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Myth or reality: The raid by Ndebeles of Shona cattle and women

18 Mar 2017 at 06:59hrs | Views
A lot has been said recently about alleged raids carried out by the Ndebele State on their then neighbours in 19th century. I say alleged because while some think it is a forgone conclusion that the raids took place I am not convinced. First off the place the Ndebele people settled in 1838 was occupied by the Kalanga under their Chief Ndumba. The Ndebele under Gundwane and later Mzilikazi took over the territory without any resistance in what can nowadays be termed a bloodless coup. There was never any war between the Ndebele and the Kalanga.

The area Mzilikazi settled in is the Southwest of what is now known as Zimbabwe. Mzilikazi liked this part of the country as it was good for cattle rearing. While we on the subject of cattle please note that the Ndebele people brought their own cattle. The cattle even today is similar to those that you find in KwaZulu-Natal Mzilikazi's place of origin. To the Ndebele cattle were essential economic assets that they wouldn't have parted with in their long journey. Not only did cattle provide meat and milk but they're also used for lobola and for ceremonies like funerals, with the cow skin being used to wrap the body as people didn't use coffins then.

The Ndebele were not like many would now like us to believe blood thirsty barbarians who survived by raiding but were competent agriculturalists, hunters and traders. Raiding was not an essential way of bringing in anything into the Ndebele state. When raiding did happen it was mostly used for defence purposes against threatening neighbours. The Tswana, Ngwato, Kololo and even the recently arrived Afrikaners did raid their neighbours from time to time.

The Shona (please note that these comprised of many disjointed groups and not one group) as well also raided other people from not only weak but stronger groups. Hence Mutapa means "pillager" and Rozvi means "destroyer". So dear reader dispel the thinking that the Shona were these weak victims of Ndebele raids. Shona groups raided each other and even raided the Ndebele. Tohwechipi is one such person who successfully raided and ran off with Ndebele cattle. Others are Mutinhima and Govera.

In fact a Shona raid by the Gomala and Bere people is what brought about the attack that resulted in the colonisation of the Ndebele state by the British. The Ndebele went on a punitive counter raid after the raid by the Gomala and Bere people. The white settlers in Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) intervened siding with the Shona chiefs. This is incident is what was used by Rhodes in 1893 to overthrow the Ndebele kingdom, something they had been planning to do. When the whites settled and occupied Mashonaland in 1891 Lobengula didn't attack them because they were not on his territory. This territory belonged to the Shona groups.

So where do the generalisations, fallacies, myths, distortions about the Ndebele raiding the Shona for cattle and women that is now the stuff of legends come from? First it is from early settlers whose writings about Black people was stereotypical and contained a lot of misleading as it potrayed the Ndebele people as people who survived by stealing grain and cattle from the Shona. The settlers wrote history in such a way to show as if there was never peace between the Ndebele and Shona. There was in pre colonial times peace between the Ndebele and Shona people with Shangwe, Nemakonde, Hwata and others being an example of Shona Chiefs who formed alliances with the Ndebele state.

Secondly, the European settlers misunderstood the payment of tributes by tributaries who paid the Ndebele state things like skins, feathers, hoes, tobbaco, spears and other things. Payment of tributes was done in exchange of protection in the same way we pay governments tax today for them to provide police services. Chief Chirumanzu is one such Chief in 1857 asked for protection and paid tributaries to Mzilikazi.

Thirdly and most likely is that the Shona confuse the Ndebele people with other Nguni people who passed through their territory. These are the like of Mpanga, Ngwana Maseko, Zwangendaba and Nyamazana. The raids carried out by the ones I just mentioned may have been added to the exxagerated raids supposedly made by the Ndebele people. The larger distances covered by the likes of Maseko who ended up in present day Malawi might also explain why even though the Ndebele people were not as numerous to attack the vast areas oocupied by the Shona groups some in far away places like Seke swear they were attacked by the Ndebele.

Do you have evidence that the Ndebele people raided the Shona people looting cattle and women? If you do please send it to please note that Chigwedere inspired history doesn't count as evidence therefore spare me.

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Source - Velempini Ndlovu
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