Thabisile Gumede
2 minute read
2 Oct 2008

Suspense and adventure in Shaka’s army

Thabisile Gumede

THABISILE GUMEDE reviews AmaZulu by Walton Golightly. Kwela Books.

ON first glance at the title, AmaZulu, you could be forgiven for putting this book aside. Perhaps it is not the most inspired title, but the book’s content more than makes up for this.

Durban author Walton Golightly has managed to successfully merge historical truth with modern-day fiction. The novel traces the adventures of a young apprentice learning about the customs and battle traditions of Shaka Zulu’s regiment from the captain of the army, referred to throughout the novel as the Induna. The adventures they encounter are told in a humorous, yet realistic, manner with a strong theme of oral history and tradition highlighted throughout. One example of this is the influence of powers from the spiritual realm where truth is sought by consultation with the sangoma.

Even though Shaka, portrayed as a headstrong yet compassionate leader, is not the main character, Golightly romanticises Shaka’s reign and is not too preoccupied with providing historical accuracy sourced from historical journals. He is more interested in creating a novel of suspense and adventure. The concept of mixing truth with fiction has exempted Golightly from sticking to the facts of what Shaka and his army did and did not do in the 1800s when fighting for tribal and territorial authority.

It would be misleading to take this book as historical truth when it is merely another version of how events of that era could have transpired. AmaZulu is a refreshing read as it refers to Shaka without trying to pass opinion about his origin and life. The author allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusion and create his or her own fantasy about how events unfolded in the past.

The best thing about the book is that it is not simply another story about Shaka, but rather includes exciting characters. Each epic adventure brings them to a closer understanding of their leaders and their own strengths and weaknesses.