Thursday, July 14, 2011


History of The Ndebele

  • Thursday, July 14, 2011
  • Share

  • The Ndebele Kingdom South of the Limpopo River
    Author(s): William F. Lye
    Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1969), pp. 87-104

    MUCH has been written about the Ndebele kingdom north of the Limpopo River, whereas the Transvaal period has been strangely neglected.2 While few literate observers were involved with the Ndebele at that early time, the period has relevance to the development of a distinctive Ndebele polity. This study depends on accounts written by those few travellers who visited Mzilikazi prior to his expulsion from South Africa by the Boers in 1837.  These include the Rev. Robert Moffat of Kuruman, Dr Andrew Smith who explored the area in 1835, and missionaries of the Wesleyan, Paris Evangelical and American Board societies. Their evidence is supplemented by the traditional history of the Ndebele, especially that preserved by Malida ka Mabuya.3

    Here an attempt is made to reconstruct the major events relating to the establishment of the Ndebele on the South African high veld to 1837, and to analyse the nature of the society which Mzilikazi organized up to that time.


    Mzilikazi belonged to the Northern Kumalo, a small chiefdom of the Northern Nguni. His branch originated in the segmentation of the Kumalo in the generation of his father, Mashobana. Mashobana lived near other Kumalo chiefdoms, between the esiKwebezi, a tributary of the Black Mfolozi, and the Mkuze. This was when Zwide and Dingeswayo were contending for mastery. A neighbouring Kumalo chief, Donda, a vassal of Dingeswayo, aided Shaka to escape a trap by Zwide, when Zwide attacked and killed Dingeswayo in I818. Therefore, Zwide killed Donda, and also killed Mashobana, his son-in-law. Zwide then placed Mzilikazi, his grandson, over the Kumalo, subject to himself.4

    Mzilikazi must have been an effective leader. He inherited the chieftainship legitimately and also by appointment from Zwide. He was then between eighteen and twenty-two years old.5 Mzilikazi's appearance was often described. Robert Moffat called him short, as did Andrew Smith; Jean- Paul Pellissier, a French missionary, thought him average; Captain W.

    Cornwallis Harris regarded him as being tall, each probably reflecting their own bias more than the appearance of the chief. He had a round forehead and a pleasant smile, a gentle countenance and a soft, effeminate voice. He tended to corpulence and had the scars of war. He appeared shrewd and observant, cheerful, even-tempered, dignified, reserved, wily, suspicious, avaricious, robust and virile to various of those who met him.6

    Mzilikazi ruled his people as a vassal of Zwide only briefly. By i822 he had become a regimental commander under Shaka. He must have joined Shaka voluntarily, for Shaka did not eliminate the Kumalo chiefdom. Mzilikazi retained command of his own people within Shaka's army and remained at his home kraal. By the end of 1823 Mzilikazi had rebelled and fled from Zululand to the interior high veld with those he could save about 300 young warriors and women.7

    He fought his way north along the inner slopes of the Drakensberg until he reached the Olifants River, where he settled temporarily at ekuPumeleni, 'The Place of Rest'.8 From there he attacked the local inhabitants in order to replenish his forces and his herds.9

    In addition, Mzilikazi sent his impi long distances to attack the Kholokwe among the southern Sotho, and Sepeka, a Nguni chief located near them. Sepeka joined with Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi may have also raided west at thistime, attacking Sebetwane and Moletsane, two of the marauders of the Difaqane.10

    While at the Olifants, only one reversal was recorded. Shortly after his arrival, Mzilikazi apparently attacked the Pedi, who lived between the Olifants and the Steelpoort Rivers. From their flat-topped mountains they drove off the Ndebele and mocked the retreating impi, saying, 'It sleeps, it is tired, the evil beast; it roars no more'." In addition to recruiting men locally, Mzilikazi received reinforcements from Nguni refugees who fled from the coast.l2 Having built his band of refugee Kumalo into a military unit containing many other Nguni and Sotho recruits, in 1825 his strength was tested. Nqaba, another Nguni chief, had, like himself, fled from Shaka. Mzilikazi drove Nqaba eastward, where he joined other Nguni refugees and built his own kingdom in Malawi.13

    In 1825 Mzilikazi left ekuPumeleni. Drought parched the land that year despite the intercession of rain-makers.14 Mzilikazi sent exploration parties to the south-west to fertile land with plentiful springs in the Magaliesberg hills. This land, along the Apies and Crocodile Rivers, Moffat described as the richest in all South Africa. It was dotted with ruined Kwena villages which had fallen to the hordes of the Difaqane.15

    Other problems may have caused Mzilikazi to move. Perhaps he was searching for fresh recruits for his army. Probably the coming of Nqaba reminded him of his nearness to Shaka. According to one source, slaveraiding from the north threatened him.16

    Accordingly, Mzilikazi destroyed his village and moved to the lands of the Kwena, where he established his people. Here Mzilikazi built two military kraals on the Apies: enDinaneni and enKungwini, and enHlahlandlela, at the confluence with the Crocodile.17

    Once established, the Ndebele raided in every direction. Five regimentscrossed the Limpopo after cattle of the Shona people.18 In 1827 the Ndebele returned to the Steelpoort, where they avenged themselves against the Pedi. These Pedi were sent to construct a palisade around Mzilikazi's royal residence. No tools were provided, according to the tradition, and no food was given them. As one group dropped from exhaustion, more Pedi were impressed. They were called Hole by the Ndebele, which became the Ndebele equivalent for 'slave'.19 Other Ndebele armies subjugated the

    Fig 1 Ndebele Migrations 1822-37

    Phuthing living north of the Vaal and other Sotho communities to the south, east and west. They drove Moletsane's Taung south of the Vaal. But, though Mzilikazi raided beyond the Vaal and the Limpopo Rivers, he never controlled those areas.20

    In his raids Mzilikazi had a consistent policy beyond a mere desire for cattle or a lust for fighting. Jan Viljoen, an elephant hunter who came to know him well, quoted Mzilikazi as saying that the wholesale massacres were 'an act of policy', and added, 'I was like a blind man, feeling my way with a stick. We had heard tales of great impi that suddenly popped up from underground, or swept down on you from high mountains, and we had a dread of the Korana, mounted and armed with rifles. I had to keep open veld around me.'21

    Mzilikazi faced three major opponents during his residence along the Apies River: the Griqua leaders, Jan Bloem and Berend Berends, and Dingane.

    In 1828, just before the first white men reached Mzilikazi, Jan Bloem assembled a large commando consisting of Korana, Bergenaar, Taung and Rolong. They intended to destroy the Ndebele and, incidentally, to make off with their cattle. They sacked several posts and rounded up about 3,000 head of cattle, because Mzilikazi's regiments were fighting the Ngwaketse at the time. Rather than face the Ndebele army, the raiders proceeded homeward with the cattle. Three days later the commando split up. The Taung and Rolong took their cattle and proceeded south. Bloem and his Korana and Bergenaar remained behind, allowing an impi of Mzilikazi to surround them at dawn and recapture their cattle as well as some guns and other property of the Korana. Most of the raiders escaped, thanks to their horses.22

    Mzilikazi gained the offensive thereafter and kept patrols guarding his southern approaches.23

    The next major opponent of Mzilikazi was Berend Berends. He had visited the kraal of Mzilikazi with the Rev. James Archbell, which made him aware of Mzilikazi's wealth. Soon afterwards he tried to recruit a crusading force which would destroy Mzilikazi. The settled Griqua under Andries Waterboer refused, but others joined Berends from as far away as Philippolis. They found Mzilikazi's kraals guarded only by old men, for the main regiments were away again fighting the Shona. The invaders captured large herds from several cattle posts, but three nights later they fell to the same fate as Bloem. The Hlope, Mzilikazi's older married regiment, killed most of the raiders; only a few returned to Berends.24 Mzilikazi then determined to end the raiding by Griqua and Korana. He sent three regiments towards the Vaal. Before reaching the enemies'
    homes, the impi found a band of Griqua hunters on the river. They killed several and captured three children. They also captured many guns, horses and wagons.25

    Meanwhile, Dingane had consolidated his power after killing Shaka, and then sought a field of conquest for his restless army. He sent his entire force in search of the Ndebele in August 1832. Again, Mzilikazi's armies,as restless as the Zulu, were away in the north. Worse, the commander of Mzilikazi's Exna regiment deserted him and guided the approaching Zulu army. The two military kraals on the upper Apies were destroyed and their defenders annihilated. Mzilikazi appears to have tried to defend himself with the few troops remaining, but Dingane defeated him. The Zulu destroyed his unfinished capital, emHlahlandlela, and freed the Pedi. Mzilikazi soon moved farther west. Malida suggests that Mzilikazi built a semi-permanent encampment in the Mlulu mountains.26

    When these three attacks occurred, the Ndebele warriors were on raiding expeditions. At the time of Bloem's commando, Mzilikazi had sent his troops to the west to drive the Ngwaketse to the Kalahari.27 During the year of Berend's commando, the Ndebele had crossed the Vaal to attack the Southern Sotho on both sides of the Caledon. They were successful against the Hoja and the Taung, but Sekonyela, the Tlokwa chief, repulsed them and sent a warning to Moshweshwe. Moshweshwe, too, repulsed the Ndebele by rolling rocks down the passes of Thaba Bosiu. As the Ndebele retired northward, Moshweshwe sent oxen to the soldiers, saying, 'Moshweshwe salutes you. Supposing that hunger had brought you to this country, he sends you these cattle that you may eat them on your way home.'28 They returned home and then went immediately north.

    During this formative period Mzilikazi had gained control of the richest lands on the high veld between the Limpopo and the Vaal. He dominated the local Sotho peoples and recruited soldiers and workers from among them. He also continued to receive Nguni recruits.

    Shortly after the Bloem incident Mzilikazi welcomed to his kraal his first white visitors. He sought out the traders Robert Schoon and William McLuckie, who were with the Hurutshe at Mosega. Mzilikazi treated them well and obtained from them, in addition to the usual beads, knowledgeabout guns, which until then he had known only in the reports of his warriors. But he knew well the results of white contacts with the Zulu, even remembering the names of the white traders at Port Natal.

    Mzilikazi probably recognized the potential value of white contacts, but he was obviously deeply concerned with what he knew of the activities of traders in Natal. He treated the traders favourably, but sought through them to obtain a missionary, and sent with them his representative, Mncombate, to examine the missionary station at Kuruman.

    Schoon and McLuckie contacted James Archbell, the Wesleyan missionary at Plaatberg on the Vaal, and Robert Moffat at Kuruman. Both agreed to visit the monarch. Through the reports of the traders and missionaries, it is clear that the primary motive of Mzilikazi was to obtain weapons and to win support from the white men against his enemies.29 Thereafter, Mzilikazi attempted consistently to obtain missionaries to reside at his kraal, possibly to mediate in his relations with other white men. He solicited the Wesleyans, Moffat, and the French Protestants to this end.30

    Mzilikazi remained insecure along the Apies, and soon determined to move westward. The Griqua and Zulu threats aroused him to greater fury, and he reduced the remaining Tswana chiefdoms in the west. In 1832 he was reported as having followed up his defeat by Dingane with four campaigns against the Ngwaketse, the Kgatla, the Kwena, and the Rolong of Tawana at Khunwana. A participant stated that Mzilikazi justified the raid by the fact that the Rolong had murdered two Ndebele messengers collecting tribute at Khunwana, and because Tawana had joined Berends's raid against the Ndebele.31

    After Dingane attacked him, Mzilikazi fled westward. In doing so he drove away the Hurutshe, his tributary, by the end of 1832 and settled in towns at Mosega and eGabeni along the Marico River.32

    Once Mzilikazi was established on the Marico, he desolated the veld surrounding him as he had done in the east. Among the Tswana communities which he subjugated were the Rapulana Rolong of Matlaba. They submitted to Mzilikazi until I835, and then fled south to Thaba Nchu, where other Rolong had settled.33 Mzilikazi again fought the Hurutshe, then living on the Hartz River.34

    Despite these precautions, Mzilikazi failed to achieve the security hesought. Annoyances continued from the Griqua and Korana as well as from thieving bands of homeless Tswana secluded in remote corners of his land, but all these were of little consequence until Jan Bloem rose again.35

    In May 1834 Bloem organized another commando with his usual combination of mounted Griqua and Korana and Tswana footmen. Bloem attacked Mosega, and with his guns succeeded in capturing cattle. Again he allowed the Ndebele to trap him, and this time his horse was speared from under him and he had to escape on a spare mount. Though victorious, Mzilikazi realized that the victory was not indicative of his real strength against concerted opposition.36

    Soon after, Mzilikazi received several visitors: traders and hunters, Moffat, and Dr Andrew Smith, who went to explore and to open relations for the Colonial government, and three American missionaries who, in 1836, went to teach the Ndebele at Mosega. The Ndebele received the white men well. Anybody who came from Kuruman, singly, and with prior approval, was welcomed.37 Only one instance marred this relationship. Andrew Geddes Bain, a trader, was driven from the area, but only because his Griqua guides stole Ndebele cattle.37

    Lastly came the Voortrekkers. They differed from other white men in that they came in large numbers, they did not notify the king, and they acted as if they meant to stay.

    On 15 August 1836 the military kraal nearest Mosega, Matsenyateng, became alerted to the arrival of the first trekkers. A vanguard had made temporary camps along the south bank of the Vaal, while their leaders travelled north and east arranging for a settlement. Boers crossed the river and camped on land which Mzilikazi claimed. Impi went out against them,
    but first attacked a hunting party of Stephanus Erasmus, who had entered the area separately. The Ndebele wiped out their encampment and captured some San prisoners and five wagons.

    The patrol went on to attack the encampment of Voortrekkers led by Sarel Cilliers and Andries Potgieter. Five or six hundred Ndebele rushed the Boer laager. For six hours the warriors attacked, and the trekkers, being forewarned, resisted. But another party, the Liebenbergs, had not been warned, and Kalipi's men completely destroyed them.39

    On 19 October Kalipi's regiment crossed the Vaal to a hill, later called 'the Hill of the Fight'. There, Cilliers and Potgieter and a party of thirty-five trekkers and their families had arranged their wagons in a circle.

    When the Ndebele approached, the Boers attempted to parley, but soon retreated to their laager. In a dramatic battle the trekkers drove off the Ndebele. The Boers estimated that they killed 430 warriors of a force of 6,000. The Ndebele, however, retreated with the flocks and herds of the Boers, numbering 100 horses, 4,600 head of cattle, and over 50,000 sheep
    and goats.40

    Thereafter, the farmers retreated to Thaba Nchu, where they reorganized under Andries Potgieter and Gerrit Maritz. They led a commando to the Ndebele kraals on 17 January I837. Kalipi's warriors were away from Matsenyateng. Though the attackers consisted of only 107 Boers, 40 Griqua and 60 Rolong, they attacked Mosega before dawn and captured the cattle and killed the inhabitants who showed themselves, even gunning down the women who had retreated into the house of the missionaries. The Boers attacked about fifteen kraals and retook 6,000 head of cattle and the captured wagons. The Ndebele lost perhaps 400 warriors. The American missionaries retreated with the Boers, assuming that the commando had destroyed their work.41

    In June I837 the Zulu returned to the high veld. Mzilikazi sent a regiment to oppose them, but the Zulu slew them and captured several herds of cattle. Then Mzilikazi sent three regiments to track the retiring Zulu. Many Zulu were killed, but the survivors retreated, bearing away much of the booty. The Zulu called this raid a total defeat for the Ndebele. In fact, Mzilikazi saved many of his cattle, but the loss of men then and in the previous fight with the Boers seriously weakened the Ndebele.42

    Because of this, Mzilikazi decided to move still farther from his enemies. While he was moving, another Boer commando under Potgieter and Piet Uys attacked him in November I837. At the same time Griqua were plundering cattle from other Ndebele kraals. The Boers found Mosega deserted, but they found the Ndebele at eGabeni, to the north. In a rout which lasted nine days, the Boers captured many cattle and seized the land which the Ndebele left strewn with 3,000 corpses.43 As he left, Mzilikazi allowed many of the subject peoples to remain behind.44 Despite that, the majority of those who followed him were Sotho people. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people followed him beyond the Limpopo. To the present day, ethnographers estimate that the Sotho element in the Ndebele polity exceeds the Nguni.45

    The Ndebele Political and Military  System

    By 1835 Mzilikazi had built his kingdom to its largest extent south of the Limpopo. He had also established a viable social system which united the diverse elements in his following. Here will be attempted a description of that system as it operated on the high veld.

    Mzilikazi's territory reached its maximum extent in 1832, when he moved to the Marico River. There he established his main centres at Mosega and eGabeni. Mzilikazi clearly regarded the Vaal River as his southern boundary and kept patrols on guard in that area. Much of the land in the south was denuded of any settlements.46 To the east he had disrupted the Kwena, Phuthing, Pedi and Transvaal Ndebele communities, but he never occupied the land, because he wanted space between him and the Zulu. His most easterly kraals were on the Crocodile and Apies Rivers in I829.  By 1835 he had retreated twenty-five miles west of the Crocodile.47 The Limpopo served as a natural boundary and Mzilikazi tended to build his 'great places' in that direction. Though he raided to the north against the Shona, Mzilikazi never settled there before I837.

    In the west, Mzilikazi continually expanded his state. In 1829 Moffat found the first Ndebele kraals five days east of Mosega. In 1835 they were near the Molopo River, and Andrew Smith reported that the Ndebele called that river their western boundary.48

    The territory under Mzilikazi's influence extended 200 miles east to west and nearly as far north to south, but the area he utilized was much smaller.

    The number of people who inhabited that territory was immensely greater than the Kumalo refugee band of 1823. The original group consisted of only 200 or 300 warriors with fewer women, children and elders.49 In I829 the first white visitors estimated the total population at 60,000- 80,000.50 By 1836 Andrew Smith and others estimated the size of the Nguni military force at 1,000-5,000 warriors plus additions of subject peoples. To account for the difference between the smallness of this estimate and the formidable display of strength the Ndebele gave, Smith explained that Mzilikazi amassed his entire force for such shows, leaving the rest of his territory unguarded except for his few older men.51

    To reach any conclusions about the size of the Ndebele population, its growth pattern and composition must be understood. Mzilikazi began with a few Kumalo, but eight Nguni chiefs joined their people to his.52 If each of these were comparable in number to Mzilikazi's own following, then Smith's estimate of the Nguni army could have been attained.

    Mzilikazi's recruitment methods involved Sotho youths as well as Nguni immigrants. Ndebele warfare intentionally destroyed elderly and infant Sotho, but young men were recruited to the regiments, in which they soon outnumbered the Nguni, and the young girls were taken as wives by the Ndebele.53

    The greater part of Mzilikazi's population consisted of indigenous Sotho whom he never attempted to assimilate. Some, the Hole, became domestic and community menials. Others were assigned villages of their own, where they herded cattle, possibly under their traditional chiefs, but under the surveillance of an Ndebele regiment. Others appear to have retained considerable freedom in their domestic activities, but were subject to tribute assessments and had to convey information to Mzilikazi regarding enemies.54 Combining all these elements, Nguni and Sotho, military and subjugated, tributary and vassal, makes reasonable an estimate of 60,000-80,000 subjects.55

    The despotic nature of the Ndebele kingdom was noted by all visitors. Obsequious praising of the king shocked each missionary who entered the royal kraals.56

    'The king's word is law, and his commands must be promptly executed be they ever so capricious', observed the Americans, adding, 'yet the government is administered with a systematic uniformity, which we infer proceeds from established usages, of which we are yet ignorant.'57 These usages merit consideration.

    Transcending and tempering the typical picture of despotic and capricious behaviour, Mzilikazi evinced a concern for effective government, stability, and a regard for tradition. He attempted to give his acts the appearanceof regularity and justice, according to a later observer, and this conforms with the practices he established early.58 He retained among the royal entourage officials whom he allowed freer access to his person.59 He preserved the traditional Inkwala, or First Fruits Ceremony of the Nguni, by which he united his people under him. He held this ceremony in February at eGabeni, the kraal which was administered by Kabalonta, his elderly friend at whose kraal in the home country he was born.60 During the ceremony he allowed his subjects to sing their grievances in terms which would normally be forbidden in his presence.61 Though, like Dingeswayo, he never circumcised youths before they entered the regiments, he reverted to the traditional practice of requiring the warriors to be circumcised prior to marriage.62

    The top of the Ndebele hierarchy was the king. While 'his word is law, and he has only to lift his finger and his order is promptly carried into execution',6 he also relied on advisors. Under him were 'two degrees of rank above the commonality'. The higher, called Umnumzane, included both male relatives of the king and commoners. These men did not normally go on raids, and, according to Smith, had the leading influence in the land after the king.64

    The second rank was the Zinduna (singular, Induna), with authority over the military regiments and the subjects of the districts. The Zinduna were commoners and probably had more power than the nobility. The Zinduna, in turn, had subordinate officers. Perhaps at this early stage there were already larger ' provincial' divisions, for three major Zinduna were identified by Smith in I835: Kalipi, who ruled Mosega and the south; Kabalonta, who ruled the land north of eGabeni; and Mncombate, who ruled in the east.65 Kabalonta ruled the capital; Mncombate made official visits to Kuruman and Cape Town.66 If the description of later times applies, these three would have been called Zinduna Nkulu.67 Other Zinduna controlled local military-administrative districts and under them were village headmen.68

    Representing the king in the districts, Mzilikazi's wives resided at every major kraal, where they shared the rule of the Zinduna. The Zinduna consulted these wives on important matters and the wives reined the Zinduna's independence. The wives provided the king with continuous information, and their residences became his during his travels. This practice was already established by i829.69

    The structure here described is similar to the system developing among the Zulu and the Swazi. Differing from Shaka on one point, Mzilikazi had recognized wives, and his heir was allowed to live conscious of his position.70 Unlike the Swazi, Mzilikazi never used the clan structure in the organization of his districts, though he retained it for social purposes.71

    The military system was the core of Ndebele society. The Induna was a military officer as well as a civil administrator. Immediately under the Zinduna came the Mantoto (lit. 'men') who were older married soldiers; next came the Machacha, 'invincible soldiers', who could not marry until they had distinguished themselves in battle and who expected to conquer or die; lastly came the Matsetse, or youths, who generally tended cattle.72 Like Shaka, Mzilikazi controlled the rights of his soldiers to marry, and when the Machacha married, the wives were either a gift of the king or were paid for with royal cattle. This regimental organization of the male population broke down any clan or local affiliations.73

    The membership of an Ndebele regiment included subject peoples. The treatment of Nguni refugees was indistinguishable from that of the Kumalo; the treatment of Sotho subjects in the regiments was theoretically equal, but discrimination was felt throughout Ndebele history.74 The Griqua, Willem, who was captured in a raid, rose to prominence as an Induna for a time.75 Some Sotho also rose to prominence, but this occurred only later.76

    Being the ruler of a permanently mobilized society, Mzilikazi had to keep his regiments occupied. Cattle raiding was a safe practice, but often Mzilikazi faced such threats that more serious fighting was required. Early accounts imply that Mzilikazi expended unreasonable fury for sheer lust. However, he often faced attacks which caused him to turn on his neighbours in order to find a refuge for his people. In the latest example, when Mzilikazi moved to Mosega, he had additional justification, because both the Hurutshe and the Rolong killed his emissaries, and were collaborating with his Griqua enemies.77 Though he fought often and deserved criticism for his brutality, Mzilikazi's battles were explicable within this context. His destruction of entire chiefdoms coincides with those times when Mzilikazi had to find new lands for his people.

    Mzilikazi arranged his regimental kraals so that his capital was in the centre and his principal soldiers were stationed within an easy march, identified by Smith as one hour's journey, in kraals surrounding the centre. These posts held the choice breeding cattle. Outside this ring were placed eight or ten posts in each direction from which enemies were expected: towards Kuruman, along the southern approach of the Griqua and Korana, towards the east from whence came the Zulu, and on the north. Each of these divisions had its kraals located within sight of each other. Between the military posts Sotho kraals were stationed to tend the inferior cattle, often under a Sotho chief. At puberty, Nguni boys were organized into their own kraals, with cattle to guard. Actually, such new kraals were located within sight of seasoned regiments for protection.78

    This layout of kraals indicated Mzilikazi's concern for foreign involvements. He maintained a policy of keeping open veld around him, and required his tributary neighbours to supply information regarding his enemies.79

    The Ndebele developed a stratified social system. The Kumalo and later Nguni recruits were known as Nzansi (Zansi), meaning 'those who come from downstream'. One Sotho chiefdom, the Ndiweni, was included in this class, which provided the ruling elite of the Ndebele from whom came all the Zinduna. All the Nguni refugees became assimilated into this class, remaining distinguishable only by the retention of clan names, which enabled the Ndebele to continue the custom of exogamous marriages.80

    All other Sotho were called Hole, which implied serfdom. Some Hole became personal menials of individuals, others remained together in their villages under the supervision of the military regiments, and tended Mzilikazi's cattle.81 These may properly be called vassals, as they retained their own chiefs.

    Later, when the Ndebele migrated north, they released the Hole from bondage, and they achieved higher status as Enhla, a middle rank, which, like the Nzansi, could take Hole from the Shona of the north.82 Perhapsthe Enhla included only the descendants of mixed marriages between Nguni and Sotho. The information regarding intermarriage is confusing. Malida suggests that warriors could take Sotho maidens as wives, but this probably described conditions before Mzilikazi incorporated vassal communities intact. Malida protests that such intermarriages weakened the military prowess of the Ndebele.83 This practice appears to have been forbidden later.84


    Mzilikazi's settlement on the high veld involved him in relations with several peoples: Africans, Griqua and Korana, and white. Each will be considered here.

    Among his enemies, the Zulu predominated. Shaka never attacked the Ndebele after they reached the high veld, but remained a threat. When Dingane succeeded Shaka, his domestic difficulties forced him to send his regiments far away. No attack was conclusive, but they made Mzilikazi's position precarious, and induced him to move west and north.

    Other potential Nguni enemies of Mzilikazi were the Ndwandwe, Hlubi and Xhosa. Zwide and his Ndwandwe were eliminated by Shaka in I826, after which the survivors joined Mzilikazi.85 When the Hlubi broke under Matiwane's army on the high veld, the survivors fled to Mzilikazi in I825. Mzilikazi plotted the death of the Hlubi chief, but when the plot was discovered, the Hlubi fled and Mzilikazi sent an impi in pursuit. Thereafter, both the Hlubi and Ngwane left the high veld.86

    The Xhosa became a threat as a result of the 'Kaffir War' with the colony in I835. When Smith visited Mzilikazi, the Ndebele were worried about a possible invasion from the Xhosa, should they be defeated by the colonists. Nothing came of this, though Xhosa warriors visited Mzilikazi at the time.87

    With other Nguni, Mzilikazi had favourable relations. His spies kept him informed of the movements of the Zulu, and his agents drew dissident Nguni from Zululand to join his army.88

    Mzilikazi either drove away, destroyed or incorporated the Sotho within his land. Among the Tswana, only the Thlaping escaped untouched by Ndebele raids. This may have been because of their remoteness from him, but more probably because missionaries resided among them. Mzilikazi never attacked a town where missionaries lived, but this was a period of

    crisis in his own affairs.

    Mzilikazi's reputation as a depredator relates to those periods of his migration to safer lands. During the three moves to ekuPumeleni, the Apies and Marico, he was forced to destroy existing communities. At other times he conformed to traditional cattle raids or defensive and retaliatory fighting. His impact on the Sotho must be seen as his reaction to a search
    for security. At other times, his relationships with Sotho chiefs were comparatively restrained.

    Coincidental with the rise of Mzilikazi, the Griqua spawned the rebel Bergenaar, and numerous independent leaders became free to plunder the Ndebele herds. With their guns and horses, the Bergenaar usually succeeded in their cattle raids, but they were of little consequence because of the smallness of their attacks. Only Berends and Bloem, the Korana chief, succeeded in organizing large-scale attacks, and each time they failed.

    Andries Waterboer offered Mzilikazi hope for peace with the Griqua. Both Waterboer and the king proposed a meeting, but their plan was thwarted by the attack of the Boers. Such an agreement might have produced the basis for a lasting peace.89

    White visitors came early to Ndebele lands. Traders and hunters made friends easily, because they offered goods which the king liked, and because they could supply him with guns and the knowledge of their use which would make him secure. Most of the traders respected Mzilikazi's special friendship with Moffat, and used it to obtain favours. Even after the battle at Vechtkop, Captain Sutton and Lieutenant Moultrie of the Cape Seventy- Fifth Regiment received a friendly reception from the chief. He assured them that the attack on the Boers was unplanned and resulted from their coming via the route of Griqua raiders. Had they chosen to come via Kuruman, Mzilikazi stated, and had they made prior arrangements, the Boers would have had safe transit.90

    While hunters were admitted on suffrance, Mzilikazi actively sought missionaries. Schoon solicited Archbell and Moffat to visit the chief in 1829, and thereafter Moffat became a 'father figure' to the king.91 He visited Mzilikazi on several occasions, but he also made safe the visits of French missionaries and the establishment of the Americans at Mosega.

    Mzilikazi not only permitted the Paris missionaries to settle with the Hurutshe at Mosega, he insisted that they visit him and establish a chainof stations which would link his capital on the Apies with Kuruman. His motives were recognized as a desire for instruction in the use of firearms, a continuous link with the Cape for trade and an escape route in the event of an attack.92 Thereafter, Dingane forced Mzilikazi to move west, where he drove off the Hurutshe, but he first induced the missionaries to leave. Moffat was convinced that the missionaries' fear was ungrounded, and that they might have saved the Hurutshe had they remained. So convinced was he of Mzilikazi's good faith that he encouraged the Americans to settle
    with him in I835.93 Later, Moffat assisted a third mission to go to Mzilikazi after his flight beyond the Limpopo.94

    Mzilikazi was the most distant chief with whom the Colonial Government treated. In 1835 Andrew Smith, acting for the governor, Sir Benjamin D'Urban, gave Mzilikazi a medal and a cloak as symbols of a treaty of friendship. Mzilikazi confirmed this by sending Mncombati to the Cape to make a formal agreement with the governor. This agreement, signed on 3 March 1836, bound Mzilikazi to be a friend of the Colony, to preserve order in his land, to abstain from war except in self-defence, to protect all white men who visited him, to defend any missionaries who might settle among his people and to refrain from interfering with other chiefdoms in his vicinity. The governor engaged to grant Mzilikazi periodic gifts and to arrange for a missionary to settle with him to forward the intentions of the agreement.95 The effects of this agreement cannot be assessed, because the Boers destroyed this extension of British influence by driving the Ndebele out of reach of the Colony.


    Starting with a small band of refugees, Mzilikazi built a personal military kingdom on the Zulu model at three successive locations in South Africa. His early successes might be attributed to the disturbances resulting from the Difaqane. Later, his strength was maintained by his ability to incorporate diverse peoples into his polity. The aggressive policy for which he is known was not maintained during those periods in which he felt secure, but rather when he was forced to migrate farther from his major enemy, the Zulu. Evidence supports the contention that his main aim was a search for security. His policies were successful against the threats from African enemies. Only with the coming of white men did they fail. The essential features of Mzilikazi's political system are described to show what he preserved of traditional Nguni practices, what he borrowedfrom Dingeswayo and Shaka, and what he modified to fit his particular circumstances.

    The viability of Mzilikazi's developing polity is confirmed by his success in reconstructing his kingdom north of the Limpopo River. Without minimizing the traditional characterization of Mzilikazi as a warrior, a desolator and a tyrant, it is as a creative political administrator that his full stature can be appreciated.


    0 Responses to “History of The Ndebele”

    Post a Comment live chat help support software offers Complete live chat solution for customer support service and live help for your business website.