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The King & His Connection to National Heritage Day:

No, not the King of the UK and the other Commonwealth realms, but the extraordinary warrior king of the Zulu Kingdom, Shaka kaSenzangakhona.

He’s also known as King Shaka Zulu.

During his reign, he was known for implementing a series of highly-impactful military reformations that saw the King’s Army grow to be one of the most powerful in all of African history. As a gifted warrior since his childhood, he apparently grew frustrated with using weapons that slowed his battle performance ability. He is credited with developing the iklwa – a short stabbing spear with a broad head – which substantially improved the speed and precision of his soldiers during combat.

Word spread about the powerful Zulu King’s Army and Shaka was able to yield considerable control over neighbouring clans, which he often assimilated into his own – thereby expanding his kingdom size. As such, King Shaka is known for uniting the Zulu clan and subsequently forming the Zulu Nation. He was assassinated by his half-brother, Dingane (who ruled for 12 years before being assassinated by another half-brother, Mpande, who went on to rule for the next 30 years).

Traditionally, people would gather on the presumed day of his death (24th September) at the Shaka Memorial Site in Kwa-Zulu Natal to commemorate his legacy. In 1995, a request for the day to be confirmed as an official public holiday was rejected. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a majority Zulu party, reacted strongly to the rejection and a compromise was made: The day would become an official national public holiday, but it would be known as ‘‘Heritage Day.’’

Heritage Day is now celebrated by all South Africans, and serves as a way to acknowledge the many different cultures that make up the nation. Different events are held throughout the country and people are often encouraged to dress in traditional attire for work and/or school for that day. The-go-to method of celebrating for many South Africans is to have a braai, which is why it’s also fondly (and incorrectly) called National Braai Day by many Saffas!

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