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*On this date in 1828, Shaka Zulu, the great Zulu King was killed. In 1816, he became the clan chief of the Zulu, the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with a population of approximately 6 million.
Soon after his reign began, the Zulu began their campaign of conquest and expansion known as the Mfecane, which led to the incorporation of many other peoples. A brilliant military leader, Shaka put together an army of more than 40,000 trained soldiers. Shaka also introduced several important military innovations, such as the short stabbing spear, which gave Zulu troops a distinct advantage over their adversaries. In a period of only ten years, Shaka had built a kingdom—Zululand—that encompassed most of the area now known as Natal Province.
Shaka claimed absolute authority over his kingdom. His hierarchical leadership style was retained by subsequent Zulu rulers and later adopted by Inkatha, a 20th-century Zulu political organization. In conquered territories, Shaka appointed his own officials; any subjects who refused Shaka's overrule could be killed immediately. In addition, conquered peoples were expected to serve in the Zulu army, herd the king's cattle, and hunt elephants for ivory. Shaka consolidated his authority by conducting frequent cattle raids on neighboring groups, such as the Mpondo.
A portion of the cattle was distributed to Shaka's chiefs and army officers to encourage their loyalty. Despite these tactics, however, Shaka faced internal opposition, and on this date his half-brother Dingane assassinated him.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.