Queen Nandi Zulu Biography: Who Was The Mother of Shaka?

The story of Shaka the Zulu, the emperor and founder of the Zulu nation, is crucial to the history of South Africa. However, there is no King Shaka without his mother, Queen Nandi Zulu. The mother-and-son bond the duo shared was admirable, and King Shaka got to enjoy his reign for a long time courtesy of his mother’s influence. More so, the incredible history of the life and achievements of Queen Nandi is proof that Africa has been blessed with strong women from time immemorial.

Profile Summary Of Queen Nandi Zulu

  • Birth Name: Nandi Bhebhe
  • Ethnicity: Elangini
  • Date of Birth: 1760
  • Position in the Zulu Nation: Queen of Zulu Nation
  • Date of Death: 10th October 1827
  • Popular As: Mother of King Shaka

Who Was Queen Nandi Zulu?

Queen Nandi Zulu was the birth mother of the legendary King Shaka of the Zulu Nation. She was born in 1760 in Melmoth, located in present-day KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Her birth name was Nandi Ka Bhebhe and her father was a chief of the Langeni nation – this is to say that she was born with royal blood.

Little is known about her early childhood partly due to the period in which she was born, a time when written documentations were scarce as a result of very few people being literate. However, history has it that Nandi Ka Bhebhe fell pregnant out of wedlock in her youth. She was impregnated by Senzangakhona, King Jama’s son. This situation was frowned at as of then, especially for someone from a royal lineage. That is, being the daughter of a chief, she was expected to be a role model to commoners and this meant not allowing herself to be in the family way without a husband.

Did Queen Nandi Marry Shaka’s Father?

When Nandi’s people – the Mhlongo of Elangeni, broke the news of her pregnancy to the Jamas, they were greeted with ridicule. The Jamas sent them a message through Mudli Zulu, a senior family member alleging that Nandi was not pregnant but was suffering from a stomach problem caused by the bug known as iShaka which often makes one’s stomach feel bloated and can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle. This inconsiderate response angered Nandi’s people, causing them to demand that the Jamas pay damages to Nandi for putting her in a family way without marrying her. This allegation also made Nandi name her son Shaka to spite those who mocked her pregnancy.

Queen Nandi
image source

Nandi, being a formidable woman, led the negotiations for the payment of the damages requested by her people for the untraditional situation that Senzangakhona had put her in. The Jamas eventually availed themselves for negotiations to avoid conflict with the Elangeni people. Nandi demanded 55 herds of cattle and this was paid to her people. While this payment was not documented as marriage rites, it conferred traditional paternal rights on Senzangakhona over Nandi’s unborn child. Hence, Shaka was able to have his father’s last name. Some sources claim Senzangakhona married Nandi but there has not been any explicit proof of that. However, after paying damages to the Mhlongo for Nandi as tradition demanded, the relationship between Senzangakhona and Nandi remained mutual. More so, it was gathered that Senzangakhona loved Nandi deeply and that getting her pregnant in the manner he did was an accident. This could be true because Nandi was at Senzangakhona’s kraal for a long time after their son was born.

Unfortunately, Nandi’s relationship with Senzangakhona began to grow sour. She later left his kraal and returned to her people but did not take her son with her. Young Shaka remained at his father’s kraal after his mother returned to her people. However, as time progressed, the kraal became unsafe for the young Zulu prince and he was returned to his mother. Nandi had to raise her son as a single parent and did her best to protect him from enemies who continually tried to assassinate him as well as shield him from being ridiculed as an illegitimate child. More so, she had to do whatever it took to put food on the table because there was great famine at the time.

How Many Children Did Nandi Have After Shaka?

Queen Nandi
image source

When life became unbearable for her among her people, Nandi fled with her son and sought refuge among the Qwabe people. During her time with the Qwabe people, she met and married Gendeyana. Together, they had a son named Ngwadi kaNgendeyana. Not much is known about Ngwadi’s life although it is gathered that like his brother, Shaka, he was also raised by Nandi. This is because sources have it that when life became tough at Qwabe, Nandi once again left with her children; Shaka, Ngwadi, and Nomcoba (a daughter she is believed to have had with Senzangakhona) in search of safety and better life. They wandered from place to place until faith brought them to the Mthethwa people where they were received with a warm welcome. Chief Dingiswayo, the leader of the Mthethwa people, took Shaka like his own child and had him join the Chwe regiment where he received leadership and military training.

How Did Nandi Become Queen?

When Shaka came of age, he returned to the Zulu nation and claimed the throne. He became king over the people that ridiculed him and his mother. Once he ascended the throne, Shaka crowned his mother Queen of the Zulu people and made her his adviser. With his beloved mother beside him, Shaka was able to raise Zulu land from a small insignificant community into a formidable empire.

From what is recorded in history, Queen Nandi gave her son wise council and tried to curb his excesses, especially when it came to waging unnecessary wars. They shared a special bond and it is speculated that he loved his mother to the extent that he elevated her to the status of a goddess.

Queen Nandi’s Demise Was Devastating For Both Shaka and The Zulu Nation

Queen Nandi passed on 10 October 1827 from medical complications linked to dysentery. She was buried outside Eshowe, by the old Empangeni road. As expected, King Shaka was devastated by the death of his beloved mother, queen, and adviser. He is believed to have announced the longest mourning period in Zulu land for his mother and enacted some mourning rules which were quite harsh.

Historians recorded that during that period people seen as not mourning sufficiently were executed and even animals with young ones were killed so that their offspring would feel the pain of losing their mother. It is also believed that during the mourning period, any woman found pregnant was executed along with her husband, and planting was not allowed for about a year.

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