Shaka Zulu is said to be one of the Greatest military leaders in African history, and possibly all history.
As with most iconic figures in African History, there is controversy around the brutality of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, popularly known as Shaka Zulu’s methods, and the strictness with which he trained his troops, but in many ways, he improved warfare methods forever.
According to tradition, Shaka was conceived during an act of what began as ukuhlobonga, a form of sexual foreplay without penetration allowed to unmarried couples, also known as “the fun of the roads” (ama hlay endlela), during which the lovers were “carried away”. Due to persecution as a result of his illegitimacy, Shaka spent his childhood in his mother’s settlements. In his early days, Shaka served as a warrior under the sway of Dingiswayo.
In the initial years Shaka had neither the influence nor reputation to compel any but the smallest of groups to join him. As Shaka became more respected by his people, he was able to spread his ideas with greater ease. Because of his background as a soldier, Shaka taught the Zulus that the most effective way of becoming powerful quickly was by conquering and controlling other tribes. His teachings greatly influenced the social outlook of the Zulu people. The Zulu tribe soon developed a “warrior” mindset, which Shaka turned to his advantage.
Shaka’s hegemony was primarily based on military might, smashing rivals and incorporating scattered remnants into his own army. He supplemented this with a mixture of diplomacy and patronage, incorporating friendly chieftains, including Zihlandlo of the Mkhize, Jobe of the Sithole, and Mathubane of the Thuli. These peoples were never defeated in battle by the Zulu; they did not have to be. Shaka won them over by subtler tactics, such as patronage and reward.
Shaka granted permission to Europeans to enter Zulu territory on rare occasions. In the mid-1820s Henry Francis Fynn provided medical treatment to the king after an assassination attempt by a rival tribe member hidden in a crowd. To show his gratitude, Shaka permitted European settlers to enter and operate in the Zulu kingdom. This would open the door for future British incursions into the Zulu kingdom that were not so peaceful. Shaka observed several demonstrations of European technology and knowledge, but held that the Zulu way was superior to that of the foreigners.
Shaka Zulu’s half-brothers, appear to have made at least two attempts to assassinate Shaka before they succeeded, with perhaps support from Mpondo elements, and some disaffected iziYendane people. While the British colonialists considered his regime to be a future threat, allegations that European traders wished him dead were problematic given that Shaka had granted concessions to Europeans prior to his death, including the right to settle at Port Natal (now Durban). Shaka had made enough enemies among his own people to hasten his demise. It came relatively quickly after the death of his mother Nandi in October 1827, and the devastation caused by Shaka’s subsequent erratic behaviour.
Shaka Zulu was the creator of a revolutionary warfare style