South Africa Table Mountain

From Zulu tribe to a mighty nation of Zulu people
under the legendary king Shaka Zulu

The Zulu people appeared on the scene during the great southern migration of people from central Africa when a large number of tribes belonging to the Nguni language group, migrated along the eastern part of southern Africa.

In the process some tribes separated away from the migration and settled along the way, while many others kept going.


A new tribe had settled themselves between the Umhlatuse and the Umfolozi Rivers in the region that we know today as KwaZulu-Natal. Their first king was Malandela and he named his tribe after his son Zulu.

Young Zulus performing a warrior dance - The Zulu Tribe and their legendary King Shaka Zulu
Young Zulus performing a warrior dance
The Zulu Tribe and their legendary King Shaka Zulu
copyright © South African tourism

An interesting pattern of settlements took shape along the eastern coast of South Africa, with the Swazi people establishing themselves in the north, the Xhosa in the South and the Zulus in between. Because of their common origin, their languages and cultures show distinct similarities.

An old 19th century photograph of a Zulu warrior - The Zulu people, Zulu Tribe and legendary King Shaka Zulu
An old 19th century photograph of a Zulu warrior
The Zulu people, Zulu Tribe and legendary King Shaka Zulu

At the time the Zulus were a small and insignificant tribe. There were other more important and stronger tribes in the region. The Mtethwa with their king Dingiswayo were living east of the Zulus, the Qwabe with Phakatwayo as their king were living south of the Mtethwa and the Ndandwe with Zwide as their king were to be found north of the Mtethwa.

Only known drawing of King Shaka standing with the long throwing assegai and the heavy shield in 1824 - four years before his death - The Zulu Tribe and their legendary King Shaka Zulu
Only known drawing of King Shaka standing with the long throwing assegai and the heavy shield in 1824 - four years before his death
The Zulu Tribe and their legendary King Shaka Zulu

In 1816 the legendary Shaka became king of the Zulus. During a war between the Ndwandwe and Mthethwa in 1819, Dingiswayo was killed by Zwide. King Shaka did not hesitate to subjugate and incorporate them into the Zulu tribe. Soon thereafter he conquered and destroyed the Ndandwe tribe, also incorporating what was left of them into his Zulu tribe.

Valley of a 1000 hills, the historical homeland of the Zulus - The Zulu people, Zulu Tribe and legendary King Shaka Zulu
Valley of a 1000 hills, the historical homeland of the Zulus
The Zulu people, Zulu Tribe and legendary King Shaka Zulu

After he got rid of his major opposition in the region, Shaka went on eliminating several smaller tribes until Natal there were practically non left. And so the small and insignificant Zulu tribe eventually grew into the most powerful black nation in South Africa when Shaka succeeded in uniting all the people in the region under his rule.

Modern-day young Zulu woman with traditional headdress - The Zulu Tribe and their legendary King Shaka Zulu
Modern-day young Zulu woman with traditional headdress
The Zulu Tribe and their legendary King Shaka Zulu
Photograph by Brian Negin

Today, 11 million South Africans, 24% of the total population, consider themselves to belong to the amaZulu (Zulu nation). The majority lives in the province of Kwazulu-Natal, while a considerable number have established themselves in the province of Gauteng.

The Zulus play an important part in South African politics. One of their leaders Jacob Zuma, president of the African National Congress, the majority party in South Africa, became President of South Africa in May 2009.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, a member of the Zulu people and president of the Republic of South Africa - The Zulu people, Zulu Tribe and legendary King Shaka Zulu
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, a member of the Zulu people and president of the Republic of South Africa.
The Zulu people, Zulu Tribe and legendary King Shaka Zulu






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