The Zulu king, of which Shaka Zulu is the first modern example, actually extends well back into the 18th century and before when the Zulus were one of many tribes in the region.
The Kingdom of the Zulus was established by Shaka Zulu in the early 19th century, bringing this powerful tribe into prominence in along the South African region.
The first known Zulu king was Mnguni, who was the founder of the Nguni nation in the Southern African region almost 1,000 years ago.
The Zulus were a sub nation of the Mnguni holdings for many years, but slowly developed their own identity which was established by Zulu kaMalandela.
This King of the Zulus moved his tribe away from the Nguni nation and settled in what is known today as Mozambique.
It was here that the Zulus first came into contact with the Portuguese who traded with them. The Zulus began rising in power over the centuries until Shaka Zulu established their kingdom and the modern line of monarchs. After establishing their vast dominance of nearby tribes, the Zulus extended their empire covering nearly 12,000 square miles at its peak.
At the zenith of their power, the death of Shaka Zulu in 1828 led to the rise of Shaka’s half brother Dingane kaSenzangokhona who reigned for almost 12 years until his half
brother, Mpande kaSensangakhona killed him and took over the kingdom.
Mpande ruled for a lengthy 32 years before his death and was followed by Cetshwayo kaMpande in 1872.
Cetshwayo had his famous encounter with the British actually destroyed a large English force of over 1,500 soldiers at the Battle of Islandwanda before being stymied by a group of less than 100 British soldiers at the famous Battle of Roarke’s Drift and Cetshwayo was captured shortly afterwards, leading to the demise of the independent kingdom of the Zulus in South Africa.
Today, King of the Zulus is GoodZwelithini kaBhekuzulu who has ruled since 1968, making him one of the longer lasting Kings of the Zulu people. His reign has not come without controversy however.
His overt spending and controversial viewpoints on social issues have certainly brought about criticism from within his own tribe as well as South African authorities.However, he continues his reign even if mostly in a ceremonial tradition.
He currently has 6 wives and 27 children which are supported by the Zulu nation. Currently, the majority of Zulu income is derived from tourism and the large park lands which bring tourists from all parts of the world.
While kaBhekuzulu mostly reigns from a ceremonial standpoint, his words do carry weight and influence. When Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned on Robben Island Cape Town, became leader of South Africa, he once tried to bypass the Zulu government and deal directly with the king.
As the only true “king” of any African tribe in the region, kaBhekuzulu still has considerable pull among his people. Although he writes no laws or enforces no actions, this Zulu King does still hold sway over certain issues when he speaks out and is still regarded as a powerful influence on the modern Zulu tribe in South Africa which mostly lives in Natal.