There existed many small communities called clans in Zulu land and neighbouring communities. The Zulu were one of the Nguni-speaking clans.
It is likely that they were about two hundred clans in the present-day Zulu land and Natal. Though small and weak, each clan was independent.
During the first two decades of the 19th century, small political units were joined together to form large ones. The Zulu kingdom was among them.
The origin of the Zulu state is not clear but it is believed that it was founded by Shaka in around 1818
Shaka was born unwanted in about 1783 in a chiefly family to Senzangakona chief of the Zulu clan.
Shaka was born when his father was not yet circumcised. He was therefore rejected by the royal family and hence considered to be a bastard and illegitimate.
He was therefore brought up among his maternal uncles amidst ridicule by his playmates.
Shaka and his mother Nandi were exposed to harsh life. In fact, they were mistreated by the relatives of the mother.
Later Shaka grew into a very strong and intelligent young man and joined one of Dingswayo’s regiments. While in this regiment Shaka proved the qualities of a good military leader.
Dingiswayo was one of the major three Nguni chiefs who had made large political units. He was the chief of the Mthethwa people. Other strong chiefs included Shobuza of the Ngwane and Zwide of the Ndwandwe.
For a long time, these three rulers carried out expansionary companies that often ended up in conflicts and wars.
It has to be noted that Shaka’s father was a chief of the Zulu tribe which was under the lordship of Dingiswayo.
Upon the death of Shaka’s father, conflicts arouse over who was to inherit the father’s post. Dingiswayo offered help to Shaka against his brother to take the chieftainship of the Zulu clan.
Seguna a man who had assumed the Zulu throne was defeated and this left the Zulu chieftainship entirely in the hands of Shaka.
In about 1817, Dingiswayo was ambushed and killed by the worriers of Zwide during the progress of the war on the hilltop.
Shaka took the death of Digiswayo as an advantage and proclaimed himself as the leader of the Mthethwa chiefdom.
Shaka killed Dingiswayo’s successor and started conquering the neighboring states. For example he defeated Zwide.
Consequently, he established a very big and strong kingdom that covered around 300,000 Square miles.
Shaka then carried out reforms in the military, economy, politics, and social way of life to build a strong Zulu state.