THE ZULU KINGS by Brian Roberts


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The ferocious and awesome enigma of Shaka, the military genius who created a Zulu empire in a few short years, paces like a lion through Roberts' chronicle of the British traders and Boer trekkers who ran dead up against Zulu power in Natal. Roberts has no strikingly original explanation for the sudden emergence of Shaka, but he does remind us that -- despite the military discipline, regimented celibacy and summary mass executions and tortures which so shocked the British -- the Zulu people as a whole remained loyal to Shaka and revere him today as a great leader. . . . And that Shaka, far from being treacherous, was extremely conciliatory in his relations with white men, a policy that was more or less deliberately misrepresented by ambitious Englishmen who hoped for troops and settlers from the Cape Colony to help them secure control of the territory. According to Roberts, these same British adventurers who brought Shaka cargoes of presents and false promises of white support, were indirectly responsible for Shaka's assassination and the rise of his half-brother Dingane who appeared much more malleable but was soon to massacre Boer leaders, bringing down on the Zulus the avenging white firepower Shaka had hoped to defuse through diplomacy. This then adjusts the prevalent, but far from universal, view of Shaka as a mad tyrant overthrown by popular revulsion. But Roberts' main achievement lies in unraveling the internal intrigues among the first white traders in Natal and exposing the frauds of former naval midshipman, self-styled ""Lieutenant"" James Saunders King who slandered his partners as well as Shaka. This portrait of the first merchant-adventurer and missionary contingents in Natal, quarrelsome individuals whose ambition and self-confidence far exceeded their abilities, is drawn in a lower key than Roberts' swashbuckling The Diamond Magnates. But though ultimate answers may lie in the realm of anthropology that Roberts approaches only tentatively, his usual painstaking research opens a window on the fascinating, historically explosive personality of Shaka.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1975
Publisher: Scribners