A person is only a person because of other people.

 - Zulu Proverb

 
SHAKA

As the child of an illicit relationship between Prince Senzangakhona, son of the chief of an insignificant small chiefdom called the Zulu, and Nandi, daughter of a Langeni chief, Shaka from birth carries the shame of illegitimacy and a nickname referring to a parasite - 'utshaka' - a stomach illness caused by the iShaka beetle. A nickname he hates.

Denied as Senzangakhona's son by his own father, Shaka is eventually legitimised and spends his early years at his father's esiKlebeni homestead, near the hallowed 'Burial-place of the Kings'. He is a naturally curious, intelligent child. But Shaka and Nandi are neglected by Senzangakhona, and every day they are bullied by the other wives and children. Shaka is also constantly reminded that his half-brother, Sigujana - not Shaka - will succeed Senzangakhona as king. When he is six-years old, Shaka allows a dog to kill his father's pet sheep, and Senzangakhona beats him. A violent argument between Nandi and Senzangakhona over this results in Senzangakhona driving Nandi from his court, and back to her family. An unhappy Shaka remains with his father, but he misses his mother and is rejected by his father's other wives and children. Shaka deals with this by going off on his own for great distances, exploring places.

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Then, Nandi learns that Shaka's life at Senzangakhona's kraal is in danger - that an assassination attempt has been planned against him - and she sends his uncle Mudli to bring him back to her Langeni settlements, in the Mhlathuze Valley. However Shaka and his mother are also treated badly by his mother’s tribe. For Shaka, his childhood is about enduring endless humiliation, and while seeking his family's acceptance and his father's approval. It is the women who support him - throughout his exiled childhood, Mkabi (his father's great wife), his aunt Mkabayi and his grandmother Mthaniya defy Senzangakhona and visit Shaka, his sister and his mother often.

 

At this time there are two strong rival Nguni groups in Zululand - the Mthethwa led by paramount chief Jobe, with his son Dingiswayo - and the Ndwandwe under the ferocious Zwide. In 1802 Nandi's tribe is affected by a great famine, and unable to provide food for her family, she seeks refuge at her aunt's home, in the Mthethwa clan, where her and Shaka are welcomed. Shaka becomes a herd boy for the tribe, but he is again bullied and teased by the Mthethwa boys, who resent his claims to chiefly descent. However, the defiant teenage Shaka discovers he can fight back - he is tall and powerfully built, and his skill and daring give him a natural mastery over the other youths in his age group. Inwardly, he is developing a thirst for power. He wants to be king. In 1809 - when Shaka is about 22 years old - King Jobe dies, and is succeeded by Dingiswayo. Under the new king's rule Shaka's life changes. Dingiswayo calls up Shaka's age group of boys to become soldiers. For the next six years, Shaka finally finds friendship among the other impis, and fights as an exceptional warrior in the iziCwe regiment, with courage, strength, and cunning, rising rapidly to become a general in Dingiswayo’s army. It is here that he becomes engrossed in problems of strategy and battle tactics. It is here that he begins working on a short, large-bladed stabbing spear and practicing how to use it lethally. Shaka thrives as a revered warrior and is given the name Nodumehlezi - the one who when seated causes the earth to rumble.  It is here that he receives his first taste of true power.

 

In 1815 King Senzangakhona becomes ill and chooses Sigujana to succeed him. Shaka is deeply hurt by this - he believes that through his training and loyalty, he has proven to his father that he is fit to be king. He believes he is the one to build the Zulu nation. When his father dies in 1816, when Shaka is 29, he devises a plan - with the help of Dingiswayo and his other half-brother, Ngwadi - to assassinate Sigujana, so that he can become the new chief. With Sigujana gone, Shaka returns to his father's small tribe to start his reign as the new king of the Zulus. Craving more power and needing to prove himself, he immediately attacks and conquers his neighbouring tribes - including the Buthelezi clan and the Langeni of his boyhood days - and forces them to become part of the expanding Zulu nation. This is the beginning of the Mfecane - The Crushing - a series of events that will change the demographic, social and political configuration of southern, central and parts of western Africa, forever.

The Crushing is Shaka's time of glory. A time in which he excels as a brilliant military organizer. He refines the amabutho system into strong, well-commanded regiments, adopts new weapons and tactics – including the 'horns of the Buffalo' military configuration - arms his warriors with  assegai, capitalises on the drought and social unrest in the region, and engages in constant clashes with other tribes. Feeding off his own strength and power, Shaka builds an empire of over 250 000 Zulus on the skulls of his enemies. But to both enemies and his own people, a malevolent antisocial personality - whose behavior manifests elements of sadism, aggressiveness, narcissism, and paranoia - starts to emerge. He randomly orders executions - even of married couples, children and dogs - and has the sick and elderly put to death. KwaBulawayo becomes the place people are brought to, to be killed off - like short men are deemed useless, not able to see approaching enemy warriors from afar, or troops with back wounds after battle, thought to have been running away. Shaka fights off feelings of low self-worth and depression by demanding constant adoration and claiming to be powerful and invincible. He reacts to his own paranoia with ruthless, unpredictable behaviour, using his 'secret service' to eliminate possible enemies. After surviving an assassination attempt at a place that became known as KwaDukuza, his natural curiosity, paranoia and cruelty combine into terrible crimes. He slices a live pregnant woman’s belly open to see how the unborn baby occupies her space, and orders a man’s eyes to be taken out so that he can observe how the man will adapt to his new circumstances. But he has justification for every killing, like eliminating witches.

 

Shaka refuses to get married, or love - because he saw the way his mother was treated. He did have relationships with women but when they got pregnant, he gave them to his brother, Mpande, seen as a weakling. But Shaka does show love and loyalty to a select few. He reveres his mother, and rewards the loyalty of Sotobe by sending him overseas to England to learn more about the British invaders and their weaponry - although Sotobe only makes it as far as the Cape Colony, waiting here until after Shaka's death to return. One man allowed to challenge Shaka’s decisions was Ngqengelele kaMvuyana, a Buthelezi who arrives as a stranger to Shaka's grandmother's house, and gradually earns Shaka’s respect. Another is Shaka’s protégé, Zulu kaNogandaya, who has almost equal rights to Shaka, can do as he pleases with Shaka’s support, and is one of few people who eats with Shaka. 

Rich on cattle and war profit, and riding on the crest of the strategic military genius of King Shaka, the Zulu war machine seemed unstoppable. Until the 10 October 1827 - the day Shaka’s mother, Nandi, dies of dysentery. This is the day Shaka's power and might turn into mentally unstable grief. Shaka puts on his war regalia and wails in anguish along with the entire tribe. He follows Zulu tradition, by having Nandi's servants wounded and killed, and huge numbers of his own people put to death because he claims they are not grieving enough.  He sends his armies out to force the surrounding chiefdoms to grieve, bans the planting of crops in all villages, except military Kraals, outlaws the use of milk for a year, and has all pregnant women and their husband murdered. For a year after Nandi's death, Shaka's madness continues. On the 24th September 1828, Shaka sends his armies out on another killing spree. Seizing the moment, his half-brothers Dingane and Mhlangana, and his bodyguard Mbopa, make their move on Shaka near his military barracks at Dukuza. As Mbopa moves in to kill him, Shaka mocks Dingane, “Hey brother! You kill me, thinking you will rule, but the swallows will do that.”  As Mbopa stabs him to death, Shaka's last words are, “Are you stabbing me, kings of the earth? You will come to an end through killing one another.” They take his body and dump it in a grain-pit nearby, and this how the mighty Shaka's life ends. In this inglorious way. Not with a roar, but with a whimper.

 
FRANCIS FYNN

Francis Fynn is a colourful character, the stuff of adventure books, and the first white man to engage with Shaka. He is one of the leading pioneers of white settlement in Natal in the 1820’s – 30’s- a versatile trader, adventurer, philanthropist, writer and colonial official. An independent, courageous boy, he shows his propensity for adventure when - at the age of 15 - he leaves England for the Cape Colony, and then takes up a position on a trading vessel to Delagoa Bay, where he finds that the main commodities of trade are sea-cow and elephant ivory, ostrich feathers and slaves. During the six months trading here, Fynn comes into contact with the Zulu. He asks to meet Shaka, but comes down with fever. He is cured by African herbalists - who place him in a pit for half an hour, where a fire was made, and lined with wet grass to prevent him burning. Back in Delagoa Bay, he discovers that Lieutenant Farewell of the Royal Navy is engaged in similar trade ventures at St Lucia Bay, believing that ivory obtained by the Portuguese at Delagoa Bay is acquired from the Zulu Kingdom - and that a trading station in Shaka's territory would draw the ivory intended for Delagoa Bay, resulting in great profits. When Lord Charles Somerset consents to a trading post at Port Natal, Farewell offers Fynn the position of trading manager and a percentage of the profits, and Fynn accepts - but his motivation is 'travelling and new scenes' and not the financial reward. 

Fynn arrives in Natal in 1824, which opens up a new commerce channel, linking Natal and Zululand to the British economy. He finds the Zulu kingdom on the rise - and that the region is nearly devoid of inhabitants due to the Mfecane and Shaka's conquests, and his consolidation of the Nguni tribes. The ravages of the Mfecane and a drought from 1820-1823 has left survivors of defeated tribes starving, some driven to cannibalism. Fynn and other traders reintroduce maize. Fynn discovers that the traders are independent and there is little to no government intervention. He opens up trade with the northern Nguni - already trading in beads, blankets, mirrors and cloth with the Portuguese, but his priority is trade with Shaka and to meet the legend. Fynn's adventuring spirit has his men setting up camp, while Fynn and his interpreters Frederick and Jantyi wander off in search of Africans - who flee at their first sighting of a white man. They run down one - Mahamba - assuage his fears with beads, and persuade him to show them the location of Shaka.

 

Mahamba takes them to a large contingent of Zulu warriors. Mahamba, Frederick and Jantyi disappear into the bushes as Fynn tries to persuade the surprised impi that all he wants is to meet Shaka. This name is a talisman - because as Fynn is escorted to Siyingila's kraal, Frederick tells him he's lucky the impi didn't kill him, because the Zulu coastal tribes believe Europeans are not human but sea creatures who travel in large shells, live on salt water and ivory - which they take from the shore if laid there for them. And they leave beads instead, which they obtain from the bottom of the sea.

A few days later, while at Siyingila's kraal, Shaka's emissary and uncle - Mbikwana - presents Fynn with four oxen and asks him to move to his kraal until Shaka is ready to receive him. While at Mbikwana's, It was here Fynn uses his medicine chest and experience as a London surgeon's assistant, and cures a woman of fever.  Exaggerated reports of Fynn's ability as a 'doctor' reached Shaka - along with rumours spread by the Zulus that he had restored a dead woman to life. While Shaka is still not ready to meet Fynn, he presents him with 40 cattle and seven large elephant tusks, and sent an induna with ten servants to attend to him. It is significant that - even without meeting Shaka - Fynn procured cattle and ivory from him. In August 1824, when Fynn eventually meets with Shaka - with Farewell accompanying him - the Zulu king is friendly and curious of their medical skills, and attracted by their muskets and gifts. Fynn is very impressed about the discipline and order in the Zulu nation. While the traders are at Shaka's residence, an attempt is made on Shaka's life and he is stabbed in his side. Fynn treats his wounds and after he recovers within a few days, Shaka and the Zulus place trust in his abilities. Fynn becomes 'doctor' to Shaka, Queen Nandi and Mbakayi, but it is engaging personality that makes Shaka favour him.

Bond said: 'he began a friendship with the Zulu King such as no other white man, and perhaps no other black man, ever enjoyed. That friendship ensured the safety of the tiny white settlement by the lagoon and the success of its ivory trade.' Fynn uses that friendship to intercede for the lives of people and other tribes, doomed to death. But he also uses it to request a grant of a piece of land from Shaka - which Shaka grants as a concession for trade, although the British take it as a gift. On 27th August 1824, Farewell hoists the Union Jack and takes formal possession of Port Natal in the name of the British Crown. Fynn's diplomacy plays a massive role in gaining Shaka's favour and permission for the white settlers to remain at Port Natal.  Shaka even gives him the praise name Mbuyazi. 

Fynn is flexible and pragmatic. This is shown in the fact that as a trader, isolated from influences of 'civilisation', he knows he has to adopt a new way of life - he cannot live amongst the Zulu people without adjusting socially and culturally. So, distinctively white, he becomes African in other respects. He absorbs much of the Zulu culture in his wearing blankets and skins, accepts six Zulu wives from Shaka and has many children with them, rules as Chief, learns to speak Zulu - which all enable him to accommodate himself to a new frontier situation. This - along with Shaka's affection for him - results in the traders being treated with consideration during Shaka's reign, although Fynn's liaisons and 'coloured' offspring later led to his failure to reach higher ranks in government service in Natal. But Fynn also witness many atrocities committed by the Zulu monarch, which unsettle him. He loves writing, and recording his discoveries and observations. He keeps a diary, in which he notes several occasions where he sees individuals being seized and instantly put to death. But it is upon the death of Nandi that he feels the most fear - which causes him to over-exaggerate an account of Shaka's grief, when 7000 are massacred due to Shaka's grief. Fynn is protected from Shaka's alleged 'savagery' by their friendship.

Fynn enjoys the freedom of his life as a trader among the Zulus - he engagedsin trading and hunting and extended his activities far into the interior in search of ivory, accompanied by Zulus trained in the use of firearms. What becomes apparent over this time is that Fynn is very self-centred and in it for the money. He and other hunter-traders destroy much of the game with firearms in the Zulu Kingdom for food and for trade. Fynn has several kraals in the region between the Bluff and the Umzimkulu River, where he trades. And even though he is reluctant to pay the price - as a client of the Zulu king - in a military or economic capacity, when it is demanded, he does, because he is more afraid to anger Shaka than he is loyal to the crown. Fynn assists Shaka in his campaigns against the Ndwandwe and against the Kumalo under Beje. Later, he also assists Dingane when he requests Fynn's black wards trained in the use of firearms in his attempts to destroy Mzobashi. To secure his commercial objectives Fynn respects and yields to African political authority. But compared to many other traders and Europeans, he is more open minded

After the death of Nandi, his influence over Shaka appears to wane. In 1828 when Shaka launches an attack on the southern frontier tribes, Fynn discourages him from attacking Faku, and persuades Shaka to return the female captives and refrain from further destroying the corn of the Pondo. But Shaka proceeds anyway, indicating Fynn is losing his power. Upon the assassination of Shaka, it appears Fynn and Isaacs may have been aware of the plot - though not involved - and that he is relieved, freed of Shaka's tyrannical restrictions. He immediately befriends Dingane - who confirms Shaka's grant and offers to make Fynn paramount chief of Natal - which Fynn refuses. But because Fynn harbours many of the refugees who sought shelter in southern Natal from the raids and persecutions of Shaka and Dingane, his relationship with Dingane deteriorates. Dingane also suspects Fynn and other traders of being disloyal - which results in Fynn fleeing to safety, and the killing of Fynn's people. Attempts to restore the relationship between Dingane and Fynn don't work, and by September 1834 Fynn believes that Dingane can no longer be trusted, and leaves Natal for the Cape. By now he is disillusioned with how his life is turning out - his trading days are over, he is passed over for positions and he is almost left destitute, from poorly paid by the British government. At the end of 1834 D'Urban sends him on a diplomatic mission to Faku to ensure the chief's neutrality in the Cape frontier war.  After the war, In January l837, in terms of one of the treaties, he is sent to work among the Thembu, remaining there for eleven years. He is passed over as diplomatic agent in Natal in 1845 - when clearly suited to the position. Then his Thembu post falls away in 1848. He is again sent among the Mpondo, this time as Resident Agent to Faku - but he does not make a success of his office. Fynn instigates an Mpondo attack on suspected Bhaca cattle thieves, and sparks a series of events involving local chiefdoms, Weslyan missionaries and both the Cape and Natal governments - which leaves Fynn's long-standing reputation among the Mpondo in tatters. After an absence of eighteen years he returns to Natal, where he is first stationed in Pietermaritzburg and then in what later becomes Umzinto. He retires in 1860 due to ill health, and on 20th September 186I, Fynn dies in Durban at the age of 58.

 
QUEEN NANDI

Queen Nandi’s name means ‘the sweet one’. She is the daughter of a chief - Bhebhe of the Mhlongo clan. Born around 1760, Nandi is a feisty and strong willed young girl, who often gets her own way. She is also incredibly beautiful, a captivating figure and just the girl to dispel the notion that Zulu women are overly submissive, refusing to challenge the status quo. She proves her rebelliousness when - after visiting relatives in the Babanango Hills, Nandi and the small caravan that she is with encounter Zulu warriors, one of whom is Senzangakhona kaJama, future king of the Zulu people. It was forbidden for Nandi to marry a Zulu because her mother was the daughter of a Qwabe chief. Since the Qwabe and Zulu claim the same ancestry, intermarriage between members of either tribe was forbidden. But Nandi enters into a relationship with Senzangakhona and falls pregnant with his baby, when young people are forbidden to have sexual relations further than ukuhlobonga. She also proves it when her Mhlongo family approach Senzangakhona's family to settle the matter - Nandi is at the forefront of this discussion and demands 55 herd of cattle as payment for 'damages' done to her, furious at Senzangakhona's denial that the child is his. And when the baby is born, it is Nandi who sarcastically refers to her son as 'Shaka' to spite Senzangakhona, as a reminder that his people denied she was pregnant, blaming it on the illness caused by the Shaka beetle. But secretly, she calls Shaka 'umlilwana' - her little blazing fire.

Throughout the scandal of the pregnancy, Nandi proves she is a woman of courage, who makes her own decisions. Despite having a violent, tempestuous and passionate disposition, which often turns into violence, she is always a great single parent to Shaka. As Senzangakhona refuses to make Nandi his Great Wife and chief consort, she is faced with the fact that Shaka will not be his heir. But she has ambition for him, and confronted by animosity, rejection, insults, and humiliation from Senzangakhona's other wives and the Zulu people, she is proud and defiant, and continues to raise Shaka by doing the best for him, with the philosophy to never to give up on life. She raises him to have strength of will, and believe in his destiny, that he has the courage of a lion and that he will be king. She also raises him to believe in the power of unity...that 'We are the same'. 

 

Nandi devotes her life to Shaka and his siblings, protecting them in the best ways she knows how, and seeking refuge for them - first with her own people, where she is faced with great humiliation, rejection, and disparagement. But Nandi never loses hope in life, remains resilient, doesn't succumbs to pressure, and always believes in her worth. Then amongst the Qwabe people - where she meets Gendeyana, whom she marries and has a son, Ngwadi, and then when this doesn't work out, she takes her children to live amongst the Mthethwa people, finding the best mentors in Dingiswayo and others, for her son Shaka. Nandi instills her values into her son, shaping him into one of the greatest leaders the world will ever have. Nandi always reminds her son that, despite his circumstances, he will one day be the greatest king. She always does her best, despite all life's adversities.

When Shaka becomes King, it is with tremendous satisfaction that Nandi takes on the role of Queen of the Zulus, ruler of the people who belittled and rejected her after Shaka's birth. She goes from being a mistreated lowly third wife to Queen of the Zulu people. But she isn't just queen, she is also Shaka's adviser - he vets all his decisions with her. She, with other women surrounding Shaka, is put in charge of military kraals and given power to govern while Shaka is away on campaign. And as a leader, Nandi chooses fairness and puts her own philosophy of 'We are the same' into action. She doesn't agree with Shaka's methods, and is a force for moderation in his life, suggesting political compromises rather than violent action, to him. She is aware of her power - that all major military and political achievements during Shaka's reign will rely on her as chief advisor - and she often uses his worship of her to manipulate him, to intervene for leniency for others.

 

Even in death, Nandi has great power, as Shaka's mourning for her changes the course of history forever, and eventually leads to Shaka's death as well.

 
MKABAYI

Princess Mkabayi kaJama, born around 1750, is a twin daughter of Zulu king, Jama kaNdaba. Upon the birth of the girls, Jama's people are bitterly disappointed - they have been waiting for the new male heir. According to Zulu tradition, they immediately call for one of the twins to be killed to avoid bad luck and the wrath of the ancestors - which they believe will result in the death of one of the parents. But at the naming ceremony Jama defies Zulu custom and announces both will live - he loves his baby daughters. From then, Mkabayi and Mmama are subjected to hatred and ostracism from their father's people, especially Mkabayi who is a beautiful, strong girl and the elder twin. Anytime something goes wrong, the twins are held responsible. 

 

When the girls are only five year old, their mother dies, without leaving a male heir. The Zulu people immediately blame the twins but it is more Mkabayi who becomes cursed and feared. Despite being held responsible for all misfortunes of the royal family and the Zulu people, Mkabayi remains above other people's opinions of her and determined to prove herself. The twins are raised strong and proud by their father, and Mkabayi grows into an independent, intelligent, beautiful girl.

But as a young girl of about 10, she senses her father's unhappiness and restlessness, without a wife or heir, and also deduces that in order to assuage the fears and growing dissatisfaction of the people, she has to find a solution to appease them. When Jama begins to behave erratically - looking for a wife from the nations north of the Zulu tribe, which is considered inappropriate - Mkabayi identifies Mthaniya from the Sibiya clan as a potential wife for him - a woman everyone loves - and secretly sets about 'wooing' her for her father. When she presents Mthaniya to Jama, he is a little reluctant at first, but agrees to marry her, and Mthaniya finally bears him the male heir everyone has waited for - Senzangakhona. This move incurs huge favour from her father.


Mkabayi is motivated by gratitude to her father for sparing her life, and she dedicates her life to serving him. She refuses an arranged marriage with one of the most powerful and wealthy neighbouring kings - she sees marriage as a loss of her political power and influence - and becomes Jama's regent, committed to protecting the Zulu identity and ensuring the stability and well-being of her people. This is traditionally considered to be a man’s duty, but Mkabayi rises above gender preconceptions. 

Jama appoints Mkabayi, Mmama and a third daughter - Mawa - from his union with Mthaniya, as the heads of military harems (izigodlo). Mkabayi heads the ebaQulusini, Mmama rules the Osebeni, while Mawa reigns over King Shaka’s eNtonteleni. All three girls continue to reject marriage, preferring to remain princessesMkabayi becomes one of the most powerful female figures amongst the Zulu nation, politically influencing even the most patriarchal men. She calls political assemblies - izimbizo - where she addresses Zulu elders and councillors in an effort to protect and ensure the stability of the Zulu nation. She even saves her father from poisoned beer, sending it back to the sender. The patriarchal society does not appreciate her as a leader, although they are in awe of her remarkable political and administrative skills. It was during this time when the Zulu people started referring to her as ‘Baba’ a great sign of respect.

When Jama kaNdaba dies, the Zulu kingdom is again thrust into turmoil. At 19, Senzangakhona is too young to ascend the throne. At this time of great uncertainty, Princess Mkabayi steps forward, with authority and resoluteness, and appoints herself regent, determined to lead until her half-brother is ready to. While it is totally unheard of to have a female protector and counselor, she is not to be argued with. She makes her statement of intent and fearing her wrath the royal men acquiesce to her command - and she proves to be a highly capable regent. She deals with scepticism by demonstrating she is an excellent leader who always puts the unity of the kingdom first. She thwarts attacks on her brother’s life and ruthlessly puts down other attempts to claim the throne. Sometimes, Mkabayi’s unscrupulousness shocks the Zulu people - like when she instructs her army to destroy the powerful Sojiyisa, one of her father's illegitimate children, who poses a threat to Senzangakhona’s reign. She shrugs off any criticism that she is a blood-thirsty despot and a terrible woman of antiquity.

 

In 1787, when Senzangakhona is 25 and old enough to lead the kingdom himself, she willingly steps down, but during her brothers rule she is the royal advisor and it is her word that is final. She continues to be involved politically with the Zulu kingdom, using her influence to help make decisions. A cunning woman, when Senzangakhona has a son with Nandi, outside of wedlock - Shaka - Mkabayi sees this as an opportunity to have a new heir to the crown. She supports Nandi, and takes care of Shaka when Nandi is driven away from Senzangakhona's homestead, back to her own family. She warns Nandi that the little boy's life is in danger and saves Shaka from assassination, helping to send him to be with his mother. And during all of this, Mkabayi still leads her military group and remains active in Zulu politics. 

 

Mkabayi remains close to Queen Nandi, and often visits Nandi and Shaka - with Senzangakhona's Great Wife, Mkabi - even after they join the Mthethwa clan, under Dingiswayo. She also supports Nandi's ambition for Shaka to one day be king, and years later when Senzangakhona dies, Mkabayi dismisses 26-year old Sigujane's claims as heir, at her brother's funeral, and rallies political support for him. Then she helps Shaka and Dingiswayo plot to assassinate Sigujane and take the throne. She remains close to Nandi and Shaka, through Shaka's great success, and advises Shaka on various political matters. But she becomes increasingly unhappy with Shaka's cruel, terror-filled reign. When Nandi dies and Shaka loses his final grip on reality, abusing his power and turning the Zulu nation into a fear-filled people, Mkabayi decides to conspire against him with her nephews Dingane and Mhlangana, to have him removed from power. It is not an easy decision, but she helps plan the assassination of Shaka on 24 September 1828, committed by his own bodyguard, Dingane and Mhlangana. Afterwards, wanting Dingane on the throne, Mkabayi then arranges for Mhlangana to be killed. S

 

While filled with regret at the death of Shaka, and the killing of her own nephew, Mhlangana, Mkabayi still does what she believes is the right thing for the Zulu nation. However, she can never shake the ghost of Shaka - her actions in his death continue to haunt her. She retains her power throughout Dingane rule, and in 1835 when Capt. Gardiner of the Royal Navy visited Dingane on missionary work, he found Mkabayi there - old, but still very powerful. 

In totality, Mkabayi is an incredibly diverse and influential character. She is wise, cunning and deceitful, but also passionate, prepared to make sacrifices, stubborn and culture defying when she challenges misogynists. She successfully succeeds in convincing key political figures to support her plots. She breaks gender boundaries created by the patriarchal system, like standing in front of men to address them, a phenomenon unheard of at this time. She installs new kings on their thrones but is also responsible for their dethroning, and then outlives them all. She is hugely instrumental in seeing the Zulu clan grow into a nation. Mkabayi is a political and personal force that blazes all the way up until the reign of Mpande - when she is exiled from the glorious Zulu nation she once helped build because the new king did not want the opinionated woman to interfere in his ruling. Mkabayi dies ignominiously - exiled, reviled, alone and bitterly regretful of her part in the assassination of her nephew, Shaka.

 

But her story, passed on through her praise song, is different from those of other women in Zulu history, whose songs are mostly about their looks. Mkabayi is described as a beast, the 'father of guile', the cunning one. In her song, she assumes powerful attributes usually associated with men, proving the power she wielded during her life.

 
SENZANGAKHONA

Born heir to King Jama, Senzangakhona is only 19 and too young to take the throne alone when his father dies, so he half rules while being 'groomed' to take over his seat on the throne from his half-sister Mkabayi, who protects it for him until he is ready to rule alone. His name means 'he who acts with a good reason' and Senzangakhona generally tries to live up to it. But he is a man who is led by his heart and he is also a bit of a maverick, growing up under Mkabayi's influence and guidance. In matters of the heart, Senzangakhona displays a bit of a rebellious attitude and shows independent thinking from traditional Zulu customs and traditions. He isn't circumcised - not does he circumcise his first born son Shaka when he is born. And he engages in a forbidden relationship with Nandi, who comes from another tribe, even when he knows he shouldn't, because he loves her. And after she falls pregnant, he tries to deny he is the father - as heir apparent, for him to impregnate a girl before marriage is an embarrassment and can be harshly punished - including his losing his right to ascend to the throne.

Senzangakhona's being led by passion also means he buys into many of the superstitions of his culture - he believes Sithayi, a prophetess who prophesises that ‘a child will be born who will bring about a new order and a new nation.' And when Shaka is born, he wonders if it is him.

During his reign, Senzangakhona desperately wants to honour his half-sister Mkabayi by being a good king. But being led by his heart throws him into continual conflict. He makes weak decisions, bowing to pressure from his wives and tribal leaders. This is evident in choosing his heir - he loves Shaka, his first born son, but cannot honour him by naming him his successor, as Shaka is the child of Nandi, a lesser wife. He also can't shake off Sithayi's prophecy. But, he does the right thing and names Sigujana. However, when he dies, it is Shaka he calls for. Shaka he needs assurance from to leave this world and pass to the next.

 
DINGANE

Dingane enters his life in 1795 with a name that means 'you will need him'. As the son of Senzangakhona - and believing in the meaning of his name growing up - Dingane navigates his childhood quietly, as a helper at heart, but with a shrewd, keen mind. As he reaches adulthood, he believes his people need to be saved from the tyranny of Shaka and he is the one to save them. He is the son of Senzangakhona and his sixth and 'great wife' Mpikase, and Shaka's half brother - and as the son of the 'great wife', he believes that he is the rightful heir to the throne, not Shaka - who killed his brother to take it. 

 

Like Shaka, Dingane also loves and respects his aunt, Mkabayi, and after the death of Queen Nandi, Shaka's increasingly brutal behaviour drives Dingane to get involved in a plot with Mkabayi, another brother, Mhlangana, and Mbopa, Shaka’s bodyguard, to assassinate Shaka. This attack takes place on 22 September 1828 at present-day Stanger. As a man who doesn't want to do 'dirty work' himself, Dingane agrees that Mbopa must do the actual killing, but he and Mhlangana will be present. During the attack on Shaka, Dingane is rattled by Shaka's mocking of him -  Shaka tells Dingane that he thinks he will rule but actually the British will. He is also bothered by Shaka's prediction that 'You will come to an end through killing one another.' So, immediately after Shaka's death, he and Mkayabi plot and kill Mhlangana.

Dingane wants his reign to be peaceful, and he immediately sends words to neighbouring dependencies, informing them that Shaka is dead, he is the new king, and he wants peace. At the time. Shaka's 'grand army' were up north, and they returned to hear the news of Shaka's death in stunned silence. Dingane, as an inherent manipulator, tries winning them over by promising them peace, an easy life, enjoyment of their takings, and the right to marry. While the majority of the troops accept these conditions and Dingane as their king, some die-hard Shaka supporters and the marshal of the army, Mdlaka, object. True to form, when neither manipulation nor reasoning work, Dingane turns to violence to fix his problems and has Mdlaka strangled in his hut and other Shaka supporters eliminated.  

 

Between 1828 and 1829, Dingane consolidates his power. He relocates the Zulu capital from Dukuza to the Zulu valley and names it Mgungundlovu. He then sets about increasing the prosperity of Zululand. He makes good on his promises to warriors of the Zulu army, now able to marry, set up their own homesteads, receive gifts of cattle and enjoy their lives tending their crops and cattle. Dingane also gets involved in trading activities with many Portuguese traders from early Port Natal. But he never forgets Shaka's words about the British, and fearing any military clash with Europeans, in 1830, Dingane sends an expedition to the Cape in an attempt to establish good relations with the British, to promise peace with his neighbours and inform them he will encourage trade, protect traders, and accept missionaries. So, in January 1832, when the British send Dr Andrew Smith to visit him, Dingane is relieved, and Smith reports back on his wonderful reception, and the fertility of the area. What Smith doesn't realise is that Dingane is playing him and the British, lulling them into complacency, because he knows that he cannot take on British fire power in a conflict. Dingane doesn't, however, have any intention of allowing the British or any other Europeans to settle on Zulu land.

At the beginning of his reign, Dingane is revered as the ‘great idol’ of the Zulu nation. His subjects deem him god-like and immortal, believing his reign started 'hundreds and hundreds of years ago' and praise him as 'greater than the heavens.' But like Shaka, Dingane has a need to control and he rules his people as a despot - his ministers, concubines and servants don't think, act or speak, except at his suggestion or command. However, he lacks Shaka's military and leadership skills. His reign is filled with dissension. Many rebel chiefs break away from his rule and flee the country. Dingane rounds up their people and massacres them. He keeps over 500 concubines in severe bondage and if any run away, they are found and executed. He is an insecure narcissist, who destroys anyone who challenges him and keeps his subjects in fear of him. He is driven by the need for power and to be acknowledged as a supreme leader, to the extent that he imbues himself with a god like aura. He needs to be worshiped and is faultless in his own eyes.

In October 1837 a group of Voortrekkers led by Piet Retief reach Port Natal (Durban) and are welcomed by the British ivory traders in the area. When Dingane gets a letter from Retief on 19 October as a sign of peace, he is pleased that his strategy is working, and prepares to welcome Retief's party to Mgungundlovu to discuss the question of land. When Retief's party arrives, Dingane presents himself as a 'robust, fat, well proportioned, well-bred Zulu, not at all forbidding in his appearance.' He also appears very 'civilised' - being scrupulously clean and clean-shaven every day, bathing every day and having his body rubbed with fat. He is welcoming to his visitors, smiles often and is very friendly. His 'peaceful demeanour' is reinforced by generally spending his days sitting in an armchair attending to business, drinking beer and playing with gifts from his European visitors.

Dingane's astuteness in realising Retief is naive, and his manipulation of him, is also evidenced in the fact that he orders dances, feasts and sham fights to entertain the Retief party, and engages in discussions regarding the allocation of land which leaves Retief thinking he's been granted an extensive area between the Tugela and the Umzimvubu as well as the Drakensberg, on condition that he restore to Dingane the cattle stolen from him by Sikonyela, and gives Dingane rifles. But having already had trouble from the handful of whites at Port Natal, Dingane does not intend allowing a large amount of heavily armed farmers to settle permanently in his immediate neighbourhood. So, when Retief and his men obtain the cattle from the Sikonyela as per the deal with Dingane, but refuse to hand over the horses and the guns - and then Dingane hears that even before the land claim is signed Voortrekkers are streaming down the Drakensburg passes in large numbers - he develops a huge mistrust of Retief.

Dingane's fear and desire to eliminate the Boer threat to Zululand results in him requesting that Retief and his men visit his royal kraal on 6 February 1838, without their guns as per Zulu protocol, to say farewell. Once the Voortrekker party is inside the royal kraal, Dingane gives the order to 'Kill the wizards!' and his regiments overpower Retief and his men, take them up to a hill and execute them. Dingane then sends out warriors to kill the rest of Retief's undefended Voortrekker party - about 500 Boers and native servants, including women and children are killed at Weenen - setting off months of bloody conflict between the Voortrekkers and Dingane's Zulus. The conflict culminates in the battle at Ngome River (Battle of Blood River) on 16 December 1838, in which the Zulus suffer a severe defeat.

Dingane now lives his worst fears - he's at war with the Europeans.  As a weak and insecure coward, he burns down his whole kraal, then the Zulus launch an attack on the command at the White Umfolozi River. They also defeat the British occupying Port Natal at the Tugela River, when they advance and Dingane's warriors attack the settlement at Port Natal.

In September 1839 Dingane demands support from Mpande, his brother, in a war against the Swazi people. But fearing he will die, Mpande defies him and takes thousands of Zulu south where they ally with the Boers under Andries Pretorius. These allied forces defeat Dingane’s army on the Maqongqo hills near the Pongola River on 30 January 1840. Dingane flees north across the Pongola River, and here - somewhere in the Lebombo Mountains at an unknown time - he finally meets his death at the hands of the Nyawo and his old enemy, the Swazi. 

 
BURTON BLAKE

Born heir to King Jama, Senzangakhona is only 19 and too young to take the throne alone when his father dies, so he half rules while being 'groomed' to take over his seat on the throne from his half-sister Mkabayi, who protects it for him until he is ready to rule alone. His name means 'he who acts with a good reason' and Senzangakhona generally tries to live up to it. But he is a man who is led by his heart and he is also a bit of a maverick, growing up under Mkabayi's influence and guidance. In matters of the heart, Senzangakhona displays a bit of a rebellious attitude and shows independent thinking from traditional Zulu customs and traditions. He isn't circumcised - not does he circumcise his first born son Shaka when he is born. And he engages in a forbidden relationship with Nandi, who comes from another tribe, even when he knows he shouldn't, because he loves her. And after she falls pregnant, he tries to deny he is the father - as heir apparent, for him to impregnate a girl before marriage is an embarrassment and can be harshly punished - including his losing his right to ascend to the throne.

Senzangakhona's being led by passion also means he buys into many of the superstitions of his culture - he believes Sithayi, a prophetess who prophesises that ‘a child will be born who will bring about a new order and a new nation.' And when Shaka is born, he wonders if it is him.

During his reign, Senzangakhona desperately wants to honour his half-sister Mkabayi by being a good king. But being led by his heart throws him into continual conflict. He makes weak decisions, bowing to pressure from his wives and tribal leaders. This is evident in choosing his heir - he loves Shaka, his first born son, but cannot honour him by naming him his successor, as Shaka is the child of Nandi, a lesser wife. He also can't shake off Sithayi's prophecy. But, he does the right thing and names Sigujana. However, when he dies, it is Shaka he calls for. Shaka he needs assurance from to leave this world and pass to the next.