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King Lobengula fate mystery deepens

by Staff reporter
04 Apr 2024 at 05:30hrs | Views
The mystery surrounding the fate of 19th century Ndebele King Lobengula - son of the nation's founder King Mzilikazi - is still a moot historical event to Ndebele people, some Zimbabweans and scholars, as well as the media within and outside present-day Zimbabwe.

It is a major subject of debate, dispute and uncertainty in some political and social circles.

Just like the origins of the Ndebele State itself, Lobengula's fateful demise is still being discussed, investigated and hotly contested up to this day.

To some it is just a historical enquiry out of academic curiosity and enterprise, to others an important cultural issue that needs closure and yet to other people it is a critical matter related to current politics in Zimbabwe.

Others, especially colonial fortune-hunters, were deeply interested in it and embarked on endless wild goose chases (many expeditions were thus undertaken) as they thought Lobengula disappeared with a huge gold treasure trove, which if found, would be like a small El Dorado, a mythical gold city discovery.

Of course, some people think it is just irrelevant to their current situation, especially in a country like Zimbabwe reeling from political and economic problems affecting their survival.

But then again contemporary politics of Ndebele history and identity - some intellectuals like Professor Sabelo.J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni call it particularism, and by extension, how this relates to national politics in Zimbabwe today, remain critical to nation-building dynamics and the crisis facing the country.

Thus Lobengula's story revived and retold has current political ramifications, which is why the government, together with its credulous followers, for the longest has deliberately tried to downplay or even to negate (the sugar myth fable is about that) his well-documented anti-colonial heroics - until now.

The issue of Lobengula's statue, a popular demand in Bulawayo which locals call the City of Kings after his father and him, for instance, quickly triggers some discomfort in Harare and agitation in certain social circles.

While this issue is a sub-set of national politics, it has continued to haunt both the project of nation-building which has ended up unravelling along the faultlines of Shona-Ndebele ethnicities (which are more of social constructs than common genealogical ethnic groups) as the process became entangled in ethnic tensions and violence of the 1980s, complaints of marginalisation as well as low-intensity rivalries which continue unabated, as Ndlovu-Gatsheni puts it.

Some people find this uncomfortable to discuss, but that is Zimbabwe's current reality which cannot be wished away.

Yet amid all this the Lobengula mystery remains unresolved and perhaps will never be.

It is conventionally presumed that Lobengula died in late 1893 or early 1894; there is no certainty, however, and there is a strong belief that he had crossed the Zambezi River and found refuge among Zambian Paramount Chief Mpezeni's Ngoni people who shared the same Nguni origins with him.

Mpezeni is a descendant of Zwangendaba Jele who left present-day KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa around the same time as Soshangane Nxumalo and Mzilikazi Khumalo in the 1820s at the height of Mfecane; times of trouble triggered by Zulu King Shaka's empire-building wars.

Zwangendaba went as far as Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania via some parts of Zimbabwe; Soshangane into Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe; and Mzilikazi into South-Western Zimbabwe via Lesotho, Botswana and Zambia.

There are many hypotheses of how Lobengula died.

Colonial administrators and scholars say he was killed soon after the Battle of Pupu, the Shangani Patrol or Wilson Patrol on 4 December 1893 where British imperial forces were annihilated by the General Mtshane Khumalo-commanded Imbizo regiment, Lobengula's last line of defence.

Some Western scholars say he committed suicide; others say he died of smallpox and yet some claim he was killed after the historic battle officially monumentalised by government last week in Lupane, Matabeleland North province.

Ndebele folklore in general simply says he "disappeared", some people say he died in Binga under Chief Pashu Sianganza in the Sanjana hills in desperate flight, but the now dominant theory - which was given new life yesterday by a government delegation which went to Zambia on an exploratory mission recently - is that he died in Chipata in eastern Zambia under Mpezeni and was buried at Sanjika Cave in line with Ndebele customs.

None of the stories are new, but they keep on coming back, sometimes repackaged and persuasive.

Renowned historian or rather storyteller Phathisa Nyathi recently led a delegation comprising the Khumalo clan and government officials to Zambia on a fact-finding mission.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who claims his great grandfather Mbengo fought at the legendary Battle of Pupu, funded the trip.

The delegation claims to have found that Lobengula lived among the Ngoni people under Mpezeni after the collapse of the Ndebele State upon colonial invasion in 1890, leading to the Anglo-Ndebele in 1893.

From that trip, the delegation claims the feisty Ndebele monarch took four months to reach Zambia after the Battle of Pupu, where he settled among Mpezeni's people in Chitapa, about 100km from Malawi's border.

They say his escape and exfiltration of present-day Zimbabwe was aided and abtted by Chief Pashu, who helped him cross the mighty Zambezi River into Zambia.

They claim Lobengula's escorts decoyed colonial pursuers by killing Magwegwe Fuyana, his prime minister in current governance parlance, and placing his artifacts on his purported grave to hoodwink them into believing he had died.

Forever determined to unravel that story, Nyathi on 22 March, accompanied  Lobengula's descendent, Midard Khumalo, former Matabeleland South Provincial Administrator, National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe researcher Dr Senzeni Khumalo, and Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet in Charge of Social Service, Reverend Paul Damasane, embarked on the fact-finding mission to Zambia to ascertain Lobengula's fate.

Zimbabwe's Ambassador to Zambia Charity Charamba and her counterpart representing the country in Malawi Dr Nancy Saungweme facilitated some engagements, particularly meeting Mpezeni who is said to have confirmed Lobengula lived with them, died and was buried there.

"Beyond Pupu, what happened to the King? that is the question that we need to answer," said Nyathi, as he chronicled to the state-controlled Chronicle newspaper, how Lobengula sought refuge among the Ngoni people and died there.
 
"The King never disappeared, but crossed the Zambezi River and settled in Chipata after four months and he lived with the Ngoni people for four years. So, when we arrived they confirmed they knew King Lobengula.

"They told us they were disappointed because we came too late, when the people who actually saw him had already passed on. King Lobengula died in 1897."

Nyathi said they established Lobengula was laid to rest at Sanjika Cave.

He said Mpezeni's people also showed them the site where Lobengula was buried, although they only ended 800 metres away.

"But even when he died, the exact spot was kept a closely guarded secret but to some of us that is not a problem. Some cultures will use archaeology, others will use geo-physical surveys and Africans do these things their own way," Nyathi said.

Now, there are several issues which emerge out of this new assertion by Nyathi's delegation claiming to have resolved a 131-year historical mystery.

To start with, Nyathi - who is a great storyteller of Ndebele history - and his delegation never found any new evidence at all to warrant their vague conclusion and noise to have resolved the Lobengula mystery.

They never even saw the site where Lobengula was allegedly buried.

Assuming it was there, they stood 800 metres - almost a kilometre - away, making it impossible to see the cave where he was interred.

Even with a pair of binoculars, they would not have seen the burial cave which is 131 years old from that distance.

What Mpezeni and his people told them is not new. That narrative has been there for as long as the mystery existed.

What is needed now is to scientifically and scholarly test that hypothesis and see if there is any truth in it at all.

All these other theories also need to be tested through established scientific and scholarly research methods.

The study of mysteries like Lobengula's fate falls under various disciplines, depending on the nature of the mystery itself.

Some of the sub-fields and disciplines that engage in such research include detective or investigative approaches, although this is usually used in resolving criminal cases by gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and employing various techniques to unravel the truth behind a crime.

Then there is archaeological research. Archaeologists explore ancient civilisations and study artifacts, ruins, and historical sites to understand and solve mysteries related to past cultures, their practices, and artifacts.

Some investigators use scientific methods and tools to study and analyse reported paranormal events, which is another approach.

Cryptozoologists study creatures that are rumoured or speculated to exist without  scientific evidence.

And then there are historians, who typically work in museums, archives, historical societies, and research organisations, who can study and analyse historical events, documents, and accounts to uncover and understand past mysteries.

They often focus on unresolved historical questions, enigmatic figures, or unexplained phenomena from the past.

Ndebele society, like many other societies, is full of those mysteries.

Even simple things like who was Mzilikazi's mother have now become mysteries, with different stories, sometimes self-serving, told.

For instance, some historians and the Ndiweni clan claim Mzilikazi's mother was from their Amangwe sub-ethnic group, while the common historical trope is that she was Zwide kaLanga's daughter Nompethu.

Studying mysteries requires a curious and open mind, credible hypotheses, critical thinking skills, research and investigative capacity, and a willingness to explore beyond the known.

In this case, the problem with this new claim is that Nyathi has always believed, as shown by his writings and pronouncements, that Lobengula fled to Mpezeni and died there.

So Nyathi simply led the delegation on a self-fulfilling prophecy errand, not a scholarly or scientific research mission.

The end result: Lobengula's fate mystery deepens and remains unresolved.

Source - newshawks

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