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Birth of Zulu Empire by Shaka Zulu

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After succeeding the throne in 1816, Shaka KaSenzangakhona wanted to create the Zulu Empire. In order to achieve this, Shaka implemented a military conquest which to a large extent provided base for an expansion of the empire. This essay will give an explanation of why Shaka’s legacy remains deeply contentious.

Shaka Zulu was born in Natal, South Africa in 1785 and was assassinated by his half brothers (Dingane and Mhlangane) in 1828. He was the son of Senzangakhona the chief of then small zulu tribe, and Nandi the daughter of a previous chief of Langeni tribe that was conceived out of wedlock. He was an iconic leader, military genius and a nation builder to ever lived in Africa. To some he was an inspirational leader, a symbol of African pride, a hero of great strength and courage who is celebrated for his success in warfare. While to others he was a bloodthirsty monster, tyrant, inhumane and wicked madman who did not spare his own people.

Shaka was very tough on his soldiers but he never made them do anything which he couldn’t do himself. His warriors were called ‘Amabutho’ were very famous. He forced them to march very long distances on rocky terrains carrying weapons surviving on they could find in the bushes. After discovering that the scandals worn by his soldiers slowed them down, he made them march, run and fight barefoot. He introduced various changes such as changing the traditional ‘assegai’ (a throwing spear) to a shorter stabbing spear (known as Iklwa) for close combat. This forced the warriors to get close enough to stab the enemy. He also gave his warriors a large covering shield which covered most of the warrior’s body. He organised his clan and forces into age-group regimental systems, such as the youth formations of recruiting young boys in the army as apprentice warriors. The young troops used to carry extra weapons for warriors in the main army, supplies like food, cooking materials and sleeping mats. This freed the warriors to move faster from battle to battle and trained the young troops to join the main army once they were of suitable age. Young men were not allowed to marry until they had proven themselves in battle, this made the warriors fight harder.

He also formatted one of the most effective Zulu fighting encirclement tactic commonly known as the buffalo horn formation for his troops. The formation divided the troops into four groups. Each group represented a part of the Buffalo, the chest (isifuba), left and right horns (izimpondo) and the lions (umuva). The formation allowed the groups to form the shape of a bull head. The chest was made up of best warriors that attacked the enemy head on, and while the chest pinned down the enemy, the horns made up of young faster warriors who could move quickly to get behind the enemy would surround the enemy by encircling it to the left and right. Lastly, the lions were usually old and experienced warriors who held in reserve to be used when necessary. They had to look away from the enemy to prevent becoming too excited and join the fight to soon. Shaka and his commanders would observe and control the army from high ground overlooking the battlefield and relay the instructions with a series of runners.

Survivors from the opposition were not killed but rather brought to the Zulu kingdom and trained as Zulu warriors. Shaka would usurp the cattle of the defeated tribes and share it among the Zulu men. Military warriors, chiefs and indunas received many cattle from the king and were able to build up large personal followings. These royal favours and appointments resulted in the evolution of powerful figures in later reigns with strong local power bases. This greatly improved the cattle wealth of the whole community throughout the kingdom, even though most of the herds were owned by the king, chiefs, indunas and warriors, all shared in pride roused by the magnificence of the royal herds as well as the pride of belonging to the unequalled military power of Zulu. Shaka became well known and feared in other tribes that he earned the praise name ‘Nodumehleli’ which means the one who when seated causes the earth to rumble. It follows that, Shaka united the Nguni tribe and built the great Zulu empire.

Regardless of Shaka being a force to be reckoned with, there is several criticism about Shaka being great leader and military genius. It believed that after the death of Shaka’s mother Nandi, Shaka became psychotic. He forced people to mourn for his mother, if people showed signs of not mourning his mother enough they were executed. He outlawed the plantings of new crops and the use of milk for over a year. Those who did pay heed to his words would have their ears cut off. Pregnant women were murdered along with their husbands and families. Cows that were found to pregnant were also killed so that calves know how it felt to lose a mother. He once set an army on an extensive military operation, and when the warriors came back from the battle he picked out the wounded warriors and killed them for being cowards. He would link his actions to discipline and maintenance of authority. In his grief Shaka had killed hundreds of people hence, the interpretation of him being a tyrant, bloodthirsty monster and ruthless murderer.

Between approximately 1815 and 1830, different black groups clashed with one another. This caused a chain reaction and led to further confrontations and wars. Many herds of livestock and supplies of grain were destroyed- with accompanying hardship and suffering. There were ruins everywhere. Thousands of refugees fled in all directions. Those who took cover in the bushes and mountains had to live as hunter-gathers. Many died of hunger, or were killed by wild animals. These wars of destruction took place all over the subcontinent form the Cape Colony.

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