When Shaka's mother, Nandi, died in October 1827, his grief led to erratic and deadly behavior. He required everyone else to grieve with him and executed anyone he decided was not grieving sufficiently, as many as 7,000 people. He ordered that no crops be planted and no milk could be used, two orders sure to induce famine. Any pregnant woman would be executed, as would her husband.

Shaka kaSenzangakhona, Zulu king and founder of the Zulu empire, was murdered by his two half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana at kwaDukuza in 1828—one date given is September 24. Dingane assumed the throne after the assassination.

Shaka's Last Words

Shaka's last words have taken on a prophetic mantle—and popular South African/Zulu myth has him telling Dingane and Mhlangana that it is not they who will rule the Zulu nation but "white people who will come up from the sea." Another version says swallows will be the ones to rule, which is a reference to white people because they build houses of mud as do swallows.

However, 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."

Shaka and the Zulu Nation

Assassination by rivals to the throne is a constant in monarchies throughout history and around the world. Shaka was an illegitimate son of a minor chief, Senzangakhona, while his half-brother Dingane was legitimate. Shaka's mother Nandi eventually was installed as the third wife of this chief, but it was an unhappy relationship, and she and her son were eventually driven away.

Shaka joined the military of the Mthethwa, led by chief Dingiswayo. After Shaka's father died in 1816, Dingiswayo supported Shaka in assassinating his elder brother, Sigujuana, who had assumed the throne. Now Shaka was the chief of the Zulu, but a vassal of Dingiswayo. When Dingiswayo was killed by Zwide, Shaka assumed leadership of the Mthethwa state and army.

Shaka's power grew as he reorganized the Zulu military system. The long-bladed assegai and the bullhorn formation were innovations that led to greater success on the battlefield. He had ruthless military discipline and incorporated both men and youths in his armies. He forbade his troops to marry.

He conquered neighboring territories or created alliances until he controlled all of present-day Natal. In doing so, many rivals were forced out of their territories and migrated, causing disruption throughout the region. However, he was not in conflict with the Europeans in the area. He allowed some European settlers in the Zulu kingdom.

Shaka's two half-brothers tried more than once to assassinate him. Their successful attempt came when most of the Zulu troops had been sent north and security was lax at the royal kraal. The brothers were joined by a servant, Mbopa. Accounts vary as to whether the servant did the actual killing or it was done by the brothers. They dumped his body in an empty grain pit and filled the pit, so the exact location is unknown.

Dingane assumed the throne and purged loyalists to Shaka. He allowed the troops to marry and set up a homestead, which built loyalty with the military. He ruled for 12 years until he was defeated by his half-brother Mpande.

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