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UK Commemorates the visit of Ndebele Chiefs to Queen Victoria in 1889

27 Aug 2019 at 22:29hrs | Views
The African community in the UK will be Celebrating the 1889 visit of two Ndebele Chiefs to Queen Victoria in London. In late 1888 King Lobengula sent 2 emissaries from present day Zimbabwe to go and meet with the Queen of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria no less. The two were chiefs Babayana Masuku and Lotshe Hlabangana (whom records call Mtshede). They were accompanied by Johan Colanbrander their interpreter, in what was the first ever diplomatic mission to the UK from that country. I will try and tell the story in bite size for the next few days since most of you hated history in school. Like the great Bob Marley said :

"If you know your history, then you would know where you coming from, then you wouldn't have to ask me, who the heck do I think I am."

To celebrate this great historic event a Southampton based charity made up of 30 African nations, The United voices of Africa, in partnership with Zimroots and the Ndebele community in the UK will host Mzilikazi day celebrations in Southampton on 7 September retracing the journey of the two Chiefs. The event will start at 12pm with a procession from the docks where the chiefs landed to their hotel where they stayed overnight, the London Hotel Southampton. The Hansard Gallery will host a talk and an exhibition of Ndebele art then the event will end with a royal celebration at the Southampton Theatre SO147DU that will have song dance and cultural performances by groups from Zim, Swaziland and South Africa. The organisers tell me it will be a fun filled family day open to all and include activities for children. Those in the UK make it a date.

So the next few days I will take you lot on a history class answering questions on who King Lobengula was, why did he send those chiefs to meet Queen Victoria, what was a trip from Zim to London like in 1888/9 and what did the chiefs do in London. What happened when they met Queen Victoria and what was the result of their visit?

King Lobengula of the Ndebele/Matabele

The King responsible for sending emissaries to London to meet the British Queen Victoria, was Lobengula son of Mzilikazi ka Mashobana founder of the Ndebele nation severally called Matabele, Mthwakazi or Mahlabezulu. Please note, Ndebele is not a tribe, it's a motley collection of more than 11 Southern African tribes forged into one nation from a small group who had fled Zululand by the skilful warrior King Mzilikazi. David Lingstone the celebrated missionary in his autobiography described Mzilikazi as ‘the most impressive leader he encountered in the African continent'. His son Lobengula became king in 1869 after a brief civil war. He was huge physically, a giant standing at almost 2 meters tall weighing an estimated 120kgs. He was a soft spoken thoughtful man. He used to ride a horse and carried a rifle. Oral history says he had in his younger days hunted Zebra with the European hunters which may explain why his favourite regiment Amawaba had black and white shields. King Lobengula ruled over a tributary state and like his father did not tolerate slave trade. Hunters and missionaries trickled into Matabeleland where in 1859 a mission station had been established in Inyathi. The trickle turned into a flood in 1886 when gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand area of South Africa and rumours started circulating that there were similar quantities of gold in Matabeleland. Ominously for the King, all of Africa was under threat in 1884 after the Berlin Conference where the Europeans had parcelled out the continent triggering the scramble for Africa. The holy book says there is nothing new under the sun. Essentially what goes around comes around. The late 1800s saw a European scramble for all things African. We are now in 2019 and nothing has changed, there is still a global scramble for African resources. King Lobengula understood all these things. He knew that it was a matter of time before the trickle becomes an overwhelming flood that destroys his nation. In 1882 Lobengula was warned by Piet Joubert, then Commandant-General of the army of the South African Republic that:

"An Englishman once [he] has your property in his hand, then he is like a monkey that has its hands full of pumpkin seeds – if you don't beat him to death, he will never let go."

White hunters, missionaries and British and Boer concession-seekers increasingly arrived at his royal residence in the 1880's at Umvutcha and Lobengula remarked to the Rev C.D. Helm:

"Did you ever see a chameleon catch a fly? The chameleon gets behind the fly and remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then another. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly."

The Portuguese meanwhile were claiming for themselves present day Mashonaland whilst some of the British explorers, gold diggers and hunters were lying to the King that Queen Victoria did not exist in order to try and get agreements with the King who had already on 11 February 1888 signed a treaty of friendship with Britain. Being a thoughtful man, Lobengula decided to send his trusted Indunas (chiefs) Babayana Masuku and Lotshe Hlabangana to meet the Queen of Britain in London. He asked a businessman called EA Maud from the Bechuanaland Exploration Company that was co- owned by 2 of Queen Victoria's sons in law, to organise the trip. Was Lobengula trying to sue for peace to stop the menacing clouds of colonialism he was seeing?  The king was charged £600 for the trip of the two chiefs which in today's money is about £74 131.00 (1.34 million Rand) which he paid from some of the proceeds of payments by the many Europeans seeking concessions with him. Indeed he had signed the Rudd Concession in October 1888 after much deception and pressure by his trusted friends including the Reverend Charles Helm. It was the same Charles Helm who lied to Lobengula on the terms of the Rudd Concession and later altered a letter Lobengula had dictated to the Queen asking for his territory to become a British protectorate. King Lobengula certainly understood international geo politics and knew his Kingdom stood no chance against the military might of the British. He was sending the chiefs to the Queen as a first strike against violent colonisation by establishing friendship with the British. Sadly the words of Piet Joubert were to come true. European history describes the Ndebele nation as bloodthirsty warriors. This justified their desire to violently destroy the nation. Yet King Lobengula was a man of peace as the Psalmist cried, ‘Woe is me…too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.'

The visit of the Indunas is to be commemorated in the King Mzilikazi day celebrations in Southampton United Kingdom on 7 September 2019.

Source - Joseph Qobo Mayisa
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