Shaka began his relatively short life (by modern standards) as an illegitimate son of a chieftain of a small tribe called the Zulu. Shaka was born in the tribal lands of his mother’s people but as a young child went to live with his mother in his father’s tribe. In his late teens and early twenties, Shaka was installed as the military commander, this coupled with the unquenchable thirst for power that Shaka displayed from an early age would prove to be a fatal combination.
The Zulu Kingdom was near to where the European settlers came to rest – the most famous of which being the British in the early 1800s. Feeling threatened by this, the British tried to amalgamate the Zulu Kingdom into the Natal Colony. The leader of the Zulu people at the time, Shaka Zulu always approved of his having control over his territory went to war in an effort to oust the European invaders.
Shaka was possibly one of the most revered Zulu leaders not only by his own people, but by multitudes of foreigners as well. This was mainly due to the fact that Shaka managed to unite the various tribes in the surrounding area to form one Zulu Nation in the 1830s and his status as a military tactician was also growing. Shaka was said to have developed a fighting tactic that would involve the surrounding of an enemy with nothing but a small gap from which a small number of elite troops would stampede and attack their foes head-on, this technique was later coined the Bull-Horn Formation. This technique would be one of the most influential reasons for the Zulu Kingdom’s success.
The various tribes that were brought together under the Zulu Kingdom were refined into a proud people. This is largely due to the fact that Shaka formed alliances with some tribes and colonized those not willing to amalgamate with him. The various customs of these tribes that might well have been lost due to the British invasion of Southern Africa were preserved in Zulu culture. This leads me to believe that Shaka’s amalgamation of the Zulu Kingdom did, in the end become a resounding success. Very little is known about the physical description of Shaka Zulu, for instance Wikipedia describes him as an ugly man who is roughly no taller than five-foot-seven-inches, whereas Encounter South Africa portrays him as a handsome man of six-foot-three-inches.
I think that Shaka was a good leader in the sense that he could rally a crowd around a single goal (like ousting the British from their territory for example) and being able to give the Zulu people an established military force so that they could be safe from prospective invaders. However, I think that the portrait of Shaka as this evil mastermind that his foes found so helpful is too deeply ingrained in my mind to be open fully to the possibility that Shaka was a good person.
Figure 1 Shaka Zulu by two different artists
Unknown, 2009. King Shaka Zulu. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/king-shaka-zulu [Accessed 18 July 2013].
Unknown, 2013. Shaka. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaka#Shaka.27s_social_and_military_revolution [Accessed 18 July 2013].
Unknown, 2013. Shaka, King of the Zulus. [Online]
Available at: http://www.encounter.co.za/article/119.html
[Accessed 18 July 2013].
Unknown, 2013. Zulu Kingdom. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zulu_Kingdom
[Accessed 18 July 2013].