By Dan Wylie
“Wylie locates what we can know or reasonably surmise about Shaka in the broader context of local and global historical factors, which is immensely valuable. That, combined with his detailed unweaving of the Shaka myth, makes for a deeply fascinating volume.”
Shaun de Waal, Mail & Guardian
“Those who present South African history as tied to regional and global processes, rather than a remarkable South African exceptionalism, will find an ally in this thorough and lively study.”
Journal of African History
Over the decades we have heard a great deal about Shaka, the most famous—or infamous—of Zulu leaders. It may come as a surprise, therefore, that we do not know when he was born, nor what he looked like, nor precisely when or why he was assassinated. In Shaka’s case, even these most basic facts of any person’s biography remain locked in obscurity.
Meanwhile the public image, sometimes monstrous, sometimes heroic, juggernauts on—truly a “myth of iron” that is so intriguing, so dramatic, so archetypal, and sometimes so politically useful, that few have subjected it to proper scrutiny.
Myth of Iron: Shaka in History is the first book-length scholarly study of Shaka to be published. It lays out, as far as possible, all the available evidence—mainly hitherto underutilized Zulu oral testimonies, supported by other documentary sources—and decides, item by item, legend by legend, what exactly we can know about Shaka’s reign. The picture that emerges in this meticulously researched and absorbing “anti-biography” is very different from the popular narrative we are used to.
Dan Wylie teaches in the Department of English at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. He has published Savage Delight: White Myths of Shaka (2000); a memoir of the Rhodesian war, Dead Leaves (2002); and some volumes of poetry.
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