Fear in the kingdom after Shaka’s murder
stand firm, including Sothobe. They seized their spears and contemplated attacking the three assassins. But the killers succeeded in talking them over and they withdrew to kwaDukuza or, like Sothobe, made for home.
Left almost alone at the scene of the killing, the assassins rounded up a few men to raise the ihubo, a sacred ballad honouring the mighty deeds of the ancestors. They then sacrificed a black ox from the kwaNyakamubi herd in thanksgiving to Senzangakhona’s mighty shade and to those of the other royal ancestors.
All the umndlunkulu sallied out of the isigodlo and joined in the ceremony, some happily enough, others crying in fright, if not grief.
While they danced, they sang: ‘“You were warned in the Mtetwa country, at the place of Ndiminde” (at the place of those of the long tongue, those who tefula).’
After the sacrifice, Dingane and Mhlangana became involved in a dis- pute that laid bare the smouldering rivalry they had succeeded in damping down while Shaka still lived.
The gall of the sacrificed beast, mixed with the contents of its paunch, was drunk by those who had killed it and the remainder was sprinkled over the bodies of those present to ward off the evil taint of umnyama.
The depleted bladder was then worn on the arm of the chief man who had performed the sacrifice.
Each of the two brothers angrily insisted on his superior right to do so. Mbopha quickly intervened and pacified the pair by suggesting a temporary expedient. Until the Bhalule impi returned and made known which of the princes it favoured as Shaka’s successor, he, Mbopha, would act as an interim regent.
The few people still lingering at kwaNyakamubi then dutifully acclaimed him, although it remained to be seen whether this scrambled arrangement would long pass muster.
There was no mourning for Shaka. His body was left all night where it had fallen.
Scavenging hyenas did not trouble it because, the Zulu believed, they never touched the corpse of a king.
When morning came, a decision had to be taken concerning the disposal of the bloodied and already stiff cadaver. Mhlangana is said to have proposed that it be dragged to a pool in the nearby river and fed to the crocodiles. However, those of Shaka’s attendants who had not yet fled insisted it must be buried properly as custom demanded, and Dingane concurred.
The sanitised version of Shaka’s interment – which draws essentially on Fynn’s second-hand account – would have us believe that Shaka was entombed without all the ceremony that normally attended a royal burial.
If this were so, no close companion would have been killed (as was customary) to follow Shaka into the spirit world to wait upon him there and keep him company. Nor would a special royal grave have been prepared.
We are to believe that Shaka’s body was unceremoniously lowered into an empty grain pit in the isibaya at kwaNyakamubi and his blanket laid over him.
Zulu testimony, however, tells it rather differently. The spears were removed from Shaka’s corpse and it was wrapped up in the skin of the black ox the brothers had previously sacrificed. It was then removed to a hut in the umuzi. Following the ancient custom, the body was placed in a sitting position tied to the central pole of the hut. Relatives kept it company at night and the inhabitants of kwaNyakamubi performed the funeral rites.
The corpse remained putrefying in the funeral hut and was not finally buried until all his personal belongings and the private things that had ever touched him – his loin-covers, dancing dress, beads and brass ornaments, food dishes and utensils – had been collected up from across the kingdom to join him in the grave. Most were probably burned beforehand, and others (in accordance to custom) placed up against both sides of the body, but not in front of or behind it.
However, Shaka’s spears were not laid in the grave with him. No Zulu would ever put a spear “in the hands of a dead man” lest his idlozi be angry – and Shaka’s had every reason to be so – and mystically stab living people, causing them to bleed from the mouth and die. Certainly, Shaka’s killers were in fear of his malevolent spirit, and ordered that all the surrounding empty grain pits be thoroughly closed up so that the idlozi could not find a channel of escape and wreak his vengeance on them.
Fynn recorded that, as an extra precaution, a piece of his buttock covering was placed in Shaka’s mouth to repress his idlozi’s anger.
When Shaka came to be buried, certainly in the customary sitting position, he was accompanied – as his royal status demanded – by a number of attendants of elite status. This umgando, as the group of victims was called, included Nandi’s uncle, Nxazonke, and his imbongi, Mxamana, both of whom the assassins had killed immediately after Shaka. Ntendeka, the induna of kwaDlangezwa, joined them. Several others, though wounded, managed to make good their escape.
Ngunuza kaNsiyana, one of Nxazonke’s Langeni companions, realising he was about to be killed, scrambled up onto Shaka’s hut and started praising him. This brought his assailants to a surprised halt. Ngunuza then suddenly leapt down and broke through them, stabbing some as he went. He was said to have escaped to Faku.
A heap of stones was raised over Shaka’s grave and a hut built over it. As was customary, the inmates of the umuzi where he had perished and the people employed at his burial were posted there as guards. They were supplied with cattle and grain for their subsistence, since they were forbidden to abandon their watch on pain of death. Their isolation did not last for too long. The Zulu believed that after a few months the spirit of the dead ruler, who was buried in the umuzi where he had died, should be brought back (buyisa) at a great feast, propitiated with copious sacrifices and then requested to permit itself to be conveyed to a new spirit home, or umuzi wedlozi. Dingane, who was extremely anxious to evade the ravening fury of his brother’s idlozi, performed this ceremony as soon as was appropriate.
In 1829, when Dingane established his new chief ikhanda, uMgungundlovu,in the emaKhosini valley, he rebuilt kwaDukuza close by as the abode for Shaka’s spirit. When in 1843 King Mpande subsequently built his principal ikhanda, kwaNodwengu, in the Mahlabathini plain across the White Mfolozi from the emaKhosini valley, he made sure to rebuild kwa Dukuza nearby as Shaka’s new umuzi wedlozi.
On 26 June 1879 the British burned kwaDukuza during the final stages of the Anglo-Zulu War. It was never rebuilt, and Shaka’s idlozi no longer had a spirit home. As for the grave where Shaka’s body lay buried at the abandoned kwaNyakamubi, a small umuzi was built close by so that its inhabitants would be on hand to care for the site.
In February 1829, JC Chase, on an overland expedition to Delagoa Bay, passed “Chaka’s sepulchre, which is built up with stones and protected by a mimosa fence, renewed monthly”. The grave continued to be tended regularly until 1844, only 16 years after Shaka’s death. In that year, the British, who had annexed Natal on 12 May 1843, with its northern boundary fixed at the Thukela, began allocating the land as farms to colonists. Shaka’s grave was situated in the grant parcelled out to one T Potgieter. In 1873, the Surveyor General of Natal, William Stanger, laid out a village (named Stanger after him) on the site of kwaDukuza.
The whereabouts of the grave were largely forgotten, although not by all. Makewu told Stuart in 1899 that the abandoned grave still had a thorn tree growing out of it. It was situated at the side of the house built by WD Wheelwright, who had been the resident magistrate of the Lower Tugela division from 1887 to 1889, close to the magistracy that had been erected on the site of the isigodlo at kwaDukuza.
JOHN LABAND is the author of several highly regarded books on the Zulu Kingdom, including the seminal
Laband is Professor Emeritus at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada; a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge;