Shaka kaSenzangakhona (July 1787 – 22 September 1828), also known as Shaka Zulu and Sigidi kaSenzangakhona, was the founder of the Zulu Kingdom from 1816 to 1828. He was one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu, responsible for re-organizing the military into a formidable force via a series of wide-reaching and influential reforms.
Shaka was born in the lunar month of uNtulikazi (July) in the year of 1787 near present-day Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal Province, the son of the Zulu chief Senzangakhona. Spurned as an illegitimate son, Shaka spent his childhood in his mother’s settlements, where he was initiated into an ibutho lempi (fighting unit), serving as a warrior under Dingiswayo.
Shaka further refined the ibutho military system and, with the Mthethwa empire’s support over the next several years, forged alliances with his smaller neighbours to counter the growing threat from Ndwandwe raids from the north. The initial Zulu maneuvers were primarily defensive, as Shaka preferred to apply pressure diplomatically, with an occasional strategic assassination. His reforms of local society built on existing structures. Although he preferred social and propagandistic political methods, he also engaged in a number of battles.
Shaka’s reign coincided with the start of the Mfecane/Difaqane (“Upheaval” or “Crushing”), a period of devastating warfare and chaos in southern Africa between 1815 and about 1840 that depopulated the region. His role in the Mfecane/Difaqane is highly controversial. He was ultimately assassinated by his half brothers Dingane and Mhlangana.