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King Lobhengula: The Statesman Par Excellence

11 Jan 2024 at 12:31hrs | Views
The man who is credited to have expanded Buthwakazi until it covered virtually the whole of Budlanondo (present day Zimbabwe and parts of present day Botswana) is King Lobhengula (named after Prince Nombengula, one of Zwide's sons who fell at the Mhlathuze battle). King Lobhengula succeeded his father, King Mzilikazi, in 1870 two years after his death in 1868. King Lobhengula is described as "a majestic figure who compared favourably in dignity and intellect with European monarchs" (O'Reily, 1968).

He is further described as the "most majestically imposing king in Africa (at the time) who trod the ground in a manner that clearly indicated that he was conscious of his absolute power" (O'Reily, 1968). Another eye witness account described him "as a highly intelligent man with excellent qualities" (Hollard, 1933).

Recently, controversial images were created by the Zimbabwe Daily newspaper through its  cartoon section which left many people scandalized. This incident was followed by reckless utterances made by two ZBC presenters who took turns to demean the Ndebele King  during which they presented him as a daft and frivolous leader who purportedly sold Mashonaland to white colonialists for morsels of sugar. The Zimbabwe Daily publication expressed this narrative in an attempt to impugn the CCC Interim Secretary General, Sengezo Tshabangu, whose image was infused with that of the King as a statement to underscore the message that Tshabangu inherited his alleged sell out propensities from his Ndebele ethnic heritage. Despite its thoughtlessness, the ZBC incident clearly emanated from a deep rooted tribal prejudice of diet of hatred fed to children in Mashonaland about people of Ndebele extraction. Both insults were apparently in reference to the Rudd Concession, a Treaty signed between King Lobhengula and the British Imperial representatives in the 1880s.

This false history is not taught at school and no single history text book that contains it exists. It is part of the Shona folklore passed from one generation to another. Most Shona children swallow it hook, line and sinker without questioning its veracity as they grow up and subconsciously store it in their systems. For the record, King Lobhengula never sold any country and was never enticed with sugar to give away any part of his land to foreigners.

The reality is that after being pestered by various groups of whitemen who were seeking to secure treaties with his Kingdom, King Lobhengula, on the advice of the members of his Izikhulu Council in Bulawayo and resident White Missionaries such as Charles Helm, John Moffat agreed to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship with the British represented by the British South Africa Company. The King had weighed many options and decided that entering into an alliance with the strongest white group which happened to be the English at the time, would keep away the Portuguese, Germans and Afrikaners.

The Rudd Concession (1888)

The following were the terms of the Rudd Concession signed between King Lobhengula and the representatives of the British South Africa Company on 30 October, 1888.

1.That the King would grant and assign the BSAC charge over metals and minerals situated in Matebeleland (to the King this had been verbally explained as a few holes to be dug by not more than 10 white men who would be supervised by Matabele men).

2.That the British would take all necessary and lawful steps to exclude other foreign persons seeking land, metals and mineral.

3.That in return the Ndebele represented by their King Lobhengula would receive:
i) 100 pounds per month
ii)  1000 rifles per month
iii) 100 000 rounds of ammunition
iv) A gun boat

At the cost of sounding trivial I wish to point out that sugar in all its forms was not part of the deal. Looking at the Rudd Concession today some modern readers now appreciate the fact that on paper that was the best deal an African ruler of King Lobhengula's time could extract for the security and maintenance of his territorial integrity in the context of menacing colonial encroachments by different European powers. However, there are some scholars and laymen who claim that the king should have negotiated for a protectorate status for his Kingdom. This group of critics forgets that a protectorate status was for self-confessed weak kingdoms and practically the clearest indication that the ruler in question intended to fall under the shadow of another power. It was a definite invitation for colonial occupation. Weaker kingdoms around Matabeleland such as the Bechuanaland and Barotseland sought to achieve that but the Ndebele were too strong to seek such protection from an external force. They opted for something equal to their status as a military power. The objective was to strengthen the Ndebele Kingdom against an invasion of any kind most likely from the Boers, Portuguese or Germans. It was diplomatically astute for the Ndebele to be allies with the most powerful European group at the time, the English. The major reason was the attainment of military invincibility even against the British themselves in the event of an attack and this is precisely how the Europeans understood it hence the outcry in the Cape Colony Parliament where some members of parliament raised complaints to Cecil John Rhodes as the then Prime Minister that it was immoral to trade in modern arms with the Matabele as they would certainly use those arms to "exterminate the Mashona". The Ndebele king wanted 12 000 guns per year and 100 000 bullets for those guns! He also wanted a gun boat to be placed on the Zambezi River to defend his country from any foreign aggression along the river! In exchange he granted the BSA Company the right to conduct mining in the country. Even more fascinating is the fact that the terms of the Rudd Concession make no mention of land as a commodity to be exchanged for money. That emphatically rules out the fiction peddled by enemies of the Ndebele that the King sold the country. The only amount of money (£100) mentioned in the Treaty was not for purchasing purposes but some royal petty cash for which the King needed in the conducting of diplomatic operations. This is the money the king used for paying for newspaper adverts and sending emissaries to Cape Town.

The myth that the King was induced through sugar to sign the Rudd Treaty are crass fabrications by descendants of the vassal nations whose ancestors had been reduced to abject pusillanimity by the Ndebele Kingdom who are now trying to demean the heroic past of the Ndebele people to spite them. The Ndebele people had their first encounter with European products such as tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar and detergents during their settlement in Transvaal, even before King Lobhengula was born. In the king's court, all these products had been introduced before the nation settled in Budlanondo. In the case of king Lobhengula, he actually not only had white nannies who had been captured among the Afrikaners (the Liebenberg siblings), he spent many years in Shiloh hidden by London Missionary evangelists and white hunters during his younger years. As a prince Lobhengula had exposure to the western products and practices including sugar, candles, paraffin, riding horses, firing guns, hunting with guns and speaking English. It is alleged that his relative empathy for white people when contrasted with his father, King Mzilikazi was influenced by his childhood exposure to them. shaped by long exposure to the broader world before he became king. For instance King Lobhengula forbade the killing of white traders in Bulawayo before the arrival of the Pioneer Column. His strong grasp of diplomatic intrigue and belief in the superiority of the gun in preserving his kingdom were all shaped by that exposure to the broader world. The claim that the taste of sugar (which, in any case, is less sweet than wild honey whose taste every African knew) could have excited an adult person of his background and experience is thoroughly foolish.
To King Lobhengula the concession granted to Charles Rudd, Rochfort Maguire and Francis Robert Thompson, only permitted them the right to exploit the mineral resources, not the land. The reasons for granting the treaty were expected to produce the following results (

1. It would keep other concession-seekers at bay. These consisted of numerous individuals and syndicates, but the most significant parties seeking mineral concessions, other than Rhodes' agents, were the Exploring Company headed by Lord Gifford and George Cawston and whose agent at the royal kraal of Umvutcha was Edward Maund and also Eduard Lippert represented by Renny-Tailyour.                                                                                                                                                                                                            

2. He accepted Thompson's explanation that the English, unlike the Boers from the Transvaal Republic, were not seeking land and would not overrun his country. The British presented themselves as people who were only seeking the right to explore for minerals and to trade. For the king and his izinduna their most pressing concern was security of Matabeleland and they believed that whilst the Boers might be better fighters than the British, Britain was a greater power on the world stage. His envoys Babayane Masuku and Mtshete Ndiweni who had gone to meet Queen Victoria with Edward Maund had impressed him with what they had seen in Britain, so he hoped Britain could reasonably be expected to be a powerful ally against external enemies of European stock.

3. Rudd's offer for a concession was far more strategic than any of his competitors could offer; particularly the 1,000 Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles, 100,000 rounds of matching ammunition, a steamboat on the Zambezi or, if the king preferred, a lump sum of £500. King Lobengula already had some smoothbores and muskets, but these rifles were the latest available.

First it is critical to note that the occupation of Mashonaland in 1890 was not a result of the Rudd Concession as it did not have any provisions for land alienation. Clauses that introduced land matters on the Rudd Treaty were achieved in 1892 two years after the colonization of Mashonaland when the Rudd Concession was merged with the Lippert Treaty which had been fraudulently secured by Renny-Tailyour on behalf of Eduard Lippert, a German fortune seeker. Secondly, it is critical to note that the colonization of Matabeleland in 1893 was not based on any of the treaties signed. It was a violent invasion which had to be undertaken because the king had distanced himself from the contents of those treaties. The Ndebele army offered the stiffest resistance to the enemy as contrasted to the Pioneer Column‘s quite march into Mashonaland in 1890. Thirdly, it is also critical to note that with or without any treaty or concession this country was still going to be colonized. With or without the Rudd Concession, Mashonaland and Matabeleland were still going to be colonized. The treaties merely served the purpose of managing competition among the European powers themselves as per the Berlin Conference protocol of 1884.

Mthwakazi people should be active defenders of their legacy and refuse to have their past told by their captors. Orwel (1949) observed that "those in control of your present control your past and those in control of your past control your future" (Orwell, 1949).

Because the Ndebele have allowed foreigners to tell their history, they have committed atrocities to it as they strive to deny them their glorious past that has the potential to inspire them to a "glorious future." Their captors attempt to project them in negative images that take away their pride and self-esteem. They depict their own hopeless past in positive light so as to compel the Ndebele to submit to them and accept their domination as deserved and condemn them to perpetual doom. That should be resisted with all force.

11 January, 2024

Source - George Mkhwanazi
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