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The Mthwakazi question: Who does or doesn't qualify to be Mthwakazian?

31 Jan 2021 at 08:26hrs | Views
My intention is not to write on either the historical origins or the actual geographical boundaries of Mthwakazi State, highlighted in yellow on the above image, but I am more concerned with initiating a conversation/debate on the demographic makeup of the territories which, before 1894, collectively made up the Nation State of that name. This is an attempt aimed at answering the question - Who does or doesn't qualify to be Mthwakazian? - in today's political climate.

When iSilo uMzilikazi kaMashobane kaMangethe wakwaKhumalo, finally decided, round about 1838, to heed the advice of Robert Moffat and move north/north west across the Limpopo River to get away from the unending wars between his people and various enemies including the Boers, Koranas/Griquas, Zulus and the Sotho/Tswana/Venda, his Nation was made up of abeNguni (amaZulu, amaNdwandwe, amaHlubi, amaNgwane, amaSwati, amaNdebele kaMusi etc) and many more peoples from the Sotho/Tswana/Venda clans. By the time of his death in 1868, this small Nation had rapidly grown into a powerful multi ethnic society via both natural birth as well as military conquest and assimilation of other inhabitants of the region. Local and neighbouring clans/tribes such as abaThwa, the Kalanga groups, the Shona groups, the Tonga, more of the Sotho/Tswana/Venda and the Nguni/Swati that had arrived years before were incorporated into the Nation by various means, ranging from violent to diplomatic persuasion or voluntarily. Izimbongi likened this speedy growth to something that suddenly becomes big at inception or birth, ukuthwakaza in isiNdebele, resulting in the Nation earning the name Mthwakazi for the geographical region over which iSilo uMzilikazi ruled and aba/abeThwakazi for all the peoples who would pay allegiance to him calling out "Bayethe!!!" in his praise.

This Nation building would continue for another 23 years after 1870 under iSilo uLobhengula after iSilo uMzilikazi had passed on in 1868. During this period, 1870 – 1893, the raids and wars against various enemies would continue and, invariably, young men and women, most probably more women, regardless of their tribe, would be captured and brought into the various imizi yamaButho, eventually being assimilated into Mthwakazi society, both military and civilian. When the mighty Ndebele/Mthwakazi Nation was eventually overpowered and subjugated by the British South Africa Company bank-rolled white settler army in 1893, Mthwakazi as an independent geographical area ceased to exist but aba/abeThwakazi continued living within those boundaries albeit now under white settler rule. I dare say that all natives of that region, whether of Nguni, Sotho/Tswana/Venda, Kalanga/Karanga, Tonga, Shona, Nambya, abaThwa or any other tribal origin identified themselves as being Mthwakazian.

The final collapse, in 1894, of the Mthwakazi State into the hands of white settler then later white colonial and independent white rule would add a new dimension into the demographics of the region as Mthwakazi would see whites becoming part of everyday society followed by both Indians and coloureds (mixed race as a result of interracial sexual relations). Mthwakazi was merged with neighbouring Mashonaland to create a country named Rhodesia, opening it up for more immigration by other clans/tribes such as the Ndau and amaShangane coming to live and work in Bulawayo which was fast becoming an industrial hub. Southern Rhodesia itself would be merged with modern day Zambia and Malawi to create the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 further opening up Mthwakazi to more migrant labour of various tribes (Nyanja, Chewa, Lozi, Ngoni etc) from further North and North-West. These migrants would be concentrated around the many mines and railway operations within the boundaries of Mthwakazi. As the society grew, demographically, economically and socially, relations and marriages across tribal and racial lines would become common even though some people frowned and still do frown upon them.

Mthwakazi, the region, would continue welcoming people of various ethnic origins and the rainbow nation, aba/abeThwakazi, would continue growing as a homogenous society through the disbanding of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963, the return to Southern Rhodesia period, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence period, the overt racial discrimination period, the struggle for independence all the way to the attainment of black majority rule and the birth of Zimbabwe.

On the eve of the birth of Zimbabwe, tribal politics which had been lying dormant during white colonial and UDI rule, would awaken as some of the political principals sort to use ethnicity to win elections. Of note, Zanu PF, a party formed to push the Shona group narrative after breaking away from Zapu canvassing for the Shona group vote, Chief Khayisa Ndiweni et al having pushed for a Federal System of government which would have seen Mthwakazi being a semi-autonomous or fully autonomous/independent region with its boundaries restored and PF Zapu pushing more for a unitary non tribal inclusive State, most probably because its supposed Ndebele support base would not be sufficient to see the party through to victory in the election.

Prior to this birth of Zimbabwe I'd like to think every black person resident within Mthwakazi boundaries, regardless of tribal origin, whether native i.e their elders before them paid allegiance to King Mzilikazi and King Lobengula, or migrant i.e their elders before them came after 1894 to work under white rule would be considered as uMthwakazi. Now after the birth of Zimbabwe tribal divisions and profiling would commence in earnest. One's being born or his/her residence within Mthwakazi territory did not automatically mean you are Mthwakazi. It was a case of if you are of Shona group or Zambian or Malawian origin or not black, you are not Mthwakazi, this by both pro Mthwakazi autonomy and anti Mthwakazi autonomy camps. Mthwakazi was now being reduced to those that arrived in that region between 1838 and 1840 as part of either one of King Mzilikazi's two groups, the Swati of Queen Nyamazana, the Xhosa, the Kalanga groups, the local Sotho/Tswana/Venda groups and maybe the  Tonga south of the Zambezi River. White, Indian, Coloured and others supposedly could not be Mthwakazi because of their race. With this post-independence intensification of tribal politics that was and is still being pursued today by Zanu PF, discrimination and marginalization of all regions within the historical boundaries of Mthwakazi has also increased. This concerted marginalization on tribal grounds has led to ever increasing calls for full Mthwakazi autonomy or outright secession from Zimbabwe as advocated for by outfits such as the Mthwakazi Liberation Front.

To many of us that subscribe to the idea of uBayethe to a Mthwakazi King, the only solution to the issues we face as a people is a 2 state solution with Mthwakazi at the South to South West and Zimbabwe at the North to North East end as in the map above. In the last 40 years tribal discrimination, marginalization and subjugation has resulted in an exodus from Mthwakazi territory of a lot of those who are said to be Mthwakazian by virtue of having those supposedly typical Mthwakazi/Ndebele last names. On the other hand this exodus has led to an influx into Mthwakazi territory of the Shona group of peoples. Inter-tribal sexual relations, not necessarily permanent relationships though legal marriages are very common, have become the order of the day resulting in children born to the "supposedly typical Mthwakazian" and "supposedly non Mthwakazian" couples or participants.

With this Zanu tribal hegemony and its results, the question of who is and who is not Mthwakazian needs to be addressed. There is a lot of diversified views to what qualifies one to be Mthwakazian and some serious questions may need to be addressed before the answer can be arrived at but then again there can never be a one answer fits all conclusion. A lot of factors including past and present politics and historical occurrences come into play driving emotions high.

Of the peoples that reside or have over the years been resident within Mthwakazi geographical boundaries, do those of Shona groups origins, those born of immigrant ancestors, whites, Indians, coloureds or offspring of inter-tribal sexual relations (so-called typical Mthwakazi and non) qualify to be Mthwakazian?

Source - Nkonzo Mathanda
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