Nandi (mother of Shaka)

Nandi (mother of Shaka)

Nandi (c. 1760 – October 10, 1827) was a daughter of Bhebhe, a past chief of the nation and the mother of the famous Shaka, King of the Zulus.

Nandi Bhebhe
Bornc. 1760
Melmoth, South Africa
Died(1827-10-10)October 10, 1827
Partner(s)Senzangakhona kaJama
ChildrenShaka kaSenzangakhona
Nomcuba kaSenzangakhona
Ngwadi kaNgendeyana


Queen Nandi Bhebhe was born in Melmoth in 1760. Her father was Bhebhe a chief from Elangeni. The Elangeni (Mhlongo) people then had their king called Makhedama.

Personal life

Nandi Bhebhe was impregnated out of wedlock by Jama's son, Senzangakhona. The Mhlongo people demanded Senzangakhona pay damages for his non-traditional act. The Mhlongo approached the Jamas to settle the matter. Nandi was on the fore-front of this case and discussion. She personally demanded 55 herd of cattle as payment for damages done to her and the herd was delivered to the Mhlongo people. The Jamas and Senzangakhona agreed to pay the damages demanded by Mhlongo people so as to avoid war. On the other hand, Senzangakhona did truly love Nandi. After Nandi gave birth to her son, Shaka, she initially spent some time at Senzangakhona's kraal before her relationship with Senzangakhona deteriorated, forcing her to leave the kraal. Nandi returned to her people, the Mhlongo of Elangeni, leaving Shaka behind. Shaka's life at Senzangakhona's kraal proved dangerous and finally his uncle Mudli brought him to Nandi at Elangeni.[1] During that time Nandi had to protect her son from famine, assassination attempts, and enemies. However, Nandi's stay at Elangeni proved dangerous as well, so she left with her son to live amongst the Qwabe people. There, she met Gendeyana, whom she married and had a son, Ngwadi. Nandi's stay amongst the Qwabe people was not pleasant at all and this forced her to leave Qwabe to live amongst the Mthethwa people led by chief Dingiswayo. Nandi was warmly welcomed by the Mthethwa people. She found it a good place to raise her sons, Shaka and Ngwadi, and her daughter, Nomcoba. Her son Shaka joined a Chwe regiment led by Bhuza. It was amongst the Mthethwa people where Shaka devised military tactics.


Queen Nandi Bhebhe died of dysentery on October 10, 1827. Her grave can be found outside Eshowe, off the old Empangeni road. The grave is marked Nindi. On 11 March 2011 the Mhlongo Committee met at Eshowe with the Office of the KZN (kwaZulu-Natal) Premier and Amafa to finalise plans for Princess Nandi's grave near Eshowe. It was agreed that there would be an official opening day in May 2011 to present Queen Nandi Bhebhe's grave after the approval of the designs suggested by Mhlongo people. Queen Nandi Bhebhe was born into the Mhlongo people and for that reason it was also agreed that the name on the grave shall be "Princess Nandi Mhlongo, Mother of King Shaka". The Bhebhe and Mhlongo people of eLangeni are one people. The direct descendants of King Shaka's mother Nandi have been unhappy with the state of her grave which has laid unattended in a bad state for over 200 years.[2] The Zulu Royal family blames the government for this because according to them, the graves of prominent people are the responsibility of government. Amafa heritage which administers protected structures in the province will soon erect a sculptor symbolic of Nandi's status once the Mhlongo and the Royal family have settled their differences.

Despite the hard times they endured together, or perhaps because of them, Shaka loved his mother almost to the point of worship.[3]

According to Donald Morris, Shaka ordered that no crops should be planted during the following year of mourning, no milk (the basis of the Zulu diet at the time) was to be used, and any woman who became pregnant was to be killed along with her husband. At least 7,000 people who were deemed to be insufficiently grief-stricken were executed, although the killing was not restricted to humans: cows were slaughtered so that their calves would know what losing a mother felt like.[4]

What Morris states comes from Henry Francis Fynn's memory. Fynn's account has been disputed with some sources alleging that they were exaggerated since he may have had deeper motives.[5] Fynn’s earlier accounts were sometimes inaccurate and exaggerated which would become crucial to the growth of Zulu mythology. Many of the first white settlers were illiterate, with the exception of a few who controlled the written record. These writers have been accused of demonizing Shaka as a figure of inhuman qualities, a symbol of violence and terror, to obscure their own colonial agenda.[6][7][8] Julian Cobbing also argues that these settlers' writers were anxious to create a myth which "cover up" colonial 19th-century slave raiding and general rapine across the sub-continent and justify the seizure of land.[9]


  1. ^ Pathisa Nyathi, Igugu likaMthwakazi: Imbali yamaNdebele, 1820-1893. ISBN 0-86922-580-4
  2. ^ SABC Digital News (2018), Descendants of King Shaka's mother Nandi want her grave uplifted, available at:
  3. ^ Nandi
  4. ^ Morris, Donald R. (1994) [1965]. The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879. London: Pimlico. ISBN 978-0-7126-6105-8. P. 99
  5. ^ Daniel Alban Wylie (1995), White Writers and Shaka Zulu, Degree of Philosophy of Rhodes University.
  6. ^ Ian Knight (2011), Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of iSandlwana and Rorke's Drift
  7. ^ Carolyn Anne Hamilton, (1992) The Character and Objects of Chaka': A Reconsideration of the Making of Shaka as 'Mfecane' Motor, The Journal of African History, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 37-63.
  8. ^ Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries (2005), Lessons on Leadership by Terror: Finding Shaka Zulu in the Attic
  9. ^ Julian Cobbing. "The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo". Journal of African History, 29, 1988.

Further reading

  • Bryant, Alfred T. (1929). Olden Times in Zululand and Natal. Longmans, Green and Co.
  • Morris, Donald R. (1998). The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80866-1.
  • Omer-Cooper, John D. (1969). The Zulu Aftermath: A nineteenth-century revolution in Bantu Africa. London: Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-64531-8.
  • Ritter, E. A. (1955). Shaka Zulu: The Rise of the Zulu Empire
  • Salmonson, Jessica Amanda (1991). The Encyclopedia of Amazons. Paragon House. p. 192. ISBN 1-55778-420-5
  • Queens Nandi (c. 1764 – c.1827) and Monase (c. 1797 – 1880) by Maxwell Z. Shamase
  • Benedict Carton, Professor Benedict Carton (2000), Blood from Your Children: The Colonial Origins of Generational Conflict in South Africa


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Nandi (c. 1760s–1827)

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Nandi (c. 1760s–1827)

Zulu queen. Born in the 1760s in what is now South Africa; died in 1827; married Zulu chief Senzangakhona (or Senzangakhoma), around 1787; children: at least one son, Shaka (born around 1787), Zulu chief.

Nandi, whose name means "a woman of high esteem," was born into the Langeni tribe in the mid-18th century, in what is now South Africa. Around 1787, she had an illicit affair with Senzangakhona, the chief of the Zulu tribe, and gave birth to Shaka, who would later become one of the greatest Zulu chiefs and African military leaders. Although Senzangakhona then married her, Nandi was condemned as a disgrace by the Zulu and the Langeni, both because of her pregnancy and because she and her husband were considered too closely related to be married. Abuse at the hands of the Zulu forced Nandi and Shaka to return to her tribe, only to be cast out once more during the famine of 1802. They then found refuge with the Mthethwa (Mtetwa) people, whose chief Dingiswayo was in the process of creating a powerful military state. Shaka proved to be a fearless warrior and rose through the ranks of the Mthethwa army, being named by Dingiswayo as his successor before Dingiswayo's assassination in 1817.

Senzangakhona died around 1815, and Shaka soon claimed the chieftainship of the Zulu by force. Nandi's close relationship with her son, who never married, gave her unheard-of power. Reputed to have been bad-tempered even before her misfortunes, she was called Ndlorukazi, "The Great She Elephant," and used her position to take revenge on her enemies. Under Shaka's rule, the Zulu became a powerful, even legendary, military force, some 40,000 strong; his establishment of all-female regiments has been attributed to the example set for him by his warrior-mother.

Nandi died in 1827. Shaka ordered a time of public mourning during which no crops could be planted, all milk was to be poured out, and all pregnant women killed. He ordered his mother's young handmaidens to be placed with her in the grave, and he set 12,000 soldiers to guard it for a year. Summary executions set off a massacre which claimed the lives of some 7,000 people in the course of a three-month period. The terror stopped when Mnkabayi , a close friend and sister-in-law of Nandi's, plotted a successful coup carried out by Shaka's half-brother Dingane (Dingaan), who assassinated Shaka and took over the chieftainship in 1828.


Lipschutz, Mark R., and R. Kent Rasmussen. Dictionary of African Historical Biography. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986.

Uglow, Jennifer S., comp. and ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1989.

Lisa Frick , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri

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