Why this book?
This was the first book I read on Shaka Zulu. The cover of the paperback version was enough to entice a curious twelve-year-old! More than that, it was my father’s book and had clearly meant something to him. But most of all, it tells the incredible story of an outcast who built an empire only to be assassinated by his own brother! Ritter recounts the myths and facts that surround Shaka, never shying away from the limitations of his evidence but painting a compelling biography.
I recommend this book as a happy medium between two extremes. It is unlike those works vilifying Shaka as a monstrous tyrant directly and indirectly responsible for a trail of death across almost a third of Africa. But it is equally different from those that sanctify Shaka as the leonine warrior-king who forged a nation that wields power to this day. There will always be an element of controversy where race and historical interpretations mix. Ritter was writing in the mid-1950s. Given the politics of South Africa and the attitudes of the time, he manages to produce a far from myopic view of this Black African leader and military genius. It taught me the value of a balanced account.