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Mtshana Khumalo: The general who outfoxed villain Allan Wilson

11 Apr 2022 at 01:27hrs | Views
A MILITARY tactician, General Mtshana Khumalo, commanded an elite group of fighters tasked with safeguarding King Lobengula's life and dignity as he trekked north at the height of the Matabele War of 1893. He protected not only his king, but the dignity of the African people reduced to "half-devil-half-children" by colonialists.

General Khumalo's Imbizo Regiment vanquished the colonial stronghold embodied in the settler commander, Major Allan Wilson's party, also known as the Allan Wilson Patrol, at the Battle of Pupu in Lupane along the Shangani River on December 4, 1893.

This was despite the Patrol having superior weaponry at its disposal. The Battle of Pupu set in motion the wheels of resistance that halted Ian Douglas Smith's colonial train on April 18, 1980.

General Khumalo, is, indeed, a national hero, a status President Mnangagwa posthumously conferred on him.

The recognition, along with the erection of a memorial statue for Zimbabwe's First Chimurenga heroine, Mbuya Nehanda at the intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julius Nyerere Way, is symbolically apt as it corrects historical distortions of the Zimbabwean story by colonialists.

By unveiling a shrine at the site of the famous Pupu Battle in December 2020, the President eternalised the gallant general's legacy. His contribution to the concept of struggle against colonial subjugation will forever be cherished.

The Pupu National Monument in the Lupane District of Matabeleland North is now the commemoration site for the selfless national hero.

President Mnangagwa, the custodian of the people of Zimbabwe's cultural mores and values, affirms his commitment to the national ethos enshrined in collective memory.

Said the President: "As the Second Republic, we will remove the remains of those colonialists and rebury them where they lost the battle. How can the vanquished be honoured when the victors are not honoured?"

Indeed, why should losers be glorified at the expense of victors? Why should colonialists like Rhodes be celebrated on Zimbabwean soil, through shrines that mock the owners and custodians of the land bequeathed to them by their forefathers?

Colonialists resolved to silence Africa's past through a subtle education system aimed at keeping black people, not only poor, but also ignorant.

But, history is stubborn. It cannot be wished away.

White supremacist deity, Cecil John Rhodes and his fellow settlers were aware of the pivotal role that culture and history play in the everyday lives of Africans.

Through Christianity, therefore, they robbed Africans of their spiritual connectedness to the land of their ancestors.  After destroying or capturing Africans' shrines, settlers went on to build monumental ones of their own heroes and themselves. Thus, immortalising the history of plunder, brutality and murder characteristic of colonialism.

When white settlers hoisted the Union Jack on September 12, 1890 on Harare Hill (Kopje) in Salisbury, they had already captured the indigenous people's spiritual heritage.

Therefore, the foundation for the contestation of heritage in all its variables; tangible and intangible, as enshrined in the land, the abode of the ancestors and "mother" (Lan, 1985), was laid.

The idea that Zimbabwean history can be understood only if it is read against European history is a deplorable colonial mentality that should be exorcised.

To the colonist, Allan Wilson and his gang of settlers vanquished by King Lobengula's men, led by General Khumalo at Pupu, are heroes, but they  remain villains to Africans; no matter how bravely they are said to have fought.

The settler community hailed the 34 as men of men, for having died for a "worthy" cause. Settlers also recognised Allan Wilson through an annual holiday between 1895 and 1920; and a school for white children founded in Salisbury (now Harare) in 1940 as a modern high school for boys.

General Khumalo's name was blotted out of history, yet he was the one who masterminded the routing of the said men of men. Neither are his selfless and courageous men known by name.

Allan Wilson's name has been institutionalised as a training paragon, notwithstanding what it stands for.

As Zimbabweans celebrate 42 years of independence from colonial rule, in the City of Kings on April 18, it is befitting that the gallant son of the soil's story is revisited.

Reliving the famous Pupu Battle, in an article titled, "A Battle Won and a War Lost: The Wiping out of the Major Allan Wilson Patrol", historian Pathisa Nyathi writes that at the peak of the war in 1893, King Lobengula and his close military advisors realised that the route to follow was due north, since the east was sealed off.

The southern direction was ruled out as an option due to hostile Afrikaners that side. To the west was Bechuanaland (Botswana), which had become a British Protectorate.

The north, the only option left to the king, was teeming with settlers, who had arrived at KoBulawayo on November 4, 1893, and were keen on capturing him.  He was a coveted trophy to boost their military egos.

"A pursuing party was hastily put together and began on the fateful hunt for the Ndebele King. The Ndebele soldiers under Mtshana Khumalo were masters at military decoy. The pursuers of the king were guided by tracks cleared through the bush to allow the movement of ox-wagons," writes Nyathi.

"At times a false route was cleared and the royal salute chanted loudly in order to derail the pursuers. In the meantime the king would be moving on and gaining ground ahead of the white soldiers keen to capture him as they did with King Cetshwayo of the Zulu."

A master of military decoy, General Khumalo created the impression that after the Pupu Battle, the king had died and was buried in a cave at Pashu in the Binga District; a ruse that many fell for.

Although mystery surrounds the death of the Ndebele King and where he could have been buried, with a number of theories emerging to unlock the puzzle, Pathisa Nyathi insists that he crossed into Zambia and lived among the Ngoni people.

He affirms that the funerary items placed on the grave were known to belong to King Lobengula, among them parts of a horse saddle and diamonds.

A colonial writer, Gordon Lancaster, cited in Nelson Chenga's article titled, "Lobengula's life in Old Bulawayo revisited", published in The Herald on July 20 1999, maintains that "it is not known where Lobengula was buried", as it was a closely guarded secret among the Ndebele people.

To them "Inkosi yanyamalala" (the king disappeared).

Nyathi, however, avows that the Ndebele King died around the 1920s at Lundazi, an area bordering Zambia and Malawi. The skeleton found at Mlindi Cave in Pashu and buried there was not Lobengula's, but it belonged to Magwegwe, his loyal and trusted induna.

In an interview with The Herald in 1999, Nyathi said: "Magwegwe had to be killed in place of the king, and all the king's possessions were left behind with the body inside the cave as a decoy, because if the king was captured, the Ndebele people would have been defeated. As it is, they were never defeated.

"So, it was good for both the Ndebele and the whites that the king had died there, because if the entire Ndebele nation knew where he was they would have followed him."

He added that Cecil John Rhodes had to tell the people that King Lobengula had died so that his fellow settlers would not pursue him, while "word spread among the Ndebele that the king had disappeared to protect him" (Chenga, The Herald, 20 July 1999).

In the meantime, King Lobengula proceeded through Tongaland and crossed the Zambezi River. He meant to seek refuge among his kin at Chipata in Zambia with settlers and their sympathisers in hot pursuit.

According to oral traditions, as Nyathi points out, it was Dakamela Ncube, an isanuse from Babambeni Village, who saved the Ndebele King. In collaboration with other spiritual persons they caused the rain to fall through a formula they concocted.

A black beast was slaughtered and the fat covering its stomach along with medicines were placed on hot embers, leading to dark smoke wafting to the heavens. Following this, the Shangani River became a furious deluge.

A party was set up under the command of Major Allan Wilson to cross the raging Shangani River and monitor the king's movements overnight, hoping to attack at the break of dawn.

Unbeknown to them, General Khumalo and his men were ahead of the situation.

They were privy to the manoeuvres of both Major Patrick Forbes and Major Allan Wilson's parties. It was the former party that had the deadly Maxim gun (isigwagwagwa), which the Ndebele soldiers were wary of.

General Khumalo's men were armed with their traditional spears: inzala, umdikadika (isijula, ijozi) and usiba, a spear with a long handle, that relied on aerodynamics for forward propulsion. They also had Martini Henry rifles and a few Enfields, which they got as part of fulfilment to the conditions of the 1888 Rudd Concession.

Through his military genius, Nyathi avers, General Khumalo counteracted the patrol led by Major Forbes with its Maxim gun. Enjoying the superiority of numbers, sound military tactics, the intervention of the natural and supernatural, and determination to protect their king and kingdom, the Ndebele soldiers moved in for the kill against the stranded Allan Wilson Patrol.

With everything against him and his men, Major Allan Wilson lost to a determined and resilient commander on that glorious occasion on December 4, 1893. Thus, momentarily stymieing Rhodes' quest to hasten the subjugation of the indigenous owners of the land, through destruction of the Ndebele Kingdom and its monarch, Lobengula.

As the President highlighted, it is only appropriate, therefore, that the remains of Allan Wilson and his 34 men be removed from their comfort zone in Matobo, and be reburied at the site of their annihilation at the hands of the gallant sons of the soil led by General Khumalo.

African Artists, intellectuals, historians and journalists should play a pivotal role in informing their people, particularly Zimbabweans "about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out" as Aime Cesaire (1913-2008) notes.

Rhodes informed opinion pertaining to the historical onslaught on the identity of Africans, and what constitutes blackness. He influenced Rudyard Kipling, with his "half-devil-half-child" idea of the African.

Both Rhodes and Kipling were following in the tradition of Hegel, Voltaire and Montesquieu.

In Hegel's view, Africa, "the land of gold", has "remained cut off" from "the rest of the world". He asserts that the continent is "the land of childhood, removed from the light of self-conscious history and wrapped in the dark mantle of night".

In Hegel's eyes the African "exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state (in whom) . . . nothing harmonious with humanity is to be found".

In the European's eye, therefore, Africans have no history; hence, the use of the derogatory term "pre-historic" in their supremacist view of Africa before colonialism. Presumed to have no history of their own, Africans "could enter history, but only as a beneficial result of European conquest" (Armah, 2010:41).

For a forward thrust to prosperity, there is a need to seek spiritual freedom through cutting of spiritual ties with white settlers and the United Kingdom.

As a starting point all monuments linked to colonialism should fall and in their place shrines that immortalise the contributions of African heroes and heroines must be erected.

The warped supremacist idea that Africans are devoid of history worth talking about should be debunked.

It is this rich African history that future generations should be privy to and celebrate. They should know and be proud of their heroes and heroines like General Mtshana Khumalo, Queen Lozikeyi, Mbuya Nehanda, Mgandani Dlodlo, Sekuru Kaguvi, Chaminuka, Chief Mapondera, among scores of others, who sacrificed their lives in the First Chimurenga and Second Chimurenga.

Source - The Herald
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