Man of myth and legend

2008-09-24 00:00

One hundred and eighty years after his death, the figure of Shaka Zulu still surfaces regularly at the centre of political controversy. In the most recent spat, the vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, was taken to task in the press by several angry critics for labelling King Shaka as a classical example of an African dictator (in a speech in which he proclaimed his support for Jacob Zuma as African National Congress president and numbered Thabo Mbeki among the dictators).

What we can say, though, is that accounts of Shaka as a bloodthirsty military leader whose armies swept across much of southern Africa in the 1820s are based on uncritical readings of the evidence and are highly misleading. Historians accept that the 1820s and 1830s were years of widespread and often violent upheaval in African communities across southern Africa, but many of them no longer think that this “time of troubles” was caused by an explosive expansion of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka. Instead, they are looking at explanations which focus on the impact which European colonial and commercial expansion from the Cape and from Delagoa Bay had on the politics of African societies throughout the region. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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