Shaka the Zulu King and Military Genius

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One of the most fascinating leaders of early Africa was Shaka, born in 1786 and died in 1828. Some people have called him a conqueror and despot. His story was that of being brought-up the hard way. His mother Nandi, who was seduced by a chieftain called Senzangakhona, was broiled in scandal about their love affair. When the chief of Elangeni, closely related to the Zulu clan, died, he left one his children, a strong-willed Nandi orphaned, caught the eye of Senzangakhona. They could not get married because Senzangakhona’s mother was from the Elangeni people, and he already had two wives. Nonetheless, as a chieftain, he had no qualms flirting and flaunting the rule of exogamy respected among the clans. Shaka’s father and mother were blood relatives, and their relationship was frowned-upon by both clans. When Nandi became pregnant, the clan was feeling humiliated because they had expected that the chief would show better judgement. When Shaka’s mother asked the chief senzangakhona to send for her, the elders sent back a word that this was not a case of pregnancy but that her child was an ‘ishaka’ (a convenient intestinal beetle on whom menstrual irregularities were usually blamed) The chief sent fro her and made her his third wife around 1787. The presence of Nandi created a lot of friction around the kraal.

As a growing-up herdboy, Shaka lost a pet goat of his father, and his father, because of the pressure from the clan, sent her packing along with Shaka and his sister, back to her Elangeni people. Their stay with her mother’s people was very disastrous for all them. They eLangeni people felt disgraced by her and they were forced to return the chiefs dowry, and her stubborn personality did not help better their situation whilst living with them. For the next ten years, Shaka looked after the cattle and was abused, taunted, beaten and tormented by his peers. They used to make fun of is crinkly ears and his short and stumpy phallus. He grew up alone, fatherless and very bitter. He was intelligent, and this was fueled by the abuse and meanness around him to make himself better. He was also conscious of his royal blood and the ordinariness of his tormentors. He retained a deadly hatred for the people of Elangeni until his death. They would later regret it very much, because Shaka never forgot about it.

He grew up to become a very hardened and unfeeling person. In the 1802 a heavy famine struck the area and they were thrown out of the people of Elangeni, and his mother too, was seen as quarrelsome, both were turned adrift, they went to live Shaka’s grandfather, Gedeyana. He grew into puberty and was beginning to show signs of physical prowess, and both the Zulus and the eLangeni people vied for his return and services where, because of more family strife, they chased them out. Finally, Shaka’s father, asked a headman of the Mtetwa clan, Ngomane, to give them a home, which Ngomane did, and was very kind to Shaka and his mother and sister. Shaka never forgot that, and when he became the supreme ruler of the Zulu people, he made Ngomane his second in command. It has been told that only two people mattered and were loved by Shaka, his mother and Ngomane. After seven years living with Ngomane, Shaka was put into the service of Dingiswayo, a famous Mtetwa chief, and when his father, Senzangakhona wanted him, and Shaka was due for his puberty ceremony, Shaka’s arrogance and hostility caused them to have a very serious and horrible quarrel.

Shaka grew to six feet and three inches, and he earned his first cow for killing a leopard on a tree. He learned how to throw a light spear. He did not like the light throwing spear, so he redesigned it into an offensive weapon, with a sort handle and a broad blade. His shield was also made and offensive weapon of his shield, hooking with it left edge over the left edge of his opponents shield, spin his foe to the right with a powerful backhand sweep, Shaka’s left was covered, and his opponent off balance and askew, could find no opening for his spear, hampered by his own shield which has been dragged across his front. The shield dragged the left arm over with it and turned his left armpit to Shaka, who could sink his spear in it in a movement that was a natural continuation of the shield hooking. As the victim slid off the assegai blade, Shaka would shout, “Ngadla!(I have eaten).” He threw away his ox-hide sandals, he hardened his feet on rocks and thorns, which added to his speed and surety of his footing in battle. These were the technique he developed earlier on, and he would later apply them to his Zulu army.

The Zulu War Mean Machine

Under the Mtetwa clan, as a young soldier and leader, Shaka defeated and slew The Buthelezi Clan under Pungashe. He was awarded with a herd of cattle and was given charge of the Izicwe. He was also allowed to partake in the councils where they re-made the policy for military expeditions, and he taught his army ho to advance with their shields held at a proper angle at a proper angle. He created the Udibi , boys who were fifteen or sixteen, and they were used to herd the cattle. One to every three warriors were assigned the role of carrying sleeping mats, cooking pots, extra assegai and small amounts of grain and water. Senzangakhona was summoned to the court of Dingiswayo and it was suggested to him to make Shaka the chief after his death, at that time Senzangakhona was old and fat. But is great wife, Mkabai, dissuaded him into appointing Shaka, and she suggested her eldest son to be chief-Senzangakhona agreed with her. In the Council with Mtetwa, Shaka was now known as a ferocious warrior, but in the council knew him as a sage, giving sound and quiet advice which Dingiswayo, the Mtetwa chief approved-of. Shaka’s concern was with the morale of his soldiers, a trait he learned from Dingiswayo and passed-on to his soldiers. When Senzangakhona died in 1816, Dingiswayo sent Shaka(who was now twenty-nine) to the Zulu kraals with a strong regiment of Izicwe . When the Great Wife put her son on the throne, Shaka came, had him killed and took the reins of a clan that had not seen him since he was six(more or less a quarter century had passed) and he rebuild the nation into one of the most powerful nations on earth. It was at this time, Shaka’s younger half brother, Dingane, came along to dispute the chieftainship. Shaka met him and did not kill him, which was one of the most fatal mistakes Shaka ever made.

Shaka built a new kraal which he called kwaBulawayo(at place of He Who Kills, or the Killing Place). He improved the material culture and social system of the Zulus. Shaka started building the Zulu Army from scratch. He formed Izicwe into a standard formation requiring four groups, and these four tactical groups could be formed into numerous subdivisions. The strongest of these was the “chest,” the one that closed in once onto the enemy and held it fast. The other two were the “horns” that surrounded the enemy until their tips met The fourth group was the reserve and known as the “loins,” and they were placed behind the chest and remained seated with their backs to the fight so as not to become excited. This all depended on several movements which were carried-out over broken ground at top speed, silently while maintaining perfect formation and alignment. He then let the Izicwe to go back to the Mtetwas and proceeded to form the Amawombe composed of old men with head rings and married. He allowed them to keep their wives but built them a new kraal (by then he had executed and persecuted all those who had treated him and his mother, and abused him in his childhood,and those who treated Nandi badly Nandi, and had called him an iShaka). T he thirty year olds with a headring but not yet married were banded together and called uJubingqwana (The of the Headring Ukase), made them shave and they were made boys again). The rest of the mature men were created into a regiment, and since they were not so many, were brigaded into the izimPohlo (Bachelor boys’ Brigade) Those who were left, were the herdboys who were fresh from the years tending cows and sheep, and the youngest of the bachelors, who had just come from being herdboys themselves, and he fashioned the uFasimba (The Haze and or Shaka’s Own). These were the soldiers he trained in the methods of fighting he used earlier on in his career. He greatly relied on them and they became a prototyped for all the regiments he created thereafter. Shaka drilled his men very hard, taught them movements until they could cover fifty miles in a day. He made his army discard the sandals from cow skin. It is reported that European soldiers could cover up to fifteen miles on a paved road in a day. Shaka always led by example, and his soldiers learned songs and war cries, made various ornaments fashioned from feathers and fur, thus creating their own uniforms. Shaka never married.

He started attacking the smaller clans and rounded up all the young men. Most of them submitted without a fight. He used many deceitful techniques like bunching his army, and made his men carry their shields which made the enemy think they were few in number until when the horns raced out, then the men turned their shields towards the enemy, and his army would seem to double in an instant. His army would smash into the enemy, who when they ran into the women and children standing nearby to watch the fight, they would be butchered there too. By 1817, Shaka had grown and increased the Zulu population to four times its size. When he started, his army was made of 350 men. Now he had 2,000 trained men and those in uFasimba numbered more than 800 men. He did not allow three of his regiments to marry and they were forced into celibacy. Shaka, by then, was able to form other regiments provided for by the captives his four regiments. The ranks of his army swelled, and they still retained their original names. As the newcomers were incorporated into the Zulu army, they were subjected to Zulu drill and discipline.

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