Shaka Zulu’s Rise From Unwanted Illegitimate Son, To Great Zulu Warrior King — by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown…
Traditional Zulu praise song, English translation by Ezekiel Mphahlele
Shaka kaSenzangakhona (1787 – 1828), better known worldwide as Shaka Zulu (also spelled Chaka or Tshaka), was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom. Shaka Zulu made his mark in history as a great warrior king in what today is the Republic of South Africa. Shaka was born in July 1787 (in the Zulu lunar month of uNtulikazi ) near the present-day small town of Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal Province.
I first heard of Shaka Zulu when as a kid the Shaka Zulu mini-series aired on TV and my parent’s debated if it was appropriate for someone my age to watch it, as it was both violent and contained scenes of nudity. My parents ultimately decided I could watch it, with adult supervision. Watching the series helped to build my facilitation with African history. After watching Shaka Zulu on TV and then on my own reading more about the history of Southern Africa lead me to greater awareness of the Apartheid regime in South Africa (reggae music also educated me as well). On a personal note my early anti-apartheid activities as a high-schooler was the start of my political activism.
Shaka Zulu was birth name was actually Sgidi kaSenzangakhona. Historical records indicates that he was conceived by a process called ukuhlobonga, a sexual act between an unmarried couple where penetration does not occur. His father, Senzangakhona, was one of a number rulers of a then insignificant small chiefdom, known as the Zulu. The Zulu’s at this time were a relatively small community. Shaka’s mother’s name was Nandi. Nandi was the daughter of a chief of another tribe the Langeni . Young Shaka was stigmatized from birth as an illegitimate son (its postulated that anger from this fueled much of his later rise and cruelty). Shaka’s father Senzangakhona repeatedly tried to deny any responsibility for Nandi’s pregnancy but eventually relented and installed her as his third wife. As Shaka was growing up in his father’s homestead, he preferred the name Sgidi to Shaka. He later said Sgidi was a reference to his illegitimacy, and reminded him that he rose from nothing.
Shaka’s parent’s marriage was tumultuous from the start and eventually his father Senzangakhona drove Shaka’s mother and her only child out of his homestead, and they moved to his mother Nandi’s community of Mthetwa,. Here, growing up as a fatherless child, Shaka seems to have been the victim of humiliation and cruel treatment by the Langeni boys. At that time there were two strong rival groups, the Mthethwa led by the paramount chief Dingiswayo, and the Ndwandwe under the ferocious Zwide. Later, probably at the time of the Great Famine, known as the Madlantule (c.1802), Shaka was taken to the Mthethwa people, where shelter was found in the home of Nandi's aunt. Shaka, however, suffered from the bullying and teasing of the Mthethwa boys, who resented his claims to chiefly descent. Young Shaka was ridicule and called “fatherless”. To try and overcome the stigma of his illegitimate birth, Shaka asked and was initiated into an ibutho lempi (fighting unit).
The Mthetwa people were constantly tormented him, as Shaka is also allege to have spoken with a speech impediment. But then Dingiswayo, the the paramount chief of the area, after witnessing his already burgeoning warrior aptitude at a young age, decided to start mentored the boy. Shaka thus grew up in the court of Dingiswayo, who welcomed to developing young warrior with friendliness. As he grew to manhood, Shaka began to discover new talents and skills. Outwardly, he grew tall and powerfully built, and his skill and daring gave him a natural mastery over the other youths in his age group. At this point he also seemed to develop the thirst for power that would make him a future King. When Shaka was 23, Dingiswayo called up Shaka’s Dletsheni age group for military service. For the next six years, he served brilliantly as a warrior of the Mthethwa Empire. With Shaka’s thirst for power, his intelligence, and martial prowess he quickly rose up the regiment’s ranks.
When Shaka’s father, Senzangakhona died in 1816, Shaka’s half-brother Sigujana first took over as the chief of the Zulu. By this time Shaka’s military acumen had made him paramount chief Dingiswayo ’s favorite, as he had earned the paramount chief respect. Dingiswayo released Shaka from military service and sent him to take over the Zulu, which at this time probably numbered fewer than 1,500, occupying an area on the White Umfolozi River. They were among the smallest of the more than 800 Eastern Nguni–Bantu clans, but from the day of Shaka’s arrival they commenced their march to greatness. Shaka ruled with an iron hand from the outset, meting out instant death for the slightest opposition.
Upon gaining chiefdom, Shaka’s first act was to reorganize the army. Like all the other clans in Southern Africa, the Zulu were armed with ox-hide shields and spindly throwing spears. Battles in Southern Africa tended to be brief and relatively bloodless clashes in which the outnumbered side prudently gave way before extensive casualties occurred, and village elders then negotiated terms. Shaka’s troops changed this dynamic forever.
Shaka first rearmed his men with long-bladed, short-hafted stabbing assegais, which enabled them to fight at close quarters. Next the Zulu chief instituted a regimented system based on grouping like age-groups quartered in separate kraals (villages). These separate groups were distinguished by both uniform markings on their shields and by similar combinations of headdresses and ornaments. With his new lethally and organized shock troops, and backed by the head chief, Shaka conquered and assimilated the neighboring areas, including the Lengeni, who had infamously teased him in his childhood.
While he was on one such crusade of enacting revenge on his childhood tormentors, Shaka’s great mentor Dingiswayo, was killed by a rival clan leader named Zwide. Upon his return Shaka, and hearing the news was overcome with grief and anger. Shaka swore to avenge Dingiswayo death.
It took Shaka nearly seven years to meet and destroy Zwide’s army, in a conflict is considered the first Zulu Civil War. Zwide tried at first to evade direct conflict with Shaka’s superior warriors. But utilizing his infamous cruel streak, Shaka forced the issue by capturing and brutally killed Zwide’s mother. Shaka locked her up in a hut with jackals and hyenas which attacked her, and then he burning down the hut. Zwide then tried to directly confront Shaka, and he and his soldiers were cut down to the last man.
With the death of Zwide, Shaka became the unrivaled Zulu king. Shaka’s reign saw the expansion of his kingdom, as smaller chiefdoms would surrender to his rule or be forcibly destroyed and conquered. The chiefdoms that surrendered were then overseen by either the reigning chief or a relative specifically selected by Shaka.
As Shaka became more respected by his people, he was able to spread his militant ideas. Shaka the fierce soldier ingrained in the Zulus that the most effective way of becoming powerful was by conquering and controlling other tribes. His teachings greatly influenced the social outlook of the Zulu people. The former pastoral Zulu tribe soon developed a warrior outlook, which Shaka turned to his advantage.
Shaka's Zulu rule was primarily based on military might, as he smashed rivals and then absorbed the scattered surviving remnants into his own army. But the Zulu king also supplemented his militancy with a mixture of both diplomacy and patronage. Shaka incorporated friendly chieftains, including the Zihlandlo and the Mathubane with subtler tactics and bribes. When confronted by the powerful former “alpha” ruling Qwabe tribe, Shaka convinced them to just re-invent their genealogies whole-clothe to give the impression that Qwabe and Zulu were closely related, creating a tribal union.
Although the Zulu warrior king’s military campaigns were primarily located in the Southern African coastal areas, Shaks’s actions indirectly led to the Mfecane (“Crushing”) that devastated South Africa’s inland plateau in the early 1820s. Marauding clans, fleeing the Zulu’s wrath and desperately searching for land, started a deadly game of musical chairs that broke the clan structure of the interior and left and estimated two million dead in its wake. The Boer Great Trek (white Afrikaners settlers) of the 1830s passed through this same area.The invasion probably only succeeded because there was virtually no natives left to oppose their settlements.
Shaka did occasional voluntarily grant Europeans permission to enter his Zulu territory. In the mid-1820s Henry Francis Fynn famously provided medical treatment to the king after an assassination attempt by a rival tribe member hidden in a crowd (see the account of Nathaniel Isaacs). In a show of gratitude, Shaka permitted European settlers to enter and operate in the Zulu kingdom. Although at first peaceful, these permits later opened the door for future British incursions into the Zulu kingdom that were violent in nature. During this time Shaka observed several demonstrations of European technology and knowledge. But as innovative as he was with adapting new fighting technology, Shaka still held fast to the belief that the Zulu way was superior to that of the foreigners.
As for his formentioned willingness to adapt new technology, Shaka is often said to have been dissatisfied with the long throwing assegai that was the weapon of choice in Southern Africa. Shaka is credited with introducing a new variant of the weapon: the iklwa, a short stabbing spear with a long, broad, sword-like, spearhead. Shaka probably did not himself invent the iklwa, at least according to Zulu scholar John Laband, but Shaka did insist that his warriors train with the weapon. The iklwa gave the Zulu warriors a "terrifying advantage over opponents who clung to the traditional practice of throwing their spears and avoiding hand-to-hand conflict." The Zulus didn’t completely forgo throwing spears, but instead used them as an initial missile weapon before close contact with the enemy, when the shorter stabbing spear was used in hand-to-hand combat.
Shaka also introduced a larger, heavier version of the Nguni shield. Furthermore, it is believed that he taught his warriors how to use the shield's left side to hook the enemy's shield to the right, exposing the enemy's ribs for a fatal spear stab. In Shaka's time, these cowhide shields were supplied by the king, and they remained the king's property. Different colored shields distinguished different amabutho within Shaka's army. Some had black shields, others used white shields with black spots, and some had white shields with brown spots, while others used pure brown or white shields.
Stories from the European explorers claim that sandals were discarded to toughen the feet of Zulu warriors. Some of the famous accounts include The Washing of the Spears, Like Lions They Fought, and Anatomy of the Zulu Army. The stories claim that those who objected to going without sandals were simply murdered by Zulu commanders. Furthermore they state that Shaka drilled his troops frequently, including forced marches in a fast trot over hot, rocky terrain covering more than 50 miles (80 km) a day.
Historian John Laband dismisses these stories as myth. Labrand points out in his writing: "What are we to make, then, of [European trader Henry Francis] Fynn's statement that once the Zulu army reached hard and stony ground in 1826, Shaka ordered sandals of ox-hide to be made for himself?"
Furthermore Laband dismisses the idea of a 50 miles (80 km) march in a single day as ridiculous. As Laband notes that even though these stories have been repeated by "astonished and admiring white commentators," the Zulu army covered "no more than 19 kilometers (12 miles) a day, and usually went only about 14 kilometers (9 miles)." and, Zulus under Shaka’s direct command sometimes advanced more slowly. As noted by his own troops Zulu’s spent two whole days recuperating in one instance, and on another they rested for a day and two nights before pursuing their enemy. But several historians of the Zulu, and the Zulu military system, continue to affirm the mobility rate of up to 50 miles per day.
But regardless of disagreement over the Zulu’s famed mobility, almost all historians credit Shaka with initial development of the "Bull Horn" formation that became synonymous with Zulu warrior conquest. The bull horn was composed of three elements:
- The main Zulu fighting force, know as the "chest," closed into the enemy’s “impi” (warriors) and pinned them in position, by engaging them in melee combat. The warriors who comprised the "chest" were senior veterans.
- While the enemy’s impi were pinned by the "chest," the next section known as the "horns" would flank the Impi from both sides and encircle it; in conjunction with the "chest" they would then destroy the trapped force. The warriors who comprised the "horns" were young and fast junior warriors.
- The last group known as the "loins," which were a large reserve, was hidden, seated, behind the "chest" with their backs to the battle. These were inexperienced fighters who were often known for losing confidence in wars. The "loins" would be committed only wherever the enemy impi threatened to break out of the encirclement.
Shaka is also remembered by military historians for incorporating Zulu youth, both boys and girls into the army; and involving these now seasoned warrior women in leading the community in the absence of the men. But even as his great prowess on the battle field is celebrated Shaka, is also remembered for some infamous acts off the filed. Shaka the illegitimate child, put to death women who got pregnant by him and brutally killing people who he believed wronged him.
King Shaka never had sustained personal relation except for one person, he fanatically loved his mother Nandi. This love turned to grief when she died of dysentery in 1827. The mentally deteriorating King then randomly killed 7000 people at her funeral after he publicly declared they were not mourning with enough vigor. Directly after this shocking act Shaka declared a year of mourning. The King declared no crops could be planted and no milk should be used for the full year of mourning. Shaka even ordered the execution of several couples who would got pregnant during the year. Oral sources record that in this period of devastation, a singular Zulu, a man named Gala, eventually stood up to Shaka and objected to these measures, pointing out that Nandi was not the first person to die in Zululand. Taken aback by such candid talk, the Zulu king is supposed to have called off the destructive edicts, rewarding the blunt teller-of-truths with a gift of cattle
But the damage from these irrational orders were done. Shaka’s people wavered in their loyalty to the “mad king”, and came to no surprise that he was then stabbed and killed by his two half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana with the help of Mbopha his fore to loyal personal servant.
Zulu oral history claims as his life ebbed away, Shaka called out to his brother Dingane.
“Hey brother! You kill me, thinking you will rule, but the swallows [white people] will do that. Are you stabbing me, kings of the earth? You will come to an end through killing one another.”
But this version seems to have been a coventient politicized version pushed by later generation of Souther African White propaganda. The version which is probably the truest rendition comes from Mkebeni kaDabulamanzi, King Cetshwayo's nephew and grandson of King Mpande (another half-brother to Shaka)—
"Are you stabbing me, kings of the earth? You will come to an end through killing one another."
Upon Shaka’s death, Dingane became king but his reign saw the decline of the Zulu army in the region. He was deposed by his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana, and an advisor called Mbopa. It is said Mbopa created a diversion, which distracted Shaka and provided Dingane and Mhlangana with the opportunity to strike the fatal blows. Shaka’s body was then thrown into a pit whose precise location is unknown. Year later the Zulu tribe erected a monument at one of the alleged locations.
But Shaka’s legend has lived on beyond his ignominious death. He has become a global icon of the Zulu people and has been the subject of several movies and TV shows including a 1986 mini-series on ABC. As for the Zulu people they provided the fiercest opposition to European people and defeated the African and British Empire repeatedly in battle until the British introduced the repeating rifle (machine gun) at the Battle at Blood River on December 16th 1838, and with that Shaka’s dream of a mighty independent Zulu empire was just as dead as he was.
News round up by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
When the front desk clerk at a Portland, Ore., hotel told Felicia Gonzales, a black woman, that guests were required to sign a two-page “no party” agreement in order to check in, she thought the request was so strange that she decided to sit in the lobby to see if white guests were asked to do the same. They weren’t.
Ms. Gonzales filed a lawsuit last month, saying in the complaint that she had a “sense of increased vulnerability, and feelings of racial stigmatization” as a result of the hotel’s actions.
The public learned about Ms. Gonzales’s experience because news sites reported on the suit. But often the exclusion of black people from participating in society on equal footing happens quietly. I study race and race relations for a living, and I’ve long known that strategizing about ways to avoid or counteract discrimination is an energy-draining task, and for too many, it’s part of everyday life.
When I talked two decades ago with more than 50 middle-class blacks who lived in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, I learned that their awareness of racial stereotypes led them to take on what I call “public identities” — meaning, they would strategically deploy cultural capital, including language, mannerisms, clothing and credentials — in ways that brought their middle-class status firmly into focus. From their experiences attending integrated high schools, many of these people had come to believe this was key to managing racism in interactions with white people. They hoped it would tip the balance of their public interactions so that class would trump race and persuade white people to treat them fairly.
This is an idea related to “code switching,” a term used to describe the temporary shift from black English to standard English that some black people use to signal their appropriation of white, middle-class norms. But the public identities of the middle-class black people I studied involved more than language: They spanned everything from dress to conversation topics to the small details of workplace conduct.
As one of my subjects, Charlotte, put it, black people “have two faces. So you know how to present yourself in the white world and you present yourself in the black world as yourself.”
There’s good reason to believe that the public-identity behaviors I identified are as central a part of black middle-class life as ever. In a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, black respondents were more likely than any other racial group to report that they felt people were suspicious of them (65 percent), that people acted as though they were not smart (60 percent), that they were treated unfairly in hiring, pay or promotion (49 percent) and that they had been unfairly stopped by the police (44 percent).
It was the party to be seen at during the Cannes Film Festival, where being seen was the whole point. A Swiss jewelry company had rented out the opulent Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, drawing celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Campbell and Antonio Banderas. The theme: “Love on the Rocks.”
Posing for photos at the May 2017 event was Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and the daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, then Angola’s president. Her husband controls the jeweler, De Grisogono, through a dizzying array of shell companies in Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands.
But the lavish party was possible only because of the Angolan government. The country is rich in oil and diamonds but hobbled by corruption, with grinding poverty, widespread illiteracy and a high infant mortality rate. A state agency had sunk more than $120 million into the jewelry company. Today, it faces a total loss.
Ms. dos Santos, estimated to be worth over $2 billion, claims she is a self-made woman who never benefited from state funds. But a different picture has emerged under media scrutiny in recent years: She took a cut of Angola’s wealth, often through decrees signed by her father. She acquired stakes in the country’s diamond exports, its dominant mobile phone company, two of its banks and its biggest cement maker, and partnered with the state oil giant to buy into Portugal’s largest petroleum company.
Now, a trove of more than 700,000 documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and shared with The New York Times, shows how a global network of consultants, lawyers, bankers and accountants helped her amass that fortune and park it abroad. Some of the world’s leading professional service firms — including the Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company and PwC — facilitated her efforts to profit from her country’s wealth while lending their legitimacy.
When the Western advisory firms came into Angola almost two decades ago, they were viewed by the global financial community as a force for good: bringing professionalism and higher standards to a former Portuguese colony ravaged by years of civil war. But ultimately they took the money and did what their clients asked, said Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, an international politics professor at Oxford who studies Angola.
“They are there as all-purpose providers of whatever these elites are trying to do,” he said. “They have no moral status — they are what you make of them.”
HOW TO PROMOTE a “global Britain” after Britain leaves the European Union? One step is to try to regain some of Britain’s influence in Africa, where it had once been the leading colonial power. Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, will be hosting about a third of the continent’s leaders at an “investment summit” in London on January 20th. Many of them are en route to a bigger shindig in Davos; a handful from pariah states such as Zimbabwe have not been invited. But most of the presidents or prime ministers running the beefier or friendlier African countries—including Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Rwanda—are expected.
Mr Johnson will tell them that Britain, shorn of the European Union’s trade constraints, is keener than ever to do business and strengthen ties. The prime minister will be hoping that they respond enthusiastically (and ignore his past newspaper columns that made reference to “piccaninnies” and “watermelon smiles”). But behind the virtuous talk of partnership and goodwill, British officials are engaged in a sharp debate over how to scramble back into Africa.
In the past two decades, the influence of Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), responsible for dispensing handouts to the African poor, has surged. At the same time the muscle of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), responsible for the harder-nosed practice of traditional diplomacy, has shrunk. “Africa has become a development issue,” laments a senior diplomat, referring glumly to “the DFID-isation of foreign policy” in Africa.
Partly this is because of cash. Whereas the FCO’s core budget, now £1.1bn ($1.4bn) a year, has shrunk greatly in the past decade, DFID’s has swollen steadily, since by law it must be at least 0.7% of GDP, a figure enshrined in an act of Parliament in 2015. In 2018 Britain disbursed foreign aid worth £14.6bn, mainly through DFID.
DFID gained its independence as a separate department in 1997, under Tony Blair. Mr Johnson recently sounded keen to bring it back under the control of the FCO, perhaps even to merge the two departments. But he seems to have been persuaded that DFID should continue to stand alone. Nor has he bowed to the many Conservatives (and others) who have urged that the 0.7% pledge be broken. They complain that many government departments are still chafing under the brutal spending cuts imposed nearly a decade ago after the global financial crash, yet the aid budget continues to soar. For the time being, however, the aid lobby and the liberal wing of the Conservative Party have ensured that the 0.7% promise is kept.
A Miami police officer who as leader of the city’s police union defended officers involved in high-profile shootings of unarmed black men has angered the black police officers in his department with claims that he now identifies as black himself.
The officer, Capt. Javier Ortiz, was accused in November of claiming to be black when he applied for a promotion. The Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP and the union that represents black police officers in the department both criticized Ortiz for his racial insensitivity and disdain for efforts to improve diversity.
At a meeting of the Miami City Commission on Friday, Ortiz defended his decision to twice list his race as black on a form to request a promotion. According to the Miami New Times, the black officers’ union unearthed documents last year that showed Ortiz, who self-identified as a white Hispanic man when he first applied to be a police officer, had claimed to be black on forms in 2014 and 2017.
At the meeting, Ortiz was asked when he realized he was black.
“Well, I learned that there are people in my family that are mixed and that are black,” Ortiz said. When a commissioner protested talk of “the degree of blackness,” Ortiz was quick to clarify that he wasn’t claiming equal blackness.
“Oh, no, you’re blacker than me—that’s obvious,” Ortiz said. “And if you know anything about the one-drop rule, which started in the 20th Century, which is what identifies and defines what a black male is, or a Negro, you would know that if you have one drop of black in you, you’re considered black.”
Ortiz then claimed he was also part Jewish. Another commissioner chimed in: “Mr. Ortiz claimed that he was black,” he said. “I’m afraid maybe next month he’d be a black Jewish woman. I don’t know.”
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