There have been many outstanding leaders and generals in the African continent, but none captures the imagination as Shaka of Senzangakhona.

He was one of the remarkable army generals who managed to grow his army of about 200 to about 60,000 to 70,000 highly trained men in a space of about ten years.

One of his best innovations at the time was the short-spear and the effectiveness of the close-combat rather than throwing the spear.

Before that innovation, fights we conducted long distance by throwing a long spear at the enemy from a distance.

The short spear was also known as the iklwa or ixwa, after the sound that was heard as it was withdrawn from the victim’s wound.

The traditional spear was not abandoned, but was used to range attack enemy formations before closing in for close quarters battle with the iklwa.

This tactical combination originated during Shaka’s military reforms. This weapon was typically used with one hand while the off hand held a cowhide shield for protection.

Off-course, the short-spear was not sufficient to outdo the use of the gun during battles.

Shaka knew of the power of the gun and he had interest in how to out-compete it.

In the meantime he studied the short-comings of the gun and he came to the conclusion that the time spent in the reloading of the muzzle gun would give the advantage to a faster attacker with a spear.

He observed that by taking off his sandals and fighting barefooted helped him manoeuvre better and be more efficient.

As a result he instructed his men train and fight barefoot so that they can be quicker. Speed was the new currency.

These methods proved to be efficient and was instrumental in a number of victories under Shaka’s leadership.

By today’s standards, these innovations may seem obvious and mundane but during Shaka’ era [July 1787 – 22 September 1828], such innovations were a matter of life and death, victory and defeat.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Speed of innovation remains a matter of success and bankruptcy in the 21st Century.

Not only was it relevant in Shaka kaSenzangakhona’s time, but very much relevant today.

Observing your component’s strengths and weaknesses remains one of the ways to inspire innovations.

You want to be innovative? Sharpen your observation skills.

Shaka was a transformative leader whose legacy remains a model to emulate. He provided a blueprint for mastering the complexity of military affairs through tactics and effective strategy that is reminiscent of what is today considered operational art.

When Europeans talk about their great Napoleon Bonaparte, Africa talks about their own Shaka kaSenzangakgona.

Long live the King, Bayede!

Source: Emperor Shaka The Great: A Zulu Epic by Mazisi Kunene.

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