The area now known as Zululand lies on the south-eastern coast
of Africa, between the Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean. A
sub-tropical coastal strip rises through a steep rolling grassland
to cool inland heights, many of which were thickly forested.
region abounded with a plentiful supply of game. Thornbush grew
abundantly in the valleys and the area was covered with an extensive
variety of grasses, which, coupled with the comparative absence of
tsetse fly, provided some of the finest cattle country in southern
The Zulus were part of the wider cultural and racial group known
as the Nguni, who arrived in the area sometime in the seventeenth century
in search of fresh pastures. They extended over the locale,
gradually populating it with clan groups, who all maintained a claim
to a common ancestor.
According to oral tradition, a man named Zulu
established his homestead on the southern bank of the White River Mfolozi in about 1670. The name Zulu means 'the heavens', and his
followers took the name amaZulu, 'the people of the heavens'.
The Zulus were a relatively unimportant tribe in Southern Africa
until the advent of Shaka. The two dominant tribes in the region
were the Mthethwa in the south-east, under King Dingiswayo, and the
Ndwandwe in the north, under King Zwide - and they were bitter
Once again, oral tradition has it that Dingiswayo was a wise
and just ruler and Zwide a treacherous despot; this may, of course,
be an example of history being interpreted by the victors, although
there does appear to be some corroborative evidence as to the
ruthlessness of Zwide.
At the death of the old Zulu chief - Senzangakhona - Dingiswayo sponsored Shaka for the 'throne' of the
Zulus. Other claimants were quietly disposed of. After the death of
the Mthethwa King at the hands of Zwide, Shaka revolutionised the
Zulu military structure and system of warfare, and established an
empire unparalleled in the native history of southern Africa.
swept all before him, assimilating smaller clans and tribal groups
with a ruthlessness that far surpassed anything that Zwide had been
able to offer.
Shaka was the true founder of the Zulu Kingdom, and his
descendents continue to rule today.