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King Mzilikazi unearthed: Affordances, Dynamics and Architectures

18 Feb 2013 at 10:53hrs | Views
I have always been fascinated by Mzilikazi Mashobane Khumalo the man and king. Many questions about the man have remained unanswered and many gaps in literature have raised an eyebrow in any interested person. I have read a lot of Zulu novels and they seem to oppose the main narrative that portrays Mzilikazi as a renegade and rebel. In actual fact Mzilikazi has been portrayed in those novels not as Shaka Sokhela Gumede's subject but an ally of his. The two, Shaka and Mzilikazi occasionally embark on special projects together such as toppling Zwide or capturing the bhidi cattle from the Basotho. These are just novels with probably reliance on oral tradition whose veracity can be questionable. But there are themes that attempt to explain certain puzzles.

 For example Mzilikazi stays at Mhlathuze and is attacked several times by Shaka before he finally moves on. If Shaka was that big and ruthless he would have wiped out Mzilikazi or Mzilikazi would have run away as soon as he captured the cattle. Apparently Lizwi/Liwa, Mzilikazi's brother plays a major role in the final attack that forces Mzilikazi to leave with less than 500people including gallant warriors like Mkhithika Thebe. Lizwi like Shaka's generals who are not aware of the arrangement between Mzilikazi and Shaka are jealous of Mzilikazi but to make matters worse Shaka cannot any show weakness by revealing the arrangement. Dingane does not even understand the arrangement. Long after Shaka has died and Mzilikazi has settled in Gauteng Dingane foolishly pursues Mzilikazi on matters he is not well versed on. Of course today,  Goodwill Zwelithini has requested a token of cattle as a peace pipe for a tension that probably never was. Still a lot old Zulu people have a very soft spot for Mzilikazi and of course not my people the Sotho who today still call any Nguni person Letebele. Ok that was my introduction at least according to the various Zulu novels.

Let me cut to the chase. I stumbled upon two century old pieces of literature at Rhodes House. The first one is by Andrew Geddes Bain entitled Moselekatse the Bull Elephant and Moffat's Matebeleland Journal by Wallis. These two pieces are a serious journey into Mzilikazi's mind and the Matebele nation. I am not a historian and I will not try to be scholarly here. And I have to say I don't have an specific agenda in mind but to share a fascinating journey I had in reading the two materials. I have to say upfront. I will cherry-pick some of the things that fascinated me. They are a lot of things that fascinated me. Giving it a flowing structure will be difficult. I begin by stressing my prejudices and then get onto the two pieces of literature and Mzilikazi's words that show the funny, intellectual, humanitarian, ruthless, tyrannical, diplomatic sides of his. I will leave some quotes as they are, so that the reader can have his or her own interpretations.

I have never liked what Mzilikazi did to the Bakwena in Mosega. The devastation and enslaving of my ancestors. But two things mitigate against my hatred for him. First it is stupid to expect diplomacy in those days when there were no clear demarcations of borders or any sophisticated forms of communication. In fact I still wait for any nation that was built in those days that had no blood in its hands. Even God's people the Israelites of the centuries earlier did not have a peaceful path from Egypt. They destroyed nations in whole or in part. Second oral tradition has it in our family that when my great ancestor Kgosidinsti the first was assassinated, his two sons Sechele and Kgosidintsi who happens to be my ancestor found refuge under Mzilikazi and Sechele went back to take the throne afterwards. In fact Mzilikazi was a kingmaker in most of Southern Africa, starting with Shaka, protecting Sechele, installing the Khama family after the Macheng debacel and of course in both Mashonaland and Matebeleland he had a bearing in the installation of chiefs that are still reigning today. That is oral tradition too it has its weaknesses. These are my prejudices but lets get on with Mzilikazi.

First impressions and identity

Mzilikazi: My heart is white as milk. I am still wondering at the love of a stranger who never saw me. You have loved me, you fed me, you have protected, me, you have carried me in your arms. I live today by a stranger of another nation.
Moshete: On replying that I was not aware of having done him such services he replied
Mzilikazi: These are my principal men, whom I greatly love, they are my ears and what you did to them, you did to me

These are the first words between Mzilikazi and Robert Moffat known by the Matebele Nation as Moshete or Mtshede. The dialogue was after Mncumbatha and another chief had came back safely from Kuruman and had been treated well by Moshete. Moshete apparently was more popular because of the heavy influence of the Sotho and Bakgalaka people in the Ndebele nation. Moshete was fluent in Setswana which made it easy for him to communicate within the Ndebele nation as he points out that most of the bakgalaka people could communicate in Setswana too. William one of Mzilikazi's army generals who could communicate in Sesotho, Afrikaans, English and isiZulu would translate when Moshete spoke to Mzilikazi.

To veer off, I think I need to mention something about Mzilikazi's name. According to Bein, Mzilikazi pronounced his own name with a hiss, 'Moselekatse' while his people called him Umzilikazi'.

Ok, I have to say this, before reading that piece I had a romantic imagination of Mzilikazi as this huge black giant towering over Moshete with red-blood shot eyes from smoking weed. But this life long image I have held was brought down with a thud. According to Moshete Mzilikazi was this shorter than average man, light skinned, but very well proportioned and clearly very athletic and physical in outlook. He describes Mzilikazi as tending to be pensive, soft spoken, kindly and at times, light hearted and humorous. Of course humour is one thing that Mzilikazi had. Let me paraphrase Moshete's view of Mzilikazi.

"In his person, he is rather below middle size, lusty and has a rather pleasing and soft countenance and is exceedingly affable in his manners.his voice is feminine,and cheerfulness predominates him….he is handsome and indeed might be taken for anything but a tyrant from his appearance; but for all that, it may be truly said of him: "dipped his sword in blood and wrote his name on land and cities desolate".

While Mzilikazi is a very funny guy, Moshete detests it when Mzilikazi speaks what we call tsotsitaal today. Mzilikazi mixes Afrikaans and isiZulu when in a happy mood. Moshete for example says when he agrees on something he tends to say 'Mooi'. It puzzles Moshete why Mzilikazi speaks the language of a people that he detests so much. Mzilikazi never liked the Dutch/Afrikaans at all.  In Moshete's own words, "Moselekatse has got his silly tantalising way of saying Mooi to everything.....imitating the Dutch for  'pretty', strange how one should adopt a word from the people he detests". Jokingly,  I therefore reproach any adult who chides his or her child for speaking in tsotsitaal. Mzilikazi was a master of tsotsitaal.

In one of the funny moments according to Bain, he overheard Mzilikazi teasing Moffat: "Look you are fat, I have fed you, you came here as thin as a reed. Now you must stop drinking only milk and drink beer". Moffat does confirm this in his journal while in Botswana, he says he has grown thin and Mzilikazi will be concerned with his weight. In fact Mzilikazi has made it an open secret that he fed Moshete quite well.

There are many more humorous moments. Kutsho inkosi yayiblind ngezipeech. I will use this one as the last example of Mzilikazi's light hearted humour. After parting for a number of years Mzilikazi and Moshete meet. Moshete crouching busy fixing Mzilikazi's wagon. And the discussion goes: Mzilikazi: You are old! (exclaims with a look of astonishment) Moshete: Yes, and you too, though I was born before you. I do not, king, hide it from you that you are getting old and weak and like our forefathers, must die and give an account to God, the only living and true God who sent me to tell you how you can be saved.

At that moment Mzilikazi dashed into another subject. Moffat observes that he was sharp-minded and had this clever way of changing subject. It is interesting to note that historians miss a strong point highlighted by Moshete that since 1854 to 1866 Mzilikazi never attacked any other nation. We have been sold this story of a man who attacked anyone-willy nilly.

A point to consider here, is that Moffat and Bain think the reason not to attack other nations was Mzilikazi's fear of God who had been preached to him by Moshete whom he now considered as his father. Yes it could be true, but another factor could be that the nation was now established and the surrounding nations subdued and boundaries fortified.

To add another point that many historians miss, is this one expressed by Moffat. Moffat sounds disappointed here, "the Bamanguato, who all are as a matter of course all obedient, seem to be happy and fat……like many other neighbouring tribes, they speak favourably of Moselekatse and seem quite shocked at the very idea of his rule being compared to the tyranny of the Dutch Boer". Moshete adds, "Moselekatse has been blamed for many atrocities but I say this a judgement delivered again and again in my ears of the Transvalian government. A history will bring appalling cruelities to light but, there is a day which will declare it". This statement fascinates me because within the two texts particularly when it comes to the law of Mzilikazi's nation the two authors portray him as a despot but other tribes don't see him as such. At least according to the above mentioned statement.

Again I am waiting for the students of history to reveal these cruelities that Moshete said will be declared. There is however one statement that should not be omitted by any serious student of history. The statement explains a lot of things during the era and does not conveniently omit the historical, economic and social context of the time. Most historians of our time fall into the same trap of judging the past using today's standards. The statement goes " hence Moselekatse was in the position of the man who bestrode a jungle tiger, maintaining his seat by a tense grip on its ears, at the first relaxation of his hold, the beast would turn and rend him. Any humanitarian action would be interpreted as unkindly weakness even by his own people".

It must be said in as much as other tribes spoke favourably of Mzilikazi, some of his own kith and kin hated him with a passion. For example there is an induna that let enemies come through his district without alerting Mzilikazi. The induna was called to the royal court. In his response the induna shocked a lot of people in his response by standing up to Mzilikazi. He said;
" You are a lion, a destroyer of men, at peace with no-one. I wish you dead and I wished the Boers had killed you".

It was expected that Mzilikazi would send him to the gallows. The sentence of death was a painful one. A sharp stick would be inserted from the victim's anus and protude at the mouth(The rest will be discussed in the next article on law and science in Mzilikazi's nation). Mzilikazi responded to the induna:

 " you have spoken what your heart feels, go in peace, you shall(not) die, but live while I live, only in the future let me know when any strangers approach your district".

 Furthermore, further beyond his neighbours Mzilikazi was a feared and despised person. MckLukie says the amaNdebele were somewhat of another order of beings in the run of the mill context of the region". They had destroyed many great nations and tribes in their wake. Moshete observes Mzilikazi's destruction when passing through Magaliesburg.

"Many an hour I walked pensively among these scenes of desolation, casting my thoughts back to the time when these now desolate habitations teemed with life and revelry, and when the hills and dales echoed with heathen joy. Now nothing remains but dilapidated walls and heaps of stones and rubbish, which form a covert for the game and for the lion"

This reminds me of the children of Israel destroying the children of Bashan, the Canaanites and many others. And in the process were hated by many nations. There are many parallels between Jews and Amandebele of today. For example biblical scholars cite that it was immoral for the Israelites to spill blood but at the same time it is pointed out that those nations had degenerated, they practised homosexuality, there was prostitution, molestation and above all they sacrificed their children to idols. As a result God was punishing them.

Every nation has its own myths. Here is another open secret myth about Mzilikazi's migration, it is also on Amazon). The myth goes, Mzilikazi was sent by Umvelingqangi to teach the people of  what is present day Zimbabwe to make sacrifices of cattle not children. It is said the babies were sacrificed to what we know today as the Zimbabwe bird, which today appears on 'our' flag and used to appear on some of 'our' currency. I mean blood resonates even in our politicians' rhetoric bathi iZANU ngeyegazi, some football teams I hear aya chekereza, those who do it know what it means. The national anthem resonates with blood in almost every refrain.

Those who push the myth further even point that the Zimbabwe bird is not in Zimbabwe but it is a site of a tug of war between the government and the illuminatti and is somewhere in the Western countries. Do I believe it myself? Not really, but I am aware of the discourses. Credo Mutwa even says in his book, when you pass that place 'Great Zimbabwe' spit, they wanted to destroy humanity. True story or crafted myth?Asazi. Back to Mzilikazi.  

 When Mncumbatha and the other induna were coming from Kuruman, my ancestors the Bakuena looked at them with astonishment and fear. Since they were only two the plan was to waylay them and kill them but they were protected by Moffat. At times I ask myself, where does the docile breed of amaNdebele of today come from. It is a people  that have preferred to live on their knees begging than die fighting. Serious questions, is it the idea of the nation which tends to take many unwanted coward and compromising elements? Is it because it has stayed for long without a leader? I can imagine if two men would generate fear in various nations what about ten?

I keep on referring to Mzilikazi's people as a nation. I realise the authors refer to his neighbours as tribes but to Mzilikazi's people as the Matabele or nation. Writing to Tidman, Moshete points this out(it should be said that Wallis emphasizes that other than Robert Schoon and McLuckie it is only Moshete and Bein who have accurate history of Mzilikazi because he was not open to any other white man to experience the workings of his royal court. Others that wrote of Mzilikazi relied on secondary data):

To emphasize the idea of the nation Bein says, "Though the people of Moselekatse are composed of Zulus(original stock) and of every tribe from the Bakuena tribes to the south, the Mashona to the north and Batonga and others, they are transformed by the nature of government under which they live, and exhibit characteristics of intelligence and prompt attention, compared to which the tribes from which they have been taken posess but a shadow. It is interesting that Moshete emphasises that Mzilikazi's main doctor is a Mashona who after being impressed by Mzilikazi's governance sent for his family to join him in the royal court. The history that I have been taught is that Mzilikazi didn't want to see any Shona except women, but boom goes the theory. By the way the issue of beautiful women being captured is rubbished by Moshete who point out that the new genration of Amandebele have become ugly. I guess we are compared to the founders of our nation. Moshete was not having a laugh, he mentioned it twice like a man concerned. Eish siyavena  ngobubi.

In terms of governance, Bein observes, "Yes, Moselekatse is a despot, but the Matabele are governed better than any other tribe or nation I have met in my sojournings in Africa". Moshete also notes with surprise and approval the superior manners of the Matabele, their strict courtesy and their freedom from the besetting sin of most native peoples, that of persitent begging and stealing from visitng white men. These are interesting observations. Not that I want to be controversial here, even today cultures known for begging or those that still magnify stealing are still continuing today.

Again to many Matabeles it is unheard of that a handicapped or poor person begs in the streets. I think it builds on the virtues of Moselekatse. To be controversial here, I think a study needs to be done here. I will refer to this in the next article when analysing Mzilikazi's parliament. I will try to prove that diplomacy as exuded by people like Welshaman Ncube, Joshua Nkomo, Canaan Banana, Josiah Tongogara and the likes of Joseph Msika has nothing to do with genes but with exposure to virtues that founded the Matabele nation. I am comparing this to quarrelsome politics we have seen in Zimbabwe for the past 32years. I think at times, it was important for the British to destroy the Ndebele nation as it did by destroying Lobengula's sons and grandsons. The idea was to have those virtues destroyed. And the bringing in of many foreigners from Malawi and Mozambique in the 1920s destroyed the fabric of a strong political system. The sons and daughters of those people were the ones to rule independent Zimbabwe in a well-calculated move.

Of course some had no history of leadership or value systems in their history. This is not an attack to foreigners but highlighting how a well orchestrated system used foreign people who of course enjoyed the benefits and would not let go years afterwards. Those who want to study history, must look at ownership of township grocery shops in Harare and Bulawayo from the 1960s up to just before the economic meltdown of the new millenium. And also investigate how they got to run the shops and where they came from. It will be interesting because most, with time actually assumed new identities to fit with the times and will certainly change with the times. 

 Bein and Moshete though at times very harsh on Mzilikazi maybe owing to their experience in England are also quick to heap praises. Maybe lets start with the first Englishmen to meet Mzilikazi Robert Schoon and McLuckie who had this to say; Mzilikazi, they concluded was a man of primitive but expansive intellect, constrained somewhat by a lack of exposure, but in every other respect a sage, shrewd and thoughtful leader. They noticed periods when he sat wrapped in melancholy and indifferent to company, and others when he was effusive, friendly and engaging" Moshete says: "Moselekatse is undoubtedly shrew and observing, though in the course of conversation he often appears as if he were paying no attention whatever. And from what I have learnt from both friends and foes, he is brave and in times of real danger possesses great deliberation. He has evidently been in the wars as some large scars give fool proof".

This is my interpretation though it may sound harsh. I don't think a royal family is needed today unless it is just symbolic. Like Mzilikazi the new King should be a Moyo, Mudau, Mudhimba, Ncube or Nare. He or she should fight for the people. We should see the scars, not necessarily physical scars, it could be the Robert Sobukwe and Steve biko approach of writing. Or it could be the Benjamin Burombo or Jairos Jiri of charity. Ot it could be the Pius Ncube, Malunga, Jenny Williams or Magodonga of fighting injustice. Let us see the scars, even the prince Harrys or Williams of this worlds fight in wars.

Of course I have been all over the place with excitement. The next two articles are in better order. They focus on the law, evolution, science, warfare ,maths and trade in the Matabele nation. I discuss issues such how Mzilikazi punished the Tswana king for capturing goats from the bakgalaka (kalanga) who held him dearly for protecting them from many marauders after their last king was killed. Of course he was not loved by all as he was not also loved by some Khumalos. I also discuss the last days of a weak king who at the end of his days can only hold a mug of beer at the assistance of his wife. I discuss the old and frail Mzilikazi who suffers from severe dropsy and how in his last days he asks Moshete to pray for his people.

I conclude on this observation by Moshete "kissing is not uncommon here, I saw two men, meet, when the one kissed the other on the one cheek and then another. I also saw Moselekatse kiss one of his daughters on the forehead and cheeks, and also one of his general kiss his little daughter on both cheeks, the brow and the chin" I guess this has got all to do with a savage nation. I have seen diplomats kiss the way the two men did, not to mention presidents at airports.

Moshete: "I ask William, how many wives Mzilikazi has, he says 400, it is true, but King Solomon beats him hollow". Interesting.

Tshepo Mabalane Mabalane can be contacted at

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