Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Chaka, by Lesotho-born author Thomas Mofolo, belongs to the genre of historical fiction. It recounts the story of a Zulu emperor Shaka, a successful and influential warrior of the early nineteenth century in South Africa. The historical Shaka shares several affinities with his fictional namesake: they were both conceived illegitimately to an unmarried couple, both were successful militarily, and both lived their lives with perennial strife among their half-brothers.
Chaka is exiled with his mother, Nandi, by his father, Senzangakhona, who is put under pressure from others in the tribe to disown them for the illegitimate birth. Chaka is mocked by his peers, and he finds his way to a sorcerer, Isanusi. Isanusi provides Chaka with two malevolent but powerful auxiliaries, Ndlebe and Malunga. With their help, Chaka manages to kill a rival claimant to the kingdom, Mfokanzana, and shortly thereafter, the king of a neighboring tribe, Dingiswayo. Chaka continues to meet with ample military success, but degenerates with respect to his moral character.
Chaka's unbridled success, aided by mysterious sorcerers, takes its toll on his humanity. When Chaka is told to kill his wife and his mother, he does so. Near the end of Chaka's life, he is resigned to his fate and is visited by ghosts of those whom he killed (much like Banquo to Shakespeare's Macbeth, in his play of the same name).
Examination of the novel Chaka reveals that there is a high cost to power, and that power, while useful, is harmful for its own sake.