Meet Nandi ka Bhebhe: Queen Mother of The South

Nandi (c. 1760 – October 10, 1827) was a daughter of Bhebhe, a past chief of the Langeni tribe and the mother of the famous Shaka, King of the Zulus.

Nandi was a feisty and strong willed young girl, she had her own way. She was also an incredible beauty, a 19th century Aphrodite.

It was not long before she caught the eye of a Kings’ son, Senzangakhona kaJama of the Zulu.

Senzangakhona impregnated Nandi out of wedlock and the Mhlongo people demanded Senzangakhona to pay damages.

Nandi was on the fore-front of this case and discussion. She personally demanded 55 herd of cattle as payment for damages done to her and the herd was delivered to the Mhlongo people.

After giving birth to her son, Nandi initially spent some time at Senzangakhona’s kraal before her relationship with Senzangakhona deteriorated, forcing her to leave the kraal.

She went to live among her people, the Mhlongo. During that time she also had to protect her son from famine, assassination attempts, and enemies.

From that very moment Nandi suffered great humiliation, rejection, and disparagement according to Soka Mthembu, a Zulu dancer and storyteller with profound interest in Culture, Heritage and Tourism. Women of the eLangeni, and praise-poets/singers also didn’t waste time in denigrating her, such as in this line taken from her praise-poem:

“USontanti, Omathanga kahlangani, ahlangani ngokubona umyeni” – The Floater, whose thighs are never pressed together, except at sight of a man”. This was made with reference to her failing to practise “Ukuhlobonga”, resulting in the birth of an illegitimate son. Wrong as the slurs might have been, they were hurtful and insulting.

Nandi never lost hope in life; she was resilient; she never succumbed to pressure, and she knew her worth. She instilled these values into her son, shaping him into one of the greatest leaders we have had. Nandi always reminded her son that, despite his circumstances, he would one day be greatest king. She did her best, despite all the adversities she encountered along the way’

Shaka ascended to power and this also meant Nandi would be the queen Mother, Indlovukazi.

Effectively, Nandi became the highest decision maker in the land, because all of Shaka’s decisions were vetted with the Queen mother.

All major military and political achievements were accomplished with Nandi as chief advisor to the King of Kings.