Shaka kaSenzangakhona, the Zulu king who ruled a large chunk of modern day South Africa in the early 19th century, would probably be amused to know some historians view him as a great military leader. In a book by Michael Lanning, ‘The 100 Most Influential Military Leaders’, Shaka features alongside influential figures such as Winston Churchill and Fidel Castro and is ranked at number fifty-nine.
Shaka lived in the south-eastern part of Africa between the Drakensberg mountains and the Indian Ocean. This area was populated by many independent chiefdoms and under his rule Shaka was able to unite over a hundred of these chiefdoms into the Zulu Kingdom. Shaka was able to grow his army, in the first year of his command, from three hundred and fifty men, to more than two thousand and at the height of his leadership, he ruled over two hundred and fifty thousand people. Part of his success was due to his policy of offering his defeated foes a choice to either join his ranks or die. He used intense training methods to prepare his men for the fitness and strength needed for battle and he replaced the light throwing-spear with a broad-bladed stabbing knife. The introduction of the “buffalo” tactic, which consisted of an attack on the enemy from four sides, made Shaka’s disciplined, regimented armies the most feared force on the southern tip of Africa. He is also remembered for transforming the Zulu community by giving them pride, determination and passion.
Shaka was such an impressive leader that his radical military innovations survived generations after his assassination at the age of forty-one. Cetshwayo, a later Zulu king, used his methods to defeat the British army at Isandlwana in 1879, about 50 years after Shaka’s death.
Today Shaka’s reputation is still remembered and respected. A statue of this great Zulu leader can be seen overlooking the airport at Durban, the coastal city in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa and millions of school children still hear stories of this remarkable Zulu leader in their history lessons, and are still filled with awe and admiration.