Aug 1, 2023
Shaka Zulu (c. 1787–1828) was the most powerful king in southern Africa during the pre-colonial period. He forged a polity that would become the largest in the region through the ruthless use of his reorganised and loyal army.
Initially regarded as an upstart, Shaka managed to impose himself as a regional ruler. Invaded by a powerful neighbouring tribe, he organised the collective defence of the Zulus and other tribes, reorganising the militia and drawing on indigenous traditions, without any European influences. He then turned to crushing the surrounding chiefdoms with the utmost brutality, leaving a trail of massacres and destruction in his wake. Operating with only 5,000 to 10,000 warriors at any given time, Shaka – like Napoleon – prevailed not through the introduction of new technologies, but through innovative ways of training and employing his army.
Professor John Laband is the world-leading expert on Zulu history. A graduate of the University of Natal and Cambridge, he is Professor Emeritus of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada. He joins Beatrice and Paul for this episode.