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Umthwakazi: Honouring the San (Abathwa) who tamed the land

17 Dec 2017 at 07:27hrs | Views
TODAY'S article is the last in a detour we took to prepare for the continuation of visits to the Ndebele State by London Missionary Society (LMS) Reverend Dr Robert Moffat. His last trip to King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana when the Ndebele were still in South Africa was undertaken in 1835.

The Ndebeles' hurried departure from Marico — Egabheni was occasioned by their decisive defeat at the hands of the Afrikaners.

Reverend Dr Robert Moffat was to follow the Ndebele later in 1854 when the Ndebele king was domiciled at Emahlokohlokweni just north of Bulawayo. Our intention is to catch up with his journals so that we glean some historical information regarding what he experienced. In the absence of written records, his accounts, though they may be distorted here and there, do nonetheless provide some historical information.

Between 1837 and 1854 the wheels of history among the Ndebele continued to turn. The detour we took sought to bridge the gap between the two years up to the arrival of the LMS missionary. However, our thrust has been on some names that have endured to this day: Umthwakazi, Umthwakazi omhle and Umthwakazi ondlela zimhlophe.

Umthwakazi ondlela zimhlophe was explained and interpreted in an earlier article. Just to recap, we said King Mzilikazi possessed ox wagons which his armies captured from the Griqua, such as Peter David. Roads were cleared for the wagons and the paths that were created were referred to as indlela ezimhlophe. However, indlela ezimhlophe as a descriptive term was used in conjunction with Umthwakazi, now the most used name and yet it is the least understood.

Umthwakazi has come to mean the Ndebele nation. The suffix — kazi is an important starting point. It means female such as in indodakazi, meaning daughter, inkomokazi meaning cow, which will also mean a big beast. It will also mean big as in isihlahlakazi, a big tree. Intabakazi is a big mountain.

What we have to figure out in Umthwakazi is whether the suffix refers to female or big. The historical background for the name helps to sort that out.

When King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana and his people arrived in present day Matabeleland, the Swazi under Queen Nyamazana Dlamini had already set up their own polity following their murder of the Lozwi/Rozvi King at Manyanga Hill, also known as Intaba zikaMambo, north of Inyathi Mission. The

Lozwi/Rozvi State had been the last before Mfecane refugees stormed the north.

The people that initially lived in the area were the San, who the Ndebele called Abathwa. The BaKalanga called them Bakhwa. Their area is what in Portuguese records was referred to as Butua, Ebuthwa, land of the San. The Kalanga King Tjibundule overran Butua and established himself as king.

After a while, he too was defeated by the Lozwi/Rozvi, whose ruler Changamire or Dombodzvuku was of the Moyo Dewa totem. The Lozwi ruled till they were defeated by the Swazi under the leadership of Queen Nyamazana Dlamini.

In essence therefore, the Swazi were in control of the south western part of what today is Zimbabwe. Here we need to appreciate an important African belief or world-view regarding conquering earlier inhabitants of the land. While invading armies may dispense of the living occupants of the land, they cannot defeat their ancestors who would have assumed a spiritual dimension. It is thus imperative for the conquerors to appease the dear departed ancestors of those that they have conquered.

Queen Nyamazana Dlamini was no exception to this idea, nor was King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana and indeed, his successor to the Ndebele throne, King Lobengula kaMzilikazi. Queen Nyamazana Dlamini thus sought to rule the land she had conquered through a representative of the people that had tamed it — the San, Abathwa. She solicited the services of a San woman who became her right hand woman. She ruled through her. The lady is said to have been very light in complexion and very beautiful — hence the reference to her as Umthwakazi omhle, a term that graces many lips of Ndebele speaking people today (Interview with Cont Mhlanga 20 October 2017, Amakhosi Cultural Centre, Bulawayo).

At the time when King Mzilikazi KaMatshobana and his section of Amahlabezulu (the stabbers of the Zulu) arrived there were already two nations in existence: Amahlabezulu under King Nkulumane kaMzilikazi. The Prince had been elevated to the status of king under a mistaken belief that the Ndebele under the leadership of the King had been wiped out by the Griqua.

The second nation was one under the leadership of Queen Nyamazana Dlamini. The priority for King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana was to weld one nation out of the three. But before doing that he had to satisfy himself that what he was told by Mkhithika Thebe was correct, that Prince Nkulumane had been elevated to the status of king. A ritual test was arranged by Dr Mphubane Mzizi, the royal doctor. Medicines were placed in a skin which the two princes were to lift up in a test of royal elevation. The younger Prince Lobengula kaMzilikazi was summoned first and sent by his father to bring the medicated test skin. Prince Lobengula kaMzilikazi, as expected, failed to lift the skin. So far, Dr Mphubane Mzizi's test had been successful. The innocent Prince Lobengula kaMzilikazi failed to lift the skin.

Prince Lobengula kaMzilikazi failed to lift the skin. Unbeknown to him, the elder brother who had been elevated to the status of King was summoned, ostensibly to help his younger brother. King Nkulumane kaMzilikazi failed the test. He easily lifted the skin with test charms. His success was proof he had been elevated to the status of king. Prior to the test, King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana had summoned Queens Nyamazana Dlamini, Mwaka Nxumalo and Fulatha, okaMabindela, to come and sit next to him. Queen Nyamazana Dlamini was to sit next to the king followed by Queen Mwaka Nxumalo. Queen Fulatha, okaMabindela, was to sit next to her cousin Queen Fulatha.

Queen Nyamazana Dlamini protested and demanded that Umthwakazi sit next to her rather than Queen Mwaka Nxumalo. She went on to explain why that was so and who Umthwakazi was, including her role in the governance of the Swazi State. For King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana, it was an opportune moment to strike. He asked Dr Mphubane Mzizi to go and bring some potsherd, udengele, and a sharp razor, insingo. Into the container, the celebrated doctor collected his own blood, that of Queens Nyamazana Dlamini Mwaka Nxumalo, Fulatha kaMabindela and Umthwakazi.

Off went Dr Mphubane Mzizi to work on the blood with the aim of welding three disparate nations into one. Queen Nyamazana Dlamini became one of his queens, although it does not appear their union produced a child. The test and the ritual manipulation were not performed in full glare and knowledge of the people. Only a few who included Dr Mphubane Mzizi, Gwabalanda Mathe, Mkhithika Thebe and the King knew what was taking place.

Dr Mphubane Mzizi had earlier on played another important role. The Queen of the Swazi and her people had contracted smallpox, impunza. As a result, the planned wedding ceremony was thrown into jeopardy. Dr Mphubane Mzizi was commanded to ensure the ceremony was not postponed. A party of Ndebele men was to go and live briefly at the village of the Swazi people. When the proposed day of the ceremony approached, the accompanying party was to travel with the Queen and her wedding party.

The real intention and purpose in sending a party to the Swazi village was to test whether Dr Mphubane Mzizi's medicines to prevent them contracting smallpox were going to work. When the disguised wedding party did not perish, it was proof enough of the efficacy of Dr Mphubane Mzizi's medicines.

Despite the Swazis having contracted smallpox, impunza, they proceeded to King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana's homestead. From that incident came the well-known expression that has endured to this day: inhlanhla yaMaswazi wona aqonywa yinkosi elempunza.

It was time for the party to relocate to a place under a big and shady tree near the cattle byre. The king then addressed the people. "Lina Mahlabezulu, lani bakaMthwakazi . . .". For the first time the king uttered the name Mthwakazi in public and the name stuck. It became a reference to the Ndebele nation from then on.

Various accounts of the fate that befell King Nkulumane kaMzilikazi have been given. However, according to Cont Mhlanga, the king did not shed the blood of his own son, uLitshelamilasenkulumane. Instead, he was accompanied by several men and women to settle near the land of the Bafokeng near present day Rustenburg. He was given several head of cattle in order to start a new life, away from his father. The new place, called Ephugeni (Pokeng) had earlier provided refuge to men and women who escaped when the village of Zwangendaba under Chief Mbiko kaMadlenya was destroyed for opposing the ascension of King Lobengula kaMzilikazi in 1870 (Interview with Cont Mhlanga 20 October 2017, Amakhosi Cultural Centre, Bulawayo).

Source - zimpapers
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