A Case for celebrating Ndebele kings
Many people want to visit Rhodes Matopos whether they are white or black, local or international visitors.
Schools visit Rhodes’s grave to show Grade VI or VII classes mostly and any other classes visiting the site. Several rituals have probably been performed by different individuals at the site.
But some people are offended by Rhodes apparently lying “above” local spirits and floating over them like the great white spirit.
Mzilikazi kaMatshobana Khumalo’s spirit lies in a cave below right at the surface or ground level of the Matopo Hills. Rhodes chose his grave after seeing where Mzilikazi was buried and deliberately chose to lie above the great Ndebele king!
A visit to Rhodes’ grave is like an endorsement of his greatness over the Ndebele king. Be that as it may, the shrine may give Ndebele people a sense of alienation about their past and indicate failure to pay homage to past kings. King Mzilikazi and the rest of the Ndebele kings have suffered a similar fate which could, to staunch and serious Ndebele people, be seen not as a problem at all, but a reflection of national ethos and belief, hard as that may sound.
King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana Khumalo lies at Entumbane, old Nqameni, along the Old Gwanda Road. A unique Ndebele king he was starting and using a new practice being buried in a cave when Nguni kings would normally be buried in an anthill in a sitting position looking east.
Queens would be buried in a similar manner. There would be the usual treasure buried with them and sometimes the grave would have been dug big enough to accommodate several bodies eseyendlalelwe (given beings to lie on, literally).
Mzilikazi would have the pomp and ceremony as the first Ndebele king, but he would not have his grave visited and used as an attraction by Ndebele or foreigners. Instead Ndebele inyanga would choose a separate site to celebrate the king or conduct essential ceremonies and rites of whatever befitting nature.
His grave at Entumbane would remain guarded by a specific family and not be approached until there was a pressing national issue of tremendous importance. It would not attract tourists. Unfortunately for King Mzilikazi, his grave was interfered with by adventurous and dangerous persons who stole gold, diamonds and other precious minerals from the grave.
King Lobhengula kaMzilikazi Khumalo did not enjoy a similar fate to his father. After the fall of the Ndebele kingdom in 1893 Lobhengula “disappeared” according to Ndebele belief and practice.
Lobhengula experienced the typical “mythicization” process that different nations place upon chosen subjects sometime in the history of that particular nation. His grave is unmarked, unidentified, “unknown” and placed anywhere north of the Shangana River, somewhere in the Zambezi Valley, sometimes in Zambia; his grave remains a mystery. The famous song goes:
Kudala kwakungenje umhlaba uyaphenduka
Kwakubusa uMambo loMzilikazi
Sawela uTshangane saguqa ngamadolo
INkosi uLobhengula yasinyamalala
Kwasekusina izulu yasinyamalala.
(Long ago things were not as they are
Mambo and Mzilikazi used to rule
We forded the Shangaan River and knelt down
King Lobhengula then disappeared
It rained and he disappeared).
It is easy to identify Lobhengula’s grave. Expensive modern equipment could be used to “sound” out his grave and once found he could easily be confirmed through dental records and other bone proof methods. Indeed accounts by Rasmussen, Cobbing, Bhebe, Ndlovu, Nyathi and others do place his grave somewhere and indicate the cause of his death – small pox, depression, suicide through mutual poisoning with Magwegwe Fuyane, most trusted lieutenant at the time, etc.
For the Ndebele, the myth has to carry on, the mystery has to be perpetuated. It is part of their world view to explain practices, beliefs, and to emphasise the need for vision and future outlook of the existence and survival of a Ndebele spirit without which anything Ndebele would disappear. Under such circumstances the celebration of Lobhengula’s grave would not be possible, it would not be permitted.
Lobhengula’s grave wherever it was, must have been equally robbed like that of his father. History has it that a pot of gold was given to him by whites as an offering for peace. He must have been buried with the pot surely. And, of course, as a king there would be other treasures that he was buried with.
King Mzilikazi Day
There is an annual King Mzilikazi Day where people rededicate themselves to the ideals of Mzilikazi – peaceful co-existence, nation-building and the rule of law. Only selected individuals would visit his grave for special rituals and rites.
There is no recognized King Lobhengula Day, but individuals do recognize it. The line of Lobhengula does celebrate the day. His father’s ideals are carried on, but there is no grave to visit.
There was a statue of King Lobhengula at the National Gallery in Bulawayo, a metal one by a famous local metal sculptor. It did not receive much national acclaim and now gathers dust in a backyard storeroom at the gallery.
Like the statue, the Old Bulawayo Village built exactly as Lobhengula had designed his with amaqhugwana (grass huts) of yore, suffered a worse fate burnt down by a “veldt” fire, (most likely arson, lit by an angry Ndebele). Old Bulawayo would be most successful if built next to Lobhengula’s grave and with approval from the highest spirit of the Ndebele religious system.
The Western idea of a grave is different from an African’s idea and totally different from a Ndebele’s idea. N S Sigogo has a beautiful poem that expresses the idea – the fear of the grave, the dread of seeing bones and dried up flesh stuck onto the dead bones of ancestors and the likely encounter that one might have with angry floating and restless spirits disturbed by curious intruders!
Incidentally most Ndebele kings share a similar fate with Lobhengula. King Nkulumane kaMzilikazi has a grave marked for him in South Africa at a farm that was bought for the Khumalo nearest to the throne when the family was effectively dismantled to prevent possible uprising or forceful takeover of power. Few Ndebele visit Nkulumane’s grave and it is mostly those in the Diaspora.
Six Ndebele kings
The following might be a useful summary:
King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana Khumalo c1823-1868. His grave is marked, Entumbane, Matopo.
King Nkulumane kaMzilikazi Khumalo c1838-1839. His graved is marked at a farm in South Africa.
King Mncumbhatha Khumalo 1868-1870. (Regent king) (ebambele uLobhengula). His grave is unmarked.
King Mbiko kaMadlenya Masuku 1868-1870. (Rebel King). His grave is unmarked.
King Lobhengula kaMzilikazi Khumalo 1870-1893. (wanyamala) (he cannot have a marked grave).
King Nyamande Nyanda Yemikhonto KaLobhengula Khumalo 1896 (inkosi yomvukela – king of Ndebele rebellion).
Ndebele amabutho and izimpi would never go to war without a king who had to cast his spear (spear of war) in the direction of the intended raid. The spear had to stick into the ground and quiver. If the wooden handle broke that spelt doom for the military venture, but abandoning it was equally disastrous. The crestfallen impi had to soldier on and turn the setback into a successful operation – and sometimes they did. Myth has it that Lobhengula was so angry before the last battle of 1893, threw the spear with so much venom the handle splintered into hundreds of pieces, the same way the Ndebele kingdom got shattered.
Myth around Nyanda Yemikhondo states that he was not killed in the 1896 War, but escaped to Chief Zimuto in Masvingo. He obviously eventually died there.
After Zimbabwean independence, the town of Fort Victoria looked for a new name. Nyanda was suggested and the town bore that name for a little while until it was changed to Zimuto. Zimuto found little favour and was dropped for Masvingo which has stuck to this day.
Nyanda was too hot to handle, name of Lobhengula’s son and Lobhengula being so infamous with Karanga people, that name would not have lasted that long. And if the infamous Zimuto kept and protected Nyanda as he had protected Lobhengula’s cattle and amabutho before, then, Zimuto too had to go! The Masvingo granite blocks would eventually win over.
Of the six Ndebele kings, only two graves are marked, but both are not seen as tourist sites for all stated reasons and more. The more could include losing the Ndebele-Anglo War of 1893, 1896, losing the 1983 elections and subsequent ones, the Gukurahundi experience, some related negative political upheavals among the Ndebele and other related variables. All would not be good cause to change the fate of the graves of Ndebele kings.
Mbiko kaMadlenya Masuku is a special case. He was a rebel king imposed on the Ndebele by Queen Lozinti, sister to Lobhengula and the Zwangandaba military outfit which consisted of abeNhla labeZansi, purist in outlook and keen to dislodge Lobhengula whose military might was based on large numbers from amaHole whose roots were more local than the Vaal and coastal roots of the two earlier groups.
Lobhengula could only be installed after killing Masuku who had been fully installed two years earlier by the queen and Zwangandaba. Indeed Masuku enjoyed all the trappings of a king and Mncumbhatha the regent king had a bit of a hard time getting other regiments behind the Ndebele cause and eventually behind Lobhengula.
The Ndebele nation was divided for two years under Mncumbhatha and Masuku and the civil war – second in the life of the nascent nation – was won by Lobhengula who had to set out on a long period of reconciliation and nation-building. (The first civil war was fought when Mzilikazi returned from the north and found Nkulumane sitting on his throne).
Advantages, disadvantages of national monuments
Because Mzilikazi’s grave and memorial site is marked some 20km down Old Gwanda Road, schools send learners to the site and update them on the Ndebele king at quite an early age. They do not get a chance to visit Lobhengula’s site. Nkulumane lies far away in South Africa. Nyanda, Mncumbhatha and Masuku are likely to be remembered less and less.
A lot of panegyric has been written on Masuku especially by Mayford Sibanda. That author is now late and Masuku is likely not to be sung further than Sibanda did. He has a good mention in history books and has been subject of attraction in Intwasa Festival performances headlining 2014. Mncumbhatha has a good mention in history books, but Nyanda remains somewhat unknown to the larger Ndebele public.
History books have made things somewhat worse by recording Mzilikazi and Lobhengula so extensively and teachers in schools sing to learners that the Ndebele had two kings. The other four are hardly mentioned and many a history teacher gets uncomfortable at the mention of Mncumbhatha, Nkulumane, Nyanda and Masuku as kings. But all four just like Mzilikazi and Lobhengula were sworn in, wore the leopard skin of royalty, went through ukweshwama ceremony, “threw” the spear of war and sent troops to raid in whatever area they deemed most profitable, conducted inxwala ceremony and performed all regal duties placed before them by iqoqo and council of elders.
All six bowed down to the royal salute of “bayethe!” and surrendered to the leadership of the great Ndebele spirits.
If celebrated and remembered on an annual basis, none of them could ever be forgotten. An appeal to their spirits and an apt veneration to them could change the exploits and fortunes of the Ndebele. Talks about resurrecting the Ndebele monarchy could find greater acceptance if all Ndebele kings were recognized and the direction to take in that regard could be very clear.
Forgetting any of the six Ndebele kings is likely to rob the entire human experience of a major historical moment that should define so much of Southern-Central Africa. The six should be an inspiration for so much self-determination and democratization of human experience. And the myth of two Ndebele kings should be blasted into smithereens so that all six Ndebele kings take their rightful place in history.
There is not a direction here toward an attempt to equate Ndebele kings to adventurists and fortune seekers, but to present a national ethos that simply has seen no reason to celebrate in typical Western fashion graves that remain respected, feared and avoided by most Ndebele.
Students of history would treat such graves differently because they need their degrees, they would have to prepare on their own to face whatever ancestral wrath would be directed their way.
Of course, Home Affairs or somebody else could make a lot of money with tourists from all over the world visiting graves of Ndebele kings.
Losing wars and spoils of war
Should a nation lose war something happens to its psyche and philosophy and in a negative way. National events fall away and participation in events set up by the victor becomes a mere observance of duty and would not well from within.
The loser knows he cannot suggest and have his events posted on the national annual calendar. The conquered cannot write history. It is written for them by the conqueror. The loser cannot revise history books and write his own knowledge of events, no matter how accurate they might be. The conqueror viewpoint rules the day.
Gone then are Ndebele national events like umthontiso, inxwala, umgubho wezulu, ihlambo, ukuthethela idlozi lesizwe, ukubuthwa, etc. Njele, Dula, and other hills are hardly visited for national rites and rituals, but individuals do visit and violate such places.
The conquered Ndebele psyche cannot revisit, relive, re-enact, and recreate important ceremonies and rites associated with the Ndebele nation. Positive experiences have given way to negative ones in an atmosphere that has become so negative.
Is it possible for the Government to place Ndebele kings on the national map and celebrate Mzilikazi, Nkulumane, Mncumbhatha, Masuku, Lobhengula, Nyanda? Well a national day of Ndebele kings might give them the annual prominence that all six deserve. Can they all be mentioned and celebrated on National Heroes’ Day? – By Jerry Zondo © Panorama Magazine 2017.