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The Ncube Clan: a Tale of Kalanga Origins

17 Sep 2017 at 16:15hrs | Views

Since the publication of my book, The Rebirth of BuKalanga, a lot of interest has been generated in Kalanga identity, history, heritage and perhaps, even language. The interest has been both positive and negative, some wanting to know more about the Kalanga, some wanting to suppress Kalanga history and identity and keep it subsumed to Ndebele, Shona and Tswana identity (in Botswana in this case).

Yet, one wonders, can the history, identity and languages of a People whose ancestors established one of the 3 Greatest Civilization in Africa be suppressed forever (the 3 Great Civilization are the Nzimabgwe [Zimbabwe] Civilization epitomized by Maphungubgwe, Great Zimbabwe and Khami Cities; the Axumite Civilization of Ethiopia and of course the Egyptian Civilization).

But not only that, the Kalanga established the greatest Kingdoms known to man Africa South of the Sahara: the Mamboan Kingdoms of Maphungubgwe, the Monomotapa Empire, the Buthwa-Togwa Kingdom and the Lozwi Kingdom (these being actually successive phases of the same Kingdom).

The Kalanga are also known to have established the first Iron Age Culture in South Africa about 500 AD, known as the Leopard's Kopje Culture (centered in what is now Matebeleland, North East District of Botswana and the Limpopo Province of South Africa). They would also go on to be the first in the region to practice mixed farming, domestication of cattle, gold-mining, smelting and trade with the Phoenicians, Arabians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Portuguese, and by some accounts, the Chinese.

The Kalanga also established a Religion with the most advanced idea of the Supreme Being - Mwalism - way before the entry of missionaries into Southern Africa, a religion, interestingly, cited by many a scholar and writer in the field as surprisingly Yahweist: complete with Priests, a central mountain of worship (Matopo-Njelele) and rituals and traditions unbelievably similar to Yahweist religions of the Middle East. Of course this has been attributed to Kalanga origins in what is now the Sudan-Ethiopia-Egypt region.
(NB: at this time the Kalanga comprised what have remained to this day as BaKalanga, the Nambya and sections of the Venda, Lobedu, etc).

It is only fitting that we delve into the history and identity of the Ncube (Hoko/Shoko/Mfene) Clan immediately after talking about the Mwali Religion, for this is the Priestly Family of the Mwali Religion. Since time immemorial, the Ncubes have served at Njelele (the top Mwali Shrine) as Priests.

(The other clans like the Moyo-Lozwi served in other capacities as Political Leaders; the Nleya-Mndambeli as the Ambassadors and Intelligence Agencies, the Mihha as the Engineering Corps; the Kumbudzi as the Historians and Custodians of Knowledge; the Ntombo as the Masons/Civil Engineering Corps; the Kadzaha as Keepers of the Royal Harem; the Sungwaha as the Royal Counsels/Legal Advisers, etc.)
That this is the historical arrangement in BuKalanga is not in dispute. Instead, as the Kalanga re-find themselves and reestablish their long-suppressed identity, language and indeed Peoplehood, we find ourselves stacked up against opposition from particularly the Mthwakazists (Ndebele Nationalists) and the Shona Imperialists.

Of course, the primary reason of opposition is that these two have long built their claims to greatness on suppression of the Kalanga and their identity, dating back from 19th Century Conquests through to British Colonialism and the Gukurahundi Genocide.

Apparently, the fear now is that if the Kalanga reassert themselves, all the years of Shona myth taught as history will be found wanting; whilst on the other hand, the Mthwakazists fear that their numbers will be exposed for how low they really are.

For lets face it: ubuNdebele was never an identity of the Kalanga (and Tonga, Nambya, Sotho, Venda, etc), ubuNdebele was only extended to and imposed (violently through raids, British machinations working with Ndebele Indunas to quell Kalanga anti-colonial activity), etc after the "Nketha Census" which showed that Nguni (the real Matebele or Ndebele) numbers were drastically falling, about the 1930s.

To boost their numbers, led by the Matebele Homeland Society (predecessor to the modern Mthwakazist movements), began imposing the idea that everyone in the region now called Matebeleland is "Ndebele". So divisive among the Ndebele themselves was this issue that it resulted in the formation of the Sons of Mzilikazi Cultural Society as a counter-center of power to the MHS as it believed that "Ndebelefying" the Kalanga (so-called AmaHole) and other Nations (Tonga, Venda, Sotho, etc) was a bastardization of Ndebele identity.

In line with their attempt to perpetuate Ndebelefication of the Kalanga and boost Ndebele numbers in the process (an act done masquerading as "uniting Matebeleland"), the Mthwakazists deny the self-evident, historically and empirically verifiable facts that people with the surnames NCUBE, Moyo, Ndlovu, Dube, etc are actually People of Kalanga Stock.

Their central argument is that since these surnames also exist in what is now South Africa (and indeed in KwaZulu-Natal) and as far as Malawi, it cannot be true that these are Kalanga surnames (of course the same people have no problem with the fact that the Nguni themselves are found all the way from KwaZulu-Natal to Malawi, yet find it unbelievable that the Kalanga, with a settled history in the region dating 2000 years, can be found south of the Limpopo and north of the Zambezi!)

It is also argued that since the Ncube (and other Kalanga clans) now have praises (izibongo/iziduko) that seem to capture a Nguni origin, they cannot be of Kalanga stock. Of course I have previously commented elsewhere that if we follow this line of argument, does it mean that a Mthethwa or Sithole (100% Nguni stock) ceases to the Nguni simply because they now live in Manicaland, speak Shona and carry Shona praises?

Does a ben Yehudah, Cohen or Levi cease to be a Jew simply because they are now living in Brazil or South Africa or Australia? Are we not even to this day hearing Americans proudly stating that they are Italian, Scot, Irish, even when they speak none of those languages but American English? Why then must a different standard apply to the Ncube and other Kalanga Peoples spread across Southern Africa from the Cape Coast to the Congo?

The earliest record we have of iziduko of the Ncube in a Nguni language is the writing of Henry Masila-Ndawo writing in 1938 in his book, Iziduko ZamaHlubi (the Kalanga version is recorded by Kumile Masola in 1920 in his book Nhau Dza BaKalanga, of course we do have even earlier records from missionary records).

In his record, Masila-Ndawo records the typically Nguni surnames, and interestingly, skips Ncube/Mncube (and only describes them in his text, with a major footnote: "ngabafikayo emaHlubini, bambi kubo benobukhosi babo" - the list is on page 5 of his book). He further states: "Ababantu babesisizwe esibe siphethwe ziinkosi zaso. Ayemi ngasentla-ntshona kwelaKwaZulu-Natal." Of course this already tells us of the external origins of the Ncubes among the Nguni groups.

In delineating the iziduko of the Ncubes, he states: "Yimzilankatha, Ngabasekuhleni, ngabaseThusini, Ngamalandela-langa, Abamfazazan' omfutshane, Bambophelela ngemvanana, NgabaseNdalameni basebuhleni belizwe, Banjengelitshe lamanzi, lona liluhlaza, Ngabakwaziyane". Then later we have variants of the same that are largely similar.

Now, of particular interest is (1) They are not originally Nguni (babesisizwe esibe siphethwe ziinkosi zaso; NgabaseNdalameni (reference to gold no doubt, something the Kalanga are famous for), and in what may be the most instructive line in the praises, we find a translation of the Kalanga praises into Zulu. The Kalanga goes: "Bobamhulu, Yaba mhulu yabang'ombe" (talking to growth and reference to growth of a cattle head). Is it a coincidence that we find the same line even in the Nguni variant: "Nina bakaNkomo zilal'uwaca"?

The praises also go on to state: "Nafik' eSwazini naphenduk'uNkambule, Msuthu". This not only emphasizes what Masila-Ndawo has already told us (the external origins of this Clan to the Nguni), but also identifies them as Msuthu. This of course carries enormous importance, for that's exactly where the Kalangean link is found. Being the immediate northern neighbors to them, the Nguni would have seen anyone from their north as Sotho.

Several writers from Alfred T. Bryant (1901), J. T. Bent (1892), Dr. George MacCall Theal (1896), Henry Masila-Ndawo (1932), Mtompe Khumalo (born 1875 and writing in 1944 through Dr. Neville Jones), S. M. Molema (1920), Clement Doke (1937) etc record that there was a major Kalanga migration and settlement into what is now KwaZulu-Natal, part of it prior to Nguni settlement and part of it pushed by Nguni migrations down south from the north.

Dr. Clement Doke, citing an even earlier writer, Nicolaas Jacobus Van Warmelo (born 1904) and living among the Sotho and Venda, records the following:
"This sub-group (of the Pedi) consists of a large main body and several smaller members which, being numerically so weak, have not hitherto received much attention. The bulk consists of the tribes of the center, viz. those of Sekukuniland, Pokwani, and neighboring districts.

These are the Pedi and those other tribes, either loosely called Pedi or speaking the Pedi language, which have been under Pedi control and influence for a long time, such as the Tau, Kwena (Mongatane and Kopa [probably Khupe]), Ntwane, Koni (both those offshoots of Matlala's who migrated hither from Pietersberg, and those numerous other small groups with the totems tlou [elephant], phiri [monkey], phuthi [duiker], nare [buffalo], kwena [crocodile], nkwe [leopard], tau [lion] and thswene [baboon], which are of quite different origin), and the Roka from across the Olifants River.
Farther north, in Pietersburg district, are the tribes of Mphahlele, Thswene, Mathabatha, Matlala and Dikxale, all of them Koni from the East, who scaled the mountains round Haenertsburg and settled on the plains of Pietersburg. There are further the Molepo, the Tlokwa and some Birwa (from South-Western Rhodesia), and the big tribes of Moletse (Kwena) and Xananwa of Blauwberg.
Smaller subsections of the Transvaal Sotho, showing various peculiar characteristics, are found in the extreme North-East and East of the Sotho area. In the North-East are the Phalaborwa, the tribes of Masisimala, of Mamidja and of Sekororo. The latter are, according to tradition, of Shona [actually Kalanga] origin, and with them therefore the related Letswalo, who now live in the Woodbush.

Finally, there are the Kxaxa, Mmamabolo's people, and the half-dozen tribes of Lobedu who have the wild boar (kolobe) as totem and are more closely related to the Venda than any other Sotho tribes. In the extreme East is a subdivision formed by the Kutswe, Pai, and Pulana tribes, all except the first being represented by numerous small independent sections. They live in or just below the Drakensberg escarpment in Pilgrimsrest district (van Warmelo, in Doke, 1937)."

As we can see, just as among the Nguni groups, even among the Sotho, the Peoples with the surnames that we submit are Kalanga surnames are also identified as originating in BuKalanga. Of course, the Nguni would have thought of them as Sotho since they tended to encounter them among BaSotho. And of course we know that generally, Nguni groups do not use animal and body parts for their surnames.

(See The Historiography of Southern Africa: Proceedings of the Experts Meeting held at Gaborone, Botswana from 7 to 11 March, 1977, "On the other hand one is struck by the fact that all these other groups observe totems to mark descent, and the Nguni, as a rule, do not" (Unesco 1980: Online).)


More evidence could be provided to show how Kalanga Peoples settled all across Southern Africa, however, space does not allow further treatment. However, I would like to now turn to the Ncube Peoples in Matebeleland. We have shown that the Ncube (and the Ndlovu, Dube, etc) south of the Limpopo are actually originally a people of Kalanga stock.

This challenges the key point of argument of the Mthwakazists: that some of these surnames are actually of Nguni origin and the people thereof crossed the Limpopo with Mzilikazi. Of course this flies in the face of historical facts.

Not only were all these People, Ncube included, treated and classified as "AmaHole", but in his narrations to Dr. Neville Jones, the Rev. Mtompe Khumalo clearly states that these surnames are those of the Kalanga, and in his list of Nguni (Ndebele) surnames, does not list either Ncube, Ndlovu, Dube, Moyo, Sibanda, etc. In fact, he cites them as "AmaHole" surnames. Historically we know that people that crossed the Limpopo with Mzilikazi were either classified as Abezansi or Abanhla. How then would these ones be exceptions?

Of course, the biggest hurdle for the Mthwakazist to overcome with regards to the Ncube clan's origins and identity is their priesthood in the Mwali Religion. The Mwali Religion is absolutely unknown among the Nguni, and if the Ncube are Nguni who "came with Mzilikazi", how do we explain their priesthood in the Mwali Religion, when that religion is not known among the Nguni? In fact, Ncube priesthood predates Nguni settlement in Southern Africa by centuries!

There is just no way the Ncube Clan can have been Nguni, yet be Priests of a central religion of BuKalanga. It does not make political, histerio-geographical nor chronological sense. In fact, whether we look at their settlement in what is now Matebeleland or KwaZulu-Natal, all the available evidence points one direction: BUKALANGA.

Available evidence, documentary, demonstrated by geographical settlement or religious, shows us that the Ncube are a Kalanga Clan. Whether they now speak IsiNdebele, IsiZulu or any other language, all that is a result of the dynamics of migration, conquest and assimilation. Indeed, as Bryant and Doke state:
The frontier wars of Tshaka (and Mzilikazi) hardly left any ethnic group untouched. Many were crushed to a point where they lost all memory of their origins, and indeed, as a means of survival, completely abandoned their languages and now speak the language of the conqueror. Of course that is true be it in Matebeleland or KwaZulu-Natal.

PS. Some Mthwakazists would argue that the "NC" sound does not exist in TjiKalanga. That may be true to some extent, but does not negate what the evidence suggest. We know that people tended to take on the name of their settled place as a means of survival in the face of war and genocide, and it may be the case that the Hoko/Shoko took on this surname from their settled place or that which they were referred to by the Nguni - eMaNcubeni. We find this also among the Shulo/Hulo Clan that takes its surname (Khupe/Khope) from the place of settlement (Khopeng in Sekhukhuneland).

With 18th and 19th century life having been that of survival in the face of war and genocide, migrations and convulsions, intrusions and extrusions (Dr. Getrude Caton-Thompson - The Zimbabwe Culture) it should not surprise us that that the Hoko/Shoko in Matebeleland would have adopted the means of survival of those across the Limpopo in the face of the horrid Zulu assegai from Tshaka to Mzilikazi.

Thus, whilst retaining their praises and priesthood in the Mwali Religion, took on the survival names used by their compatriots in what is now KwaZulu-Natal to evade the Ndebele Assegai. Of course to this day people change names, surnames and pronunciations thereof for survival purposes. We see people today returning with new versions of their surnames from South Africa as a means to ensure economic survival.

Source - Ndzimu-Unami Emmanuel Moyo
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