Shaka kaSenzangakhona, also famously known as Shaka Zulu, was born into the small clan of Zulus in 1787 near Melmoth in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Shaka was a great Zulu king and conqueror. He is one of the very important figures of black history. While still a young child, Shaka's father drove him and his mother out of the village. They were disgraced and had to seek refuge with another clan. He grew up to be tall and strong and was a natural leader among the boys due to his physical abilities as well as being smarter and more ambitious. His ambitions and talent helped him to go on to become one of the most renowned leaders to emerge from this region. It has been argued that Shaka changed the nature of warfare in Southern Africa. A great deal is written about Shaka's military innovations. Such as the iklwa - the Zulu thrusting spear, a larger and heavier shield, and the buffalo horns formation.
The only known official drawing of Shaka Zulu
So what can we learn from his deeds to grow as a person and community?
Shaka Zulu was born to parents who were not yet married according to the traditional custom. He and his mother were subjected to the persecution and humiliation as a result of the illegitimacy. However, in addition to being strong and tall, Shaka was also very smart and ambitious. He wanted to rule over the other boys who had bullied him as a child. He dreamed he would be a chief someday. He did indeed go on to become an able and inspiring leader of men and successfully command an army and expand his territory. Along with his strength it was his intelligence and military acumen that helped him achieve success of the kind not previously known in that region.
A Great Warrior
After facing persecution from his father's clan, Shaka and his mother became part of the clan of a powerful chief named Dingiswayo which is where Shaka was able to train as a warrior. Shaka was able to discover ways to improve fighting technique. He found that taking off his sandals and fighting barefooted helped him be more agile and made him feel tougher. Shaka then began to move around barefooted at all places in order to toughen up his feet. He also was able to get a blacksmith design for him a better spear which could be used in hand to hand combat as well as being thrown. Shaka used his courage, strength, and unique fighting methods to emerge as one of the fiercest warriors in the clan. He was soon able to rise as the commander of the army.
Once Shaka was able to rise to power, he began reorganizing the forces of his people according to the ideas he had developed while still a warrior. Shaka had noted that the traditional spear, the long-handled assegai that was thrown from some distance, was not good enough in the organized fighting in close formation that he had thought of. A group of warriors who held on to their spears instead of throwing them, and who moved right up to the enemy behind the shelter of a barrier of shields would have its opponents at its mercy and would be able to accomplish a truly dominating victory. Having proved the advantages of these new tactics, Shaka armed his warriors with short-handled stabbing spears and trained them to move up to their opponents in close formation with their body-length cowhide shields forming an almost impenetrable barrier to anything thrown at them. He mostly preferred a crescent-shaped formation. A number of regiments extending several ranks deep formed a dense body known as the chest, while on each side a regiment moved forward forming the horns. As the horns curved inward around the enemy, the main body would advance killing all those who could not break through the encompassing lines.
With thorough drilling and discipline, Shaka built up his forces, which soon became the terror of the land. Shaka prohibited the wearing of sandals, toughened his warriors' feet by making them run barefoot over rough thorny ground and in so doing secured their greater mobility. His war cry was `Victory or death!' and he kept his army of men on continuous military campaigns until he thought they had earned the right to wear the headring of manhood. Then they were formally dissolved and allowed to marry.
Economic and Social Changes
The development of the military system resulted in some noteworthy economic and social changes. With so many youth located at the royal barracks, it resulted in a major transfer of economic activity and potential to a very centralized state. However, the cattle wealth of the entire community in the whole kingdom was also vastly improved. Even though most of the cattle herds were owned by the king and his chiefs and indunas, all shared in the pride roused by the magnificence of the royal herds as well as the pride of belonging to the unequalled military power of Zulu.
The growth of the Zulu Empire under the reign of Shaka (1818-1826)
Shaka continued to train and build his army. He conquered many of the surrounding chiefdoms. At one point Shaka had a well-trained army of around 40,000 soldiers. Shaka was a strong and commanding leader. He was one of the many proud manifestations of black power.