Reconstituting Shaka Zulu for the twenty-first century


  • J. Wright University of KwaZulu-Natal


The image of Shaka as one of the Great Men of southern African history was in essence a product of political struggles in the era of colonialism. Black people and white people alike were responsible for producing it. It began to take root after about 1840, and became widespread in southern Africa and elsewhere in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the period of anti-apartheid struggles after World War II it was uncritically taken up and reinforced by liberal and radical academics, by African nationalists, and especially by Zulu nationalist politicians. In the 1980s and early 1990s the figure of Shaka the Mighty became a central icon in the ideology of Zuluism. The end of apartheid and the establishment of formal democratic rule in South Africa in 1994 led to an unexpectedly rapid decline of Zulu nationalism and, concomitantly, to a rapid fall-off in meaningful invocations of Shaka as a Mighty figure. In the early twenty-first century the most active proponents of what are increasingly anachronistic ideas about Shaka the Mighty are operatives in KwaZulu-Natal's rapidly expanding heritage and tourism industries.



How to Cite

Wright, J. (2021). Reconstituting Shaka Zulu for the twenty-first century. Southern African Humanities, 18(2), 139–53. Retrieved from