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Shaka Zulu

Shaka (* around 1787 near today's place Melmoth in later Natal ; † September 22, 1828 in KwaDukuza , both in what is now South Africa ; Shaka Zulu , Shaka ka Senzangakhona , i.e. "Shaka, son of Senzangakhona") was a king of the Zulu . Under his rule, the Zulu rose from a small clan to a powerful people with power over much of what is now South Africa. Shaka owes his reputation as one of the outstanding kings of the Zulu to his success in overcoming his enemies militarily and his skill in integrating the subjugated.


Early years

Shaka was the (illegitimate) eldest son of Chief Senzangakhona ka Jama and Nandi, a daughter of a former chief of the Langeni tribe . Its name comes from the Zulu word iShaka, a beetle that has been blamed for irregularities in the female cycle . This name refers to its illegitimate origin: it was accidentally conceived in the practice of the uku-hlobonga , a type of petting that was a socially accepted form of sexual intercourse among young people. Denied by his father, Shaka spent the first six years of his life in his kraal , where he was teased by others. After the traditional animal sacrifice of a sheep, he and his mother were allowed to return to the Langeni, but they were not welcome either. Shaka did not forget this treatment and was later to receive terrible retribution. Eventually the two found shelter with Nandi's aunt, who belonged to the emDletsheni clan, which was ruled by the mighty tribe of the Mthethwa and their aging king Jobe. Jobe's successor was his son Dingiswayo (Godongwane).

When Shaka was 23 years old, his iNtanga (age group) was added to the iziCwe regiment, where Shaka served as a warrior for six years and distinguished himself through special courage, so that he eventually rose to the rank of war leader. Even at this point in time, his reputation as a warrior was legendary; his nicknames were "conqueror of the thousand" and "ornament of regiments". Dingiswayo had brought new concepts of military organization with him from the exile into which he had been sent as punishment for a failed coup against his father, in particular the impi (regiment) and the chain of command . Up until that time, most battles had been fought to resolve disputes. The new techniques changed the situation dramatically - the strengthened armies caused, among other causes, the mfecane , which consisted of conquests, refugee movements and the resulting devastating counter-attacks. Shaka improved military techniques both during his tenure under Dingiswayo and later to expand his own power among the Zulu.

Return to the Zulu

After Senzangakona's death, Dingiswayo helped Shaka defeat his brother Siguyana and, in 1816, take control of abakwaZulu, his father's tribe. His first act was revenge on the enemies of his childhood, many of whom he had staked . The Langeni, who had not helped him or his mother either, suffered the same fate. Shaka built a new king kraal, the kwaBulawayo ("place of killing"). At that time Shaka was ruler of about 1,500 tribesmen, of whom about 400 men formed the army. The tribal area covered about 15 square kilometers. Later, at the height of his power, Shaka would rule over 250,000 people and dominate an area 2,000 kilometers in diameter.

On his return he recognized Dingiswayo and the supremacy of the Mthethwa, but a year later he betrayed Dingiswayo to his archenemy Zwide , the king of the Ndwandwe clan from the north, who killed Dingiswayo and destroyed the rule of the Mthethwa. The small Zulu clan benefited from Shaka's divide -and- conquer strategy, as they began to fill the power vacuum.

Shaka tried to form an alliance against Zwide with the now scattered Mthethwa and the Qwabe. When the Qwabe refused, Shaka rallied his troops and defeated the Qwabe at the end of 1817. Shaka aimed to destroy those he could not assimilate. About 60 tribes suffered this fate in a short time. Soon Shaka had extended his dominion to half of Southeast Africa.

Civil war

The first major battle against Zwide of the Ndwandwe was the battle of Gqokli Hill , on Shaka's territory. Thanks to masterful tactics, he won the battle, even though the enemy force was twice as large as his own. However, his army was too small to inflict a decisive defeat on the Ndwandwe.

After that, these remained Shaka's main enemy, and in anticipation of the next attack, he had supplies built up. Knowing that in traditional warfare, the main kraal was set on fire to take out defenders, he made sure that food was stored so that it could be relocated in an emergency.

The following year, Zwide attacked again, but had to withdraw north again after a fruitless search for Shaka's main force and losses from devastating attacks. Ernest Augustus Ritter describes how Shaka from the army camp he had set up in a forest sends saboteurs to infiltrate the enemy. The slogan was "Are you Ndwandwe?", Followed by the answer "Yes, I am the real Ndwandwe". Middle of the night the spies stabbed in addition to them lying and raised a clamor that it was scary the warriors of the Ndwandwe, they lit bonfires and the night sleepless after the saboteurs camp by claiming that they had a magician on a hyena by seen riding the forest, left.

In the battle of the Mhlatuze , Shaka attacked Zwide's army in the middle of the transfer, so that the enemy forces were effectively divided and Zwide was defeated. Thereupon the Zulu hurried to the king's kraal of the enemy, uttered their songs of victory and subjugated the surprised Ndwandwe.

Mfecane - the crushing

The increased military efficiency meant that more and more clans were incorporated into the Zulu Empire, while other tribes migrated to be beyond the reach of Shaka's armies. The effect of these mass migrations, which has become known as Mfecane, led to the fact that, for example, today's amaNdebele people in far-away Zimbabwe derive their descent from Mzilikazi, one of Shaka's generals, who paid too little tribute to Shaka during a campaign. The poor moral condition of such refugee clans made it easy for the British and the Voortrekkers to subjugate them. Mfecane indirectly favored colonialism , which later culminated in the Zulu War .

Death and succession

When Shaka's mother Nandi died of an illness, Shaka had 7,000 of his subjects executed and ordered three months of starvation as a sign of mourning. This weakened his hold over the Zulu and gave a boost to his opponents. Shaka was stabbed to death by his half-brother and direct successor, Dingane, with the assistance of his Induna (advisor).

Only Shaka's successors carried out the military conflict with the colonial powers. In the late 19th century, the Zulu were one of the few African peoples who were temporarily able to assert themselves against the British Army (see Zulu War ). Since Shaka had always viewed offspring as potential rivals for power, he left no children. He had a harem of around 1,500 women, but these were mainly intended as barter items or gifts for other chiefs. The continuation of the bloodline was ensured by his half-brother and later successor Mpande and the Induna Ndlela kaSompisi .

Shaka's military revolution

Shaka adopted the military system that Dingiswayo had introduced. Shaka was dissatisfied with the use of the assegai , a traditional throwing skewer that the Zulu warriors wore three at a time - he saw no point in throwing away a weapon and considered it an act of cowardice. Ernest Augustus Ritter writes that Shaka visited the tribe's blacksmiths incognito, which were on the fringes of society, because the Zulu believed they were using human body fat for their work. He asked her to design a new weapon for him - the Iklwa , a short thrusting spear with a long blade at the tip. The name is an imitation of the sound that is made when the weapon is penetrated and withdrawn from the body. Shaka also introduced a larger, heavier cowhide shield, which was used to knock the opponent's shield aside to inflict a deadly stab of a spear. There had to be blood on the weapon after the battle, otherwise the warrior in question could be reproached for cowardice.

Shaka's armed forces, which were now housed in their own warrior kraals, were distinguished by their discipline and close combat strength. As the first chief, he introduced military training and even uniforms. To harden his men, Shaka got rid of the leather sandals and let them fight barefoot. Shaka's soldiers could travel over 50 miles in a single day and thus surprise their opponents. He forbade his soldiers to have sexual intercourse under penalty and even took six-year-olds as udibi (warrior apprentices) who carried provisions and weapons until they could join the fighting force themselves.

Before Shaka, South African warfare was characterized by mass attacks and the use of javelins. Sophisticated maneuvers were unknown. Shaka changed this by introducing his now famous fighting tactics, which he had adopted and developed from Dingiswayo. The Impi were divided into four groups who, during the battle, established an order in the shape of a bull's head. The strongest group formed the Isifuba (chest) and attacked the enemy head-on. The second and third groups formed the "horns" (Izimpondo) , which at the same time surrounded the opponents with a circular motion to prevent escape or retreat. The last group formed the reserve. Shaka himself observed the order of battle from an elevated spot and had orders delivered to the fighting groups by messengers.

Shaka's strategy in using these tactics was simple: his first attacks were aimed at smaller hordes and clans who were easy victims. He then gave the survivors the choice of either defending themselves with his forces or being killed. Those who decided to convert had to renounce their old tribal ties. They became Zulu, received training in the new fighting techniques and were integrated into the regiments. Shaka hated failure or showing fear and could be punished with death; Warriors who received negative feedback were dragged from the ranks on their return at the king's kraal and killed by beating or breaking their necks. On the other hand, victorious regiments were honored when they returned home, for example by giving them permission to marry.

Shaka turned South African warfare, which was previously heavily ritualized and aimed at minimal loss of life, into an instrument of subjugation through brutal slaughter. Estimates speak of up to a million victims of his wars. Half a century after Shaka's death, his tactics were still in use with the Zulu, which underpins his reputation as the most influential African military leader. He is also considered to be the founder of the idea of ​​a Zulu nation.

Although Shaka had already had contact with Europeans from the British Empire , he died before there was a military conflict with the foreign soldiers with their flintlock rifles. He had even given land to the British after they had given him medical treatment after an injury in 1824.


Shaka is one of the most famous characters from African history. For the Zulu, he remains a national hero: every September they celebrate “King Shaka Day”, which is celebrated with a ceremony at the memorial near Shaka's place of death in KwaDukuza. In the ideology of the Inkatha , a South African Zulu movement, he plays a central role as the founder of the nation.

Shaka appears as the central figure in the novel Nada the Lily (1892; German "Nada, the Lily") by Henry Rider Haggard . The subject is the tragic love of Umslopogaas, an illegitimate son of Shaka, for Nada, the most beautiful of the Zulu women.

In 1986 the first of two seasons of a television series called "Shaka Zulu" was created, which was based on the novel of the same name by Joshua Sinclair , who in turn relied on the oral history of the Zulu. The series was controversial because it was shot in South African locations while the apartheid regime was still boycotted around the world. " Shaka Zulu " was only broadcast in Germany from October to December 1986 by ZDF , in 1996 by the Berlin local broadcaster Puls TV and since 2002 in the premiere series several times.

"Shaka Zulu" is also the title of an LP recorded in 1987 by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and produced by Paul Simon .

The two-part feature film "Shaka Zulu - The Citadel" (German: "The Warrior - Shaka Zulu") with David Hasselhoff , Grace Jones and Omar Sharif , directed by Joshua Sinclair, was released on video in 2001. It is only loosely based on historical facts; its plot is largely fictitious.

In the six parts of the computer game series Sid Meier's Civilization and in the console offshoot Civilization Revolution , the Zulu under Shaka are one of the playable civilizations.

The story of Shaka ka Senzangakhona also inspired the South African automobile manufacturer Advanced Automotive Design , which registered the name Shaka as a brand. Established vehicles under the brand name are the Shaka Nynya roadster and the Shaka Giotto sports coupé .

In African literature the motif of Shaka myth was repeated seized. An early novel published in sub-Saharan Africa was Thomas Mofolos Chaka Zulu . Other well-known authors who received the Shaka myth were u. a. Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), Seydou Badian Kouyaté (Mali), Djibril Tamsir Niane (Guinea), Tchicaya U Tam'si (Congo), Marouba Fall (Senegal) and Agbota Zinsou (Togo).


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Alexia Vassilatos: The transculturation of Thomas Mofolo's Chaka . In: Tydskrif vir Letterkunde . tape 53 , no. 2 , 2016, ISSN  0041-476X , p. 161–174 , doi : 10.17159 / tvl.v.53i2.13 ( [accessed March 23, 2018]).
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 5, 2005 .