Sigidi,it was he uShaka who use to call himself uSigidi and uMenzi was Senzangakhonas alias hence ebizwa uNodumehlezi kaMenzi,plus uMbopha was a member of the royal house eGazini branch he is uMbopha kaSithayi kaGanganana kaNdaba kaPhunga noMageba.do research first then write.sibonge…thank you

    1. Thuthuka says

      Aw bru don’t say it’s bull. Just correct, offer your own version and substantiate

  5. Baakstena says

    Menzi was Senzangakhona,and Nkayishana is isilo Maphumuzana kaDinuzulu kaCetshwayo kaMpande kaSenzangakhona kaJama kaNdaba,n yes uMbopha was not a commoner he was from the royal family.

  6. Smish Gararo says

    Qiniso It is again believed that Shaka was a highly educated Man according to one of the Rastafarian on my Radio Show Who I interviewed. He said Shaka new how to make a weapon using a metal, we both know that a metal need to be mined and be heated with a higher amount of heat so it could give you the shape of a spear. When we look back on modern history we get to know that we had we are the 1st people in Africa to have Universities e.g Sankore at Timbuktu which will make it believe that the physics He used to discover all the intelligence wouldn’t come from the dark. I find it hard to believe the history they telling Us about Shaka. Less not give up with the research

  7. Nomonde Zulu says

    Shu, kwaze kwakuhle ukubona abantu bakuthi bedingida loludaba olubabulekile ezweni, if only such debates could be organised properly and documented so that kuzotholakala okuyikhona. Ngib’hlungu nje ukuthi I didn’t grow up emakhaya and got a chance to hear more stories zasemandulo, this is what our rich history should be, what our kids learn, hhayi lendaba yo hitler bale egermany, Africa has a rich history, nomib’hlungu yiyona eyodilamulela ku this on going white supremacy, uma izingane zethu zifunda ngabantu abayenza ihistory plus babebam’nyama njengabo ngiyasho kuningi kuyoshitsa for the better for our people…..

  8. Gedeza says

    I really wanted to know the exact undiluted history of UShaka kaSenzangakhona but I’m even more confused. Uma kungukuthi uMenzi wakhulisa uShaka, kanti uDingiswayo Mthethwa yena wennzani? Ngoba kwezinye izincwadi kuthiwa nguye owabumba iLembe. Kusamele kengibheke ngoMenzi

  9. OkaMthaniya says

    Umlando wethu wamosheka. Our history was twisted eons ago. I love the history of my people but now how do we know who to believe? I wish King Zwelithini can give his version of the story as I think it will be closest to the truth.

  10. OkaMthaniya says

    The Xaba version of this history is really confusing

  11. Bambatha says

    One can understand the confusion because most of our history is oral and there are myths, believes and folktale. To truly understand most of our history one needs to verify through collobrating strories with or from other clans and tribes for instance the training of Shaka by Moshoeshoe is collaborated by most oral history of BaSotho clans hence his impi/ibutho (soldiers) were called uSuthu olumabhesh’ankone and the story that Sithole’s were associated by patronage to Shaka’s kingdom is collaborated by the story told by our [Sithole’s] forefathers when they relate the meeting of Shaka and Jobe when Shaka was after Mzilikazi.

  12. Njqbulo Mathonsi says

    Yebo , Nina be Dlovu enamandla
    Bakhona o Mtaka, Usolwazi Maphalala
    Ukuthola iqiniso eliphelele ngo Shaka Zulu

  13. Wiseman Makhoba says

    What I do not agree with is that, King Shaka was helped by the whites to conquer King Zwide of Nxumalo . This is what I saw in the movie “Shaka Zulu” . Can someone please elaborate.

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