Fear in the king­dom af­ter Shaka’s mur­der

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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;

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