YOU may recognise the name Shaka Zulu from history books or Zulu folklore about one of the most famous and powerful African kings, but recently, there has been buzz about a new show on DStv that tells the story of this infamous man with iterations from his early childhood through to adulthood.
This is more than just a show for local entertainment. It's an opportunity for audiences to learn more about Zulu history on an unprecedented scale.
Have you tuned into one of the most compelling stories of the year? Set in the 1700s, Shaka iLembe tells the story of the making of the iconic African king, with iterations from his early childhood through to adulthood.
Shaka iLembeis not just a retelling of the story of this African king but is a visually stunning and historically relevant depiction of the Zulu nation.
Six years in the making, the production team behind the magic has left no stone left unturned by consulting with historians, academics, and family descendants, including the reigning King of the Zulu nation, King Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who is the traditional prime minister of the Zulu royal family, as well as the late King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Shaka iLembe is a fascinating opportunity to learn about the rich history and traditions of one of South Africa’s oldest and most fascinating cultures.
The key actors playing Shaka are the incredibly talented Lemogang Tsipa (adult king) and the newcomer Ntando Zondi (boy king). The series also stars Nomzamo Mbatha, who plays Princess and Queen Nandi, the revered mother of Shaka, with Thembinkosi Mthembu as King Dingiswayo who is well known for his mentorship of Shaka Zulu.
Mbatha, a co-executive producer behind the scenes in addition to playing the role of Shaka's mother, portrays a monumental figure in history — Princess Nandi or Queen Nandi — bringing forth the narrative of a woman who pushed against all odds.
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Now the much anticipated Shaka iLembe has hit the small screen, let us delve into the rich tapestry of the main characters and Zulu traditions to explore their captivating clothing, tantalizing cuisine, language and unique architecture:
About the main characters
Young Shaka played by Ntando Zondi (10 years).
Son of Queen Nandi and Zulu King Senzangakhona kaJama, Shaka and his mother were outcasts who endured hardships which shaped his view of those around him and greatly motivated and influenced him to become a legendary leader and warrior.
Shaka (adult) played by Lemogang Tsipa
His story of unwavering determination and unbreakable will is a testament to the power of the human spirit. He conquered and unified many kingdoms to build the Zulu nation and left an indelible mark on African history that continues to fascinate people around the world, many generations after his tragic demise.
Queen Nandi played by Nomzamo Mbatha
Daughter of King Mbengi of the Langeni and Queen Mfunda, Nandi was ahead of her time. Beautiful and bold, she defied societal norms and charted her own path.
Mother of Shaka kaSenzangakhona, who nurtured and guided him to become a legendary leader despite enduring many hardships, instilling in him the strength, love, and bravery that defined his reign. Queen Nandi remains a revered African icon and at the time, the mother of one of Africa’s most powerful nations.
Zulu traditional clothing
Traditional attire holds a significant place in Zulu culture, as with many different indigenous cultures in South Africa. It is a reflection of pride and heritage and marks different milestones in an individual's life. For one, Zulu women wear different attire according to the stage of life they are in and events such as marriage and motherhood are markers of elevated status within a traditional society.
Intombi (unmarried girl) is often bare-chested and wears a short, beaded skirt, colourful beads around her head and waist, as well as twisted beads known as izincu around her ankles and wrists. Married women, on the other hand, are usually covered with shawls, known as Ibhayi. They also wear hats called isicholo, which symbolise their traditional marriage status. Their skirts are made of cowhide called isidwaba.
Zulu men’s traditional attire includes clothing made from different animal skins. As with women, men also have symbolic attire that marks their different milestones in life.
Boys wear small front covers called iqoyi, while married men wear longer ones called umutsha. The men cover their backs with ibheshu. They also wear head rings and often carry shields.
Traditional Zulu homes, called umuzi, are round huts made with a framework of wooden poles and walls woven with reeds or grass. The roofs, made from thatched grass, provide excellent insulation. Each umuzi comprises several huts, with separate huts for sleeping, cooking, and socialising. The central courtyard serves as a gathering space for communal activities and celebrations.
Traditional Zulu food
Traditional Zulu food includes mainly vegetarian dishes made of vegetables and grains. Starch is a dietary staple and is found in pap (porridge) and beer. Maize, pumpkins and potatoes are common ingredients used in traditional dishes.
Ox is only slaughtered on special occasions such as weddings and coming-of-age ceremonies. Traditionally meals are enjoyed with wooden bowls and spoons.
Shaka iLembe is shot in isiZulu with English subtitles so let's get you familiar with the show's language. The Zulu language is called ‘isiZulu’, the most widely spoken home language of the eleven official languages in South Africa. The word Zulu means “heavens” or “sky”, and the amaZulu are the “People of heaven”.
Greeting one another is a very important part of the culture and is necessary to show respect and acknowledgement of your fellow clansmen. Here are some of the basic greeting phrases used in isiZulu.
Hello (To one person) — Sawubona
Hello (To more than one person) — Sanibonani
How are you? — Unjani?
I am well, how are you? — Ngisaphila, wena unjani?
What is your name?- Ngubani igama lakho?
My name is… — Igama lami ngu…
How can I help you? — Ngingakusiza ngani?
Goodbye (To person leaving) —Hamba kahle (Go well)
Goodbye (If you are leaving) - Sala kahle (Stay well)
Good luck — Ngikufisela inhlanhla
Have a safe journey — Ube nohambo oluhle
Remember, like most African languages, isiZulu is quite a phonetic language so sounding out each syllable will go a long way for your pronunciation!
Now that you have your guidebook to Zulu culture, you’re ready to immerse yourself in the world of Shaka iLembe and watch history unfold.
Don't miss the much anticipated prime-time drama every Sunday at 8pm on Mzansi Magic DStv channel 161.