The Entrepreneurship Of King Shaka: 6 Reasons Why King Shaka Would Have Been A Successful Entrepreneur

By guest writer Nelson Sebati, Entrepreneur and Non-Executive Chairman at Murason Business Services. He has 10 years’ experience in recruitment, talent acquisition, career transitioning & on-boarding, with a specific focus on IT and Executive skills. He is a certified Career Strategist and Job Search Coach. He studied Entrepreneurship at Wits Business School, Law at UNISA, BBBEE at the Graduate School of Business Leadership among other numerous qualifications & is currently a member of the YBSA, BMF, REC-UK, APSO, CSSA, ASA, and IoDSA.

Former President, Thabo Mbeki said it best “I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land……….A human presence among all these, a feature on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African.”

As an African Entrepreneur my homeland, this great continent informs, inspires and anchors my business vision, strategy, processes and ethics. It is for this reason that I have decided to write my first article for 2015 on the Entrepreneurial ways of the mighty King Shaka.

King Shaka kaSenzangakhona also known as Shaka Zulu is one of the greatest military leaders in African history and perhaps in all of history. There is controversy around his methods and the strictness with which he trained his troops, but in many ways, he improved warfare methods forever. Born in 1787 in what is now South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, he died in 1828, but his legacy lives on as a motivation figure to Africans across the continent. I have studied various accounts on the life and times of this influential warrior king and I could not help, but notice that his personality traits are very much similar to those displayed by today’s highly successful Entrepreneurs.

Here are 6 reasons why I think King Shaka would have been a ground-breaking Entrepreneur if he was alive today:

1. Perseverance

Born out of wedlock to an unranked woman, Nandi KaBhebhe and Senzangakhona kaJama, a minor chief of what was then a small Zulu tribe, Shaka was a humiliated and discredited child. Fleeing from humiliation at the hands of the Zulus he and his mother took refuge in the court of a neighbouring chieftain the eLangeni. There too, they were constantly harassed and he grew up quickly learning to persevere, fight and endure the cruel treatment. His father obsessively worried about being replaced by an heir sought to murder him as a boy several times, but through sheer determination he survived the multiple attempts on his life. Despite his disadvantages he went on to serve as a Mthethwa warrior and distinguished himself through his courage and adept skill as a close combat warrior. This ability gained the attention of the chieftain, Dingiswayo, who became his Mentor and honoured Shaka by making him commander of a regiment.

*Entrepreneurship is an ultramarathon. Like Shaka Entrepreneurs have to be able to live with uncertainty and push through a crucible of obstacles for years on end before they achieve their goals.

2. Hardwork

It is recorded that the hardworking king and his men routinely embarked on long marches for practice over rough and hot terrain so they could be accustomed to harsh conditions and would not be deterred by difficult environments during battle.  In line with this belief King Shaka introduced apprenticeships to instil a culture of working hard among his people and as a result children over the age of 6 years old became apprentice warriors, delivering rations, cooking supplies and carrying weapons to real warriors. By the time children came of age, they were accustomed to being in battle surroundings and were more emotionally ready to fight.

*The hard truth of the matter is that being an Entrepreneur (whether successful or not) is damn hard.  It is hard work day-in and day-out and Entrepreneurs need to understand the importance of working hard now to reap the benefits down the road.

3. Mentorship

Like Cornelius Vanderbilt to John D. Rockefeller, Tom Scott to Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison to Nikola Tesla so too was Dingiswayo to Shaka.

Banished from his father’s tribe, Shaka and his mother found a place in the Mthethwa clan under the rule of Dingiswayo kaJobe. Dingiswayo became Shaka’s mentor and the two developed a close working relationship. It was Dingiswayo who provided the guidance, tutelage and nurturing that Shaka had lacked throughout his childhood. With this support the ambitious young Shaka focused his attentions on excelling as a soldier serving in the ibutho lempi (fighting unit) for over 10 years. Dingiswayo trained the youngster in strategy, tactics and leadership, even including him in council meetings to familiarise him with the art of statecraft. When the Zulu chief Senzangakhona (Shaka’s father) died, Dingiswayo helped Shaka wrestle the throne from Sigujana his half-brother by providing his Mentee with the needed military backing. In later years when Dingiswayo was killed, Shaka with his military machine made it his personal mission to avenge his mentor’s death. He destroyed the Ndwandwe clan in the process.


*Mentors help Entrepreneurs to stay focused and avoid unnecessary distractions that can take them off track. Mentors support to propagate and improve performance, decrease or eradicate blind spots and encourage Entrepreneurs to open up to constructive feedback by providing a safe atmosphere in which the Entrepreneurs can express fears, failures and dreams. Contact me should you require a Sales Mentor or a Personal Improvement Mentor. 

4. Innovation

Tired of the assegai – a long pole weapon made of wood with pointed iron at the end and thrown like a javelin – King Shaka introduced the ikwla, a weapon with a shorter range and a longer spearhead, sort of like a sword or dagger. This weapon gave King Shaka’s troops a huge advantage over their adversaries during close up encounters. In addition to this he also introduced a new shield and invented or perfected an attack method that became popularly known as the bull-horn-formation. This is a three-part attack system in which seasoned warriors form the “chest” of the horn at the front, pinning the enemy into a position where it can be easily attacked. Younger warriors would form the “horns” and encircle the enemy, attacking from the sides, and additional warriors formed the “loins,” standing behind the “chest” with their back to the battle, protecting against any additional attackers.

*Most Entrepreneurs are truly innovative and are able to manipulate the elements of the markets to create new solutions to business problems in the same way that King Shaka did with warfare.

 5. Leadership

When his father Senzangakona, the chief of the small Zulu tribe of farmers and pastoralists, died in 1816, Shaka Zulu assumed the throne. Through his leadership vision and style he increased his army from 350 to more than 2000 soldiers in the first year of his reign and by 1824, he commanded an army in excess of 30 000 occupying an estimated 2 million square miles. He achieved this by eliminating privilege and class, introducing a graduating system through which soldiers had to earn their positions and rank, he shared all the spoils of war and resources taken from the defeated armies among his soldiers and  he allowed for ageing members of the army to be treated with dignity and to retire. As a leader he was task and achievement oriented, this gained King Shaka respect, loyalty and support.

*Entrepreneurs need to be good leaders in order to influence others to invest in them, work with them and follow them in the accomplishment of their goal.

6. Criticism

Legend has it that in mourning the passing of his mother, Nandi kaBhebhe, King Shaka implemented extreme procedures including forbidding crops to be planted, the use of milk and rampant executions. However, one Zulu tribesman stood up to King Shaka and reminded him that his mother was not the first person to ever die in their community and that some of his bereavement methods were too harsh.  King Shaka heeded this criticism, called off his lamentation measures and rewarded the tribesman for bravery in speaking up to him.

*The listening to and welcoming of criticism are some of the hallmarks of great Entrepreneurship as this leads to better customer service through improvements in product design or service delivery.

There are hardly any contemporaneous written records on King Shaka and we all must rely on 2nd hand written material and oral testimonies, most of which are conflicting. Consequently, no one can claim to have a monopoly on the accuracy of his biography. This lack of consistency has left room for multiple interpretations of King Shaka’s legacy and what you read here are my thoughts and views on how I choose to commemorate and relate with this African legend who consolidated a nation and preserved its pride by saving it from European domination during his lifetime.

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