This Unit takes you deep into the Zulu kingdom and the reign of Shaka Zulu. Read more to find out more about that.


Shaka was an illegitement son of Senzangakona, chief of the Zulu clan. He was born in 1773 and brought up among his maternal uncles where he and Nandi his mother had been sent to stay. He had an un happy childhood and this caused him to be indifferent to human suffering.

He later grew up into a highly intelligent strong and ambitious man. He soon joined one of Dingiswayo`s regiments from where he displayed his qualities as good and able leaders. Dingiswayo was in serious conflict with Zwide and this forced him to set up a standing army which he divided into regiments.

When Shaka`s father died, Dingiswayo offered help to Shaka to take over the Zulu chief township.

Eventually, he defeated his brother Sigujana (half-brother) and this part the Zulu chiefdom entirely in his hands.

In about 1817, Dingiswayo was ambushed and killed by Zwido`s soldiers. Shaka who had already become reputable ndmilitary leader successfully exploited this political vacuum and proclaimed himself the undisputable leader of the Mthewa chiefdom. He went on an expansion campaign to get new areas and thus a Shaka nation.


The rise of the Zulu nation was one of the most important events in the history of South Africa. The rise of Shaka can be regarded as the foundation of the political independence of the Zulu. After defeating his rival, Shaka reorganized the Zulu army and introduced the following changes;

  1. Outstanding war leaders known as Nguna appointed to lead the regiments.
  2. He created a standing army that consisted of professional full time soldiers who earned their living solely by fighting for the state.
  • He reorganized the age regiments and put them in different strategic parts of the kingdom.
  1. He ordered the warriors to live in special military settlements (camps) under an appointed Indule.
  2. More efficient military battle tactics were introduced i.e. he replaced the old thrown spear with a short stabbing spear known as a Assegai. This made it easy to have a hand combat with the enemy which increased efficiency.
  3. He introduced the cow horn method of fighting. By this method, the enemy would be enriched and destroyed.
  • He put great emphasis and discipline under conditions of severe stress and leadership. Soldiers could only marry from contemporary female regiments and only if Shaka had endorsed.
  • Women were put in regiments to act as spies , provide wives for soldiers and to work in the gardens.
  1. Indunas were promoted and appointed on the basis of their military powers. They administered all government policies.
  2. Young girls and boys were recruited or to carry weapons and a lot of house work or household chores.
  3. Shaka controlled the economy; he was to become the wealthiest man in the state with thousands of cattle and many women.
  • The king was the high priest; he controlled rain makers, witch doctors, and initiators of rituals.
  • He abolished the traditions customs like circumcision which affected young men at a time when they were needed for fighting.
  • He trained his soldiers to become fit so as to be able to walk long distances and fight.
  1. Shaka`s policy was to defeat and incorporate as many societies as his army would across. By 1824, the Zulu empire had expanded stretching from North of river Tugela to a point near Delegao bay.
Shaka Zulu
Shaka Zulu: African Hero And One Of Greatest Military Leaders Of All Time


After Zwide had defeated and killed Dingswayo, Shaka began to recruit followers, conquered more tribes of Mthethwa.

He installed his own nominees; this was a threat to Zwide territory so he attacked Shaka ata the battle of Aqokoli hills. The Ndwandwe were defeated.

In 1818, Zwide sent his whole army into the Zulu territory. Shaka decided to withdraw his people and cattle further in Zulu land and use scotched earth policy as well as Guerilla tactics.

Zwide`s forces then advanced nearly as far as River Tugela. Shaka`s military regiments followed the Ndwandwe to the frontiers of their territory and the banks of the Mhlatuze river. Shaka attacked and won the battle against the Ndwandwe who were now starved and weak.

After defeating the Ndwandwe, the devastated Ndwandwe fled, 1st group moved to river Mkomoti under Zwide and built a new following.

2nd group led by Shashangune and they fled and established a kingdom of Gaza in Mozambique.

3rd group led by Zwangendaba fled north into Mozambique and later East Africa. Shaka eliminated all serious rivals and fought against all those in the area were devastated.

He fought against Ndwandwe who were now under Sinkonyele and had renamed themselves. Tiokwa in 1826 fought the Bele in 1826-27.

The Pondo who lived between Umzikulu and Umzimruba rivers were defeated by Shaka in 1828 and all their cattle was taken by the Zulu.

By his death which occurred in 1828, he had established a large state stretching from Drankensburg north of river Tugela to the point near Delegao bay.



  1. Shaka showed courage in the battle which made it possible for him to add new areas under his influence.
  2. He transformed age regiments into permanent military regiments each regiment had its own colour thus unity.
  3. The Indunas were not allowed to hold meetings without Shaka`s approval so they couldnot plot to over throw him.
  4. He used scorched earth policy to deny the enemies food and shelter and this wavered them in the process.
  5. Soldiers retired from active military service contributed to reserve military force for emergencies.


  • Loss of lives since Shaka created his kingdom through military conquest.
  • There was famine thus affected both the soldiers and the people. This was because Shaka was using scorch earth policy in his conquest.
  • There was destruction of people`s property.
  • The conquered people abandoned their culture and adopted the Zulu type because Shaka absorbed conquered people into age regiments.
  • Some neighbouring states for example Ndwandwe, Mthethwa were defeated. They lost their independence and were incorporated into the Zulu state which later became Amazulu staff.
  • The other states which were not completely defeated became tributary states which had to show their loyalty through payment in tribute form through cattle and women to Shaka.
  • The neighbouring states learnt Shaka`s military tactics and were able to defend themselves against Shaka`s expansion wars with these tactics.
  • Some people migrated to other parts of Africa for example East and Central Africa with the Ngoni. They were trying to flee from insecurity caused by Shaka`s activities.
  • Use of Shaka`s Military tactics increased the scale of warfare to more deadly level. These wars were meant for acquisition of more land settlement and grazing.
  • Trade was disrupted and hence the economy was affected due to endless wars.
  • The creation of Zulu kingdom brought about the period of Mfecane.



  • The kingdom was divided into provinces and districts. Each province was ruled by a military leader (Induna).
  • The king was almost the absolute monarch although he had a tribal council to advise him
  • The king was the final court of appeal, high priest, and source of laws as well as commander in chief.
  • The king supplied arms, shields and spears to his army.
  • Through different wars of conquest, new areas were acquired and formed other provinces of the Zulu state.
  • During Shaka`s reign, he nominated his own traditional chiefs and tribal council.
  • The kingdom was ruled as a military state with an army as a very important political instrument. Any promotion to the political office was through the army.
  • They had an age regiment system made up of males in the same age group. In the regiment, men from all over the kingdom were put together to form the armed force. This was done to ensure unity within the kingdom.
  • They also raided for women, cattle and goats.
  • It was a centralized kingdom.
  • Shaka refused his warriors to get married until they would retire from the army at the age of 40 yrs.


  • Society was based on age grades system. People of the same age formed an age regiment (both men and women) irrespective ceremonies for example 1st fruit festival which inaugurated the agricultural year.
  • The king controlled all the rain makers and witch doctors in the kingdom.
  • Conquered people were wholly integrated and learnt the culture and language of the Zulu.
  • The Zulu believed in many gods and ancestral worship. Initiation ceremonies were held to mark the entrance of boys into manhood.
  • Circumcision was abolished due to military and security reasons.


  • The economy was highly centralized. The king owned all the land and distributed it. Each military settlement housed some royal herds from which cattle were got to be distributed to the loyal subjects.
  • Cattle captured during raids were kept in a Kraal in the military tours. Food production was controlled by the king to enable the state feed the soldiers.
  • External trade was the monopoly of the king especially trade with Delegao bay in which beads, cloth, glass were got in exchange for Ivory, skins and feathers.
  • The age regiments were economic units. The women and girls in those regiments carried out agriculture and grew millet from which they made beer. They also grew beans.
  • The economy was sustained by raids to accumulate wealth. They mainly raided cattle, slaves and women. Zulu carried out iron working and produced hoes, spears and arrow heads.

ASSIGNMENT : THE SHAKA REIGN assignment MARKS : 10  DURATION : 1 week, 3 days

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