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Ndebele villages or regiments: Organisational units within the state

28 Jul 2019 at 09:56hrs | Views
FOR about 25 weeks now we have been investigating the phenomenon of naming, initially starting off at the cosmic level but later getting down to the terrestrial plane. Our interest has been to investigate the reasons behind names and the naming process itself. The known world, we said, is synonymous with the named world. Each community leaves its mark on its world which, through the use of language, it has named. Through the process of naming and its end product, a community imprints its identity, its history, its culture, its critical values, beliefs and world-view.

Today we begin looking at the more intimate historical world whose intimacy is revealed  through the names that have been rendered. Of late, I have observed that school pupils, especially in Bulawayo, are given assignments relating to the names of schools where they learn. It seems the objective is to unpack the origin of the names of their schools, both Government and municipal schools. We do acknowledge that during the colonial era the African Department consulted broadly when schools were being named. That was the case when Dr Hugh Ashton and Garget were in charge. When the City of Bulawayo celebrated its 125th anniversary not so long ago, there was heightened interest in the subject.

It is sad to observe that some street names have been vandalised. Walking through the suburb of Matshobana was, in days gone by, like taking a refreshing stroll down the memory lane regarding the history of the erstwhile Ndebele State. Mhabahaba Mkhwananzi, Mbiko Masuku, Mlugulu Khumalo were some names that one came across. Now you do not find those names. Hopefully, time will come when someone will embark on a project to document the names that once graced the streets of Bulawayo. One hopes too that time will come when misspelt names will be corrected. Our history is our pride; it is our identity and our source of inspiration. It is not an issue about money but priority and some sense of consciousness about the significance of names handed down to us by past generations.

What we are initiating today is not a full rendition of names captured in Bulawayo. Rather, we are more interested in what lies behind the names. Our aim is to come up with a few examples and derive out of them, general principles that apply in coming up with those names. Inevitably, some of the names may pertain to schools in Bulawayo. However, it is not schools alone that bear historical names. There are roads and streets, beer gardens, suburbs and townships, clinics and hospitals and youth clubs, to name but a few.

Our immediate interest is looking at the names of Ndebele villages or regiments. Indeed, some of the names have found their way into names of schools, Bulawayo Metropolitan districts, inter alia. It is not our intention to render some mechanical process in this regard. We shall, as far as possible, give some background to some of the chosen names. Those whose ancestors were part of the Ndebele State ought to know the regiments/ villages that they belonged to prior to its demise. Sadly, that knowledge is quickly fading as Bulawayo is becoming more and to people who were not part of that Ndebele State.

Citizens in the Ndebele State were organised on the basis of regiments, (amaxhiba, singular ixhiba). Everyone belonged to an ixhiba which may alternatively be termed umuzi. Before we identify specific amaxhiba it is prudent to render some requisite information regarding the genesis and development of an ixhiba. It all started with young men, amajaha, of roughly the same age, ontanga. These were young men who had attained puberty but not married. In days gone by, the age sets were conscripted to undergo puberty rites, part of what are termed rites of passage (rites de passage). These were withdrawn from their communities as initiates to undergo requisite rituals that turned them into men who were culturally prepared to become socio-cultural beings beyond being biologically mature men. However, over the years the puberty rites were abandoned and the age mates became the bases of new regiments.

Military training was undertaken far away from the villages. The necessary training was referred to as ugalo lwesizwe, designed to produce men who knew the history of their nation, the art of war, and other responsibilities relevant to a mature man. They were schooled in the esprit de corps that was necessary among the combatants. Women did not take part in military affairs. Men gained personal praises out of the war effort. Once their training was completed, the emerging regiment was allocated a military commander who was to preside over them.

The young men comprising ibutho were given a name for their military outfit. There were several names that we are later going to deal with such as Imbizo, Insukamini, Ugodlwayo, Inqama and many others. As part of building some esprit de corps, the regimental members were kitted out in the same manner. All held shields of the same colour. They all sang the same regimental song and extolled their regiment through the same praise names.  The choice of who was to become military commander was the King's prerogative. There were a number of considerations that came into play. Merit was one such consideration. Young men already exhibited certain traits that were considered important such as bravery.

There were other qualifications over and above merit such as blood relationship to the king. Certainly, it was important to select those whose blood relationship promised unflinching loyalty. Political considerations were important. King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana appointed many Ndiweni men as his military commanders or chiefs for example Qaqa Ndiweni, Manyewu Ndiweni, Mabuyane Ndiweni, Thambo Ndiweni, Mletshe Ndiweni,  Bhidi Ndiweni, Ndabakayena Ndiweni, inter alia.

King Mzilikazi's mother was Cikose Ndiweni, no wonder he appointed Khondwane Ndiweni (given as Gundwane in history books) to lead the group that struck the easterly route towards Matabeleland. The first chief was appointed but thereafter the eldest qualifying son took over from his father, for example Mhlambezi took over from Thambo. Thunzi took over from Mabuyane and Nkomo took over from Mletshe the chief of Ujinga. Like father, like son was the guiding principle.

What had started off as a regiment comprising men only, later became umuzi or ixhiba when the men got married. Inqama kaSomhlolo Mathema would, after the young men married become ixhiba or umuzi weNqameni, which was where Fort Usher stands today. Within Inqama was the original regiment which, when necessary, would leave their umuzi as ibutho or impi on a particular mission. The women folk remained behind. In other words, within Inqama (ixhiba) there was Inqama Regiment that Dliso Mathema led during Imfazo II of 1896.

Sons of Inqama would not necessarily end up as part of Inqama. They were conscripted together with age mates from elsewhere, into a new regiment. Different regiments served to identify the ages of the conscripts. Imbizo was older that Insukamini which was in turn older than Ihlathi. However, for the purposes of this column, we are more concerned with names of regiments and the meanings behind them.

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