Shaka and the Zulu Warriors
Shaka Zulu – warrior, statesman and king – is widely credited with transforming the Zulu tribe from a small clan into the beginnings of a nation that held sway over the portion of Southern Africa between the Phongolo and Mzimkhulu rivers.
Shaka’s military prowess has been widely credited. With a strong mind for battle tactics, he was known for his military might, innovation on the battlefield and success in defeating his rivals. By incorporating scattered remnants of other tribes into his own army, Shaka also demonstrated diplomacy and patronage.
Shaka’s government depended on his ability to maintain control of the amabutho (‘age group’ regiments), each of which numbered a few hundred to a few thousand men and was commanded by a respected induna, or royal official.
His strategies were so refined and Zulu military ability so impressive that, only 63 years later, the Zulu army was able to hold off the might of the British Empire for a full six months and defeat it soundly at the Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879.
Shaka introduced the iklwa – a short stabbing spear with a sword-like spearhead. It was named, allegedly, for the sound it made as it entered and exited the body.
Shaka is also said to have introduced a larger, heavier shield made of cowhide. He taught each warrior to use the shield's left side to hook the enemy's shield to the right, exposing the enemy's ribs for a fatal spear stab.
Shaka was the first to use the ‘buffalo horns’ military formation, with its three elements:
- The ‘horns’ or flanking right and left wing elements, made up of younger, quicker-moving troops who encircle and pin the enemy;
- The ‘chest’ or central main force of prime fighters, who collectively deliver the finishing blow; and
- The ‘loins’ or reserves, composed of war veterans who are used to exploit success or reinforce elsewhere.
Regimental indunas supply coordination using hand signals and messengers. This scheme is elegant in its simplicity and well-understood by each segment's warriors.