‘The Character and Objects of Chaka’: A Reconsideration of the Making of Shaka as ‘Mfecane’ Motor
In a series of papers and articles beginning in 1983, Julian Cobbing has offered a radical, and often provocative, critique of the 'mfecane' as the pivotal concept of the history of the nineteenth century. This chapter focuses on Cobbing's reconstruction of the making of the Shaka myth. My purpose is to disentangle the elaborate weave of Cobbing's powerful insights and implausible conspiracy theories. It also focuses in detail on the 1820s, the period in which Cobbing posits that the image of Shaka was established which became central to mfecane theory. The first productions of Shaka to percolate down to the Cape Colony were contained in the reports of visitors to Delagoa Bay, then the port nearest to the Zulu kingdom. Cobbing argues that the traders promoted a negative image of Shaka at the Cape in order to encourage British intervention in Natal in the form of colonization.