— Walter Rodney
Context: But what is relevant here is to understand why a Shaka was possible in Africa in the nineteenth century, before the coming of colonial rule. Had Shaka been a slave to some cotton planter in Mississippi or some sugar planter in Jamaica, he might have had an ear or a hand chopped off for being a “recalcitrant nigger,” or at best he might have distinguished himself in leading a slave revolt. For the only great men among the unfree and the oppressed are those who struggle to destroy the oppressor. On a slave plantation, Shaka would not have built a Zulu army and a Zulu state—that much is certain. Nor could any African build anything during the colonial period, however much a genius he may have been. As it was, Shaka was a herdsman and a warrior. As a youth, he tended cattle on the open plains—free to develop his own potential and apply it to his environment. Shaka was able to invest his talents and creative energies in a worthwhile endeavor of construction. He was not concerned with fighting for or against slave traders; he was not concerned with the problem of how to resell goods made in Sweden and France. He was concerned with how to develop the Zulu area within the limits imposed by his people’s resources. It must be recognized that things such as military techniques were responses to real needs, that the work of the individual originates in and is backed by the action of society as a whole, and that whatever was achieved by any one leader must have been bounded by historical circumstances and the level of development, which determine the extent to which an individual can first discover, then augment, and then display his potential.