Shaka Zulu Unisex T-Shirt
Finally, a way to show your respect for some of the greatest icons, legends and pioneers that paved the way past and present. Rock this gear in style and bring back the moments that made you, memories they gave you and/or lessons they taught you. Scroll down for a history lesson with some of our favorite clips.
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Shaka Zulu & The History of the Zulu Kingdom Documentary
Shaka kaSenzangakhona (c. July 1787 – 22 September 1828), also known as Shaka Zulu (Zulu pronunciation: [ˈʃaːɠa]) 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.
Shaka Zulu – Legendary Warrior & Ruler Zulu Empire
When Senzangakhona (Shaka’s father) died in 1816, Shaka’s younger half-brother Sigujana assumed power as the legitimate heir to the Zulu chiefdom. Sigujana’s reign was short, however, as Dingiswayo, anxious to confirm his authority, lent Shaka a regiment so that he was able to put Sigujana to death, launching a relatively bloodless coup that was substantially accepted by the Zulu. Thus Shaka became Chief of the Zulu clan, although he remained a vassal of the Mthethwa empire until Dingiswayo’s death in battle a year later at the hands of Zwide, powerful chief of the Ndwandwe (Nxumalo) nation. When the Mthethwa forces were defeated and scattered temporarily, the power vacuum was filled by Shaka. He reformed the remnants of the Mthethwa and other regional tribes and later defeated Zwide in the Zulu Civil War of 1819–20.
When Dingiswayo was murdered by Zwide, Shaka sought to avenge his death. At some point, Zwide barely escaped Shaka, though the exact details are not known. In that encounter, Zwide’s mother Ntombazi, a sangoma, was killed by Shaka. Shaka chose a particularly gruesome revenge on her, locking her in a house and placing jackals or hyenas inside: they devoured her and, in the morning, Shaka burned the house to the ground. Despite carrying out this revenge, Shaka continued his pursuit of Zwide. It was not until around 1825 that the two military leaders met, near Phongola, in their final meeting. Phongola is near the present day border of KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa. Shaka was victorious in battle, although his forces sustained heavy casualties, which included his head military commander, Umgobhozi Ovela Entabeni.
In the initial years, Shaka had neither the influence nor reputation to compel any but the smallest of groups to join him, and upon Dingiswayo’s death, Shaka moved southwards across the Thukela River, establishing his capital Bulawayo in Qwabe territory; he never did move back into the traditional Zulu heartland. In Qwabe, Shaka may have intervened in an existing succession dispute to help his own choice, Nqetho, into power.
Expansion of power and conflict with Zwide
This map illustrates the rise of the Zulu Empire under Shaka (1816–1828) in present-day South Africa. The rise of the Zulu Empire under Shaka forced other chiefdoms and clans to flee across a wide area of southern Africa. Clans fleeing the Zulu war zone included the Soshangane, Zwangendaba, Ndebele, Hlubi, Ngwane, and the Mfengu. A number of clans were caught between the Zulu Empire and advancing Voortrekkers and Cape colonists, such as the Xhosa.
As Shaka became more respected by his people, he was able to spread his ideas with greater ease. Because of his background as a soldier, Shaka taught the Zulus that the most effective way of becoming powerful quickly was by conquering and controlling other tribes. His teachings greatly influenced the social outlook of the Zulus. The Zulu tribe soon developed a warrior outlook, which Shaka turned to his advantage.
Shaka’s hegemony was primarily based on military might, smashing rivals and incorporating scattered remnants into his own army. He supplemented this with a mixture of diplomacy and patronage, incorporating friendly chieftains, including Zihlandlo of the Mkhize, Jobe of the Sithole, and Mathubane of the Thuli. These peoples were never defeated in battle by the Zulu; they did not have to be. Shaka won them over by subtler tactics, such as patronage and reward. As for the ruling Qwabe, they began re-inventing their genealogies to give the impression that Qwabe and Zulu were closely related (i.e. as Nguni) in the past. In this way a greater sense of cohesion was created, though it never became complete, as subsequent civil wars attest.
Shaka still recognised Dingiswayo and his larger Mthethwa clan as overlord after he returned to the Zulu but, some years later, Dingiswayo was ambushed by Zwide’s Ndwandwe and killed. There is no evidence to suggest that Shaka betrayed Dingiswayo. Indeed, the core Zulu had to retreat before several Ndwandwe incursions; the Ndwandwe was clearly the most aggressive grouping in the sub-region.
Shaka was able to form an alliance with the leaderless Mthethwa clan and was able to establish himself amongst the Qwabe, after Phakathwayo was overthrown with relative ease. With Qwabe, Hlubi and Mkhize support, Shaka was finally able to summon a force capable of resisting the Ndwandwe (of the Nxumalo clan). Historian Donald Morris states that Shaka’s first major battle against Zwide, of the Ndwandwe, was the Battle of Gqokli Hill, on the Mfolozi river. Shaka’s troops maintained a strong position on the crest of the hill. A frontal assault by their opponents failed to dislodge them, and Shaka sealed the victory by sending his reserve forces in a sweep around the hill to attack the enemy’s rear. Losses were high overall but the efficiency of the new Shakan innovations was proven. It is probable that, over time, the Zulu were able to hone and improve their encirclement tactics.
Another decisive battle eventually took place on the Mhlatuze river, at the confluence with the Mvuzane stream. In a two-day running battle, the Zulu inflicted a resounding defeat on their opponents. Shaka then led a fresh reserve some 110 kilometres (70 mi) to the royal kraal of Zwide, ruler of the Ndwandwe, and destroyed it. Zwide himself escaped with a handful of followers before falling foul of a chieftainess named Mjanji, ruler of a Babelu clan. (He died in mysterious circumstances soon afterwards.) Zwide’s general Soshangane (of the Shangaan) moved north towards what is now Mozambique to inflict further damage on less resistant foes and take advantage of slaving opportunities, obliging Portuguese traders to give tribute. Shaka later had to contend again with Zwide’s son Sikhunyane in 1826.
Shaka granted permission to Europeans to enter Zulu territory on rare occasions. In the mid-1820s Henry Francis Fynn provided medical treatment to the king after an assassination attempt by a rival tribe member hidden in a crowd (see account of Nathaniel Isaacs). To show his gratitude, Shaka permitted European settlers to enter and operate in the Zulu kingdom. Shaka observed several demonstrations of European technology and knowledge, but he held that the Zulu way was superior to that of the foreigners.
Dingane and Mhlangana, Shaka’s half-brothers, appear to have made at least two attempts to assassinate Shaka before they succeeded, with perhaps support from Mpondo elements and some disaffected iziYendane people. Shaka had made enough enemies among his own people to hasten his demise. It came relatively quickly after the death of his mother, Nandi, in October 1827, and the devastation caused by Shaka’s subsequent erratic behaviour. According to Donald Morris, Shaka ordered that no crops should be planted during the following year of mourning, no milk (the basis of the Zulu diet at the time) was to be used, and any woman who became pregnant was to be killed along with her husband. At least 7,000 people who were deemed to be insufficiently grief-stricken were executed, although the killing was not restricted to humans: cows were slaughtered so that their calves would know what losing a mother felt like.
Shaka was killed by three assassins sometime in 1828; September is the most frequently cited date, when almost all available Zulu manpower had been sent on yet another mass sweep to the north. This left the royal kraal critically lacking in security. It was all the conspirators needed—they being Shaka’s half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, and an iNduna called Mbopa. A diversion was created by Mbopa, and Dingane and Mhlangana struck the fatal blows. Shaka’s corpse was dumped by his assassins in an empty grain pit, which was then filled with stones and mud. The exact location is unknown. A monument was built at one alleged site. Historian Donald Morris holds that the true site is somewhere on Couper Street in the village of Stanger, South Africa.
Shaka’s half-brother Dingane assumed power and embarked on an extensive purge of pro-Shaka elements and chieftains, running over several years, in order to secure his position. The initial problem Dingane faced was maintaining the loyalty of the Zulu fighting regiments, or amabutho. He addressed this by allowing them to marry and set up homesteads (which was forbidden during Shaka’s rule) and they also received cattle from Dingane. Loyalty was also maintained through fear, as anyone who was suspected of rivaling Dingane was killed. He set up his main residence at Mgungundlovu and established his authority over the Zulu kingdom. Dingane ruled for some twelve years, during which time he fought, disastrously, against the Voortrekkers, and against another half-brother, Mpande, who, with Boer and British support, took over the Zulu leadership in 1840, ruling for some 30 years.
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