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The Zulu Kings


'First class.'

New York Times


'Roberts grips the reader's attention immediately . . . The breadth and vividness of his narrative, his robust prose and his mastery of difficult research combine to make his book a literary achievement as well as a fascinating historical reconstruction.'

Publishers Weekly


The Zulu kings established the most powerful black dynasty Africa has ever known. The mighty Shaka, who founded the dynasty in the early nineteenth century, welded the Zulu nation into a formidable military unit. Known as the 'Black Napoleon', this first Zulu King was a ruthless, yet inspired, leader. Triumphant and merciless in battle, he led his people to greatness and ruled them with iron-handed discipline. His assassination by his treacherous half-brother, Dingane, did nothing to lessen the rule of terror. But the self-indulgent Dingane, although cruel and despotic, was no warrior and his reign ended in disaster. Defeated by the Boers at the battle of Blood River, Dingane was eventually forced to flee Zululand and died in exile.


After Dingane's death the neighbouring territory of Natal became a white settlement and the course of Zulu history changed. A third brother, Mpande, was proclaimed King by the Boers and reigned more or less peacefully. Mpande was followed by his son Cetshwayo whose attempt to revive Zulu power brought him into conflict with the British and resulted in the downfall of his nation in the Zulu War of 1879. Cetshwayo's son, Dinuzulu, inherited little more than his father's misfortunes.


Brian Roberts tells the story of the rise and fall of the Zulu dynasty in colourful detail. But it is the first two Kings—the resolute Shaka and the fickle Dingane—who dominate the book. Ruling when Zululand was independent and all-powerful, their tyrannical regimes transformed the tribal pattern in southern Africa. Shaka's wars devastated the surrounding territories and were responsible for the deaths of some two million Africans. Dingane fought fewer wars but, by aping Shaka's methods, was every bit as fearsome.


The Kings are seen largely through the eyes of the extraordinary collection of white men who visited their kraals. How far the intrigues of these white adventurers influenced the fate of the Zulu Kings has never before been revealed. Until now their activities have been regarded as relatively innocent. By drawing on significant, unpublished material, Brian Roberts shows this to be far from the truth. Zulu history is thus presented in a completely new light.


This is a saga of the Zulu empire at its height—its bizarre customs, its bloodthirsty battles, its colourful rituals and, above all, its larger-than-life personalities.

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