Ndebele kingdom revival brews storm

Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
A storm is brewing between the Mambo Dynasty Trust and the advocates of Mthwakazi restoration over the revival of the Ndebele kingdom. Mthwakazi Republic Party are leading a chorus for the revival of the Ndebele monarch while the Mambo Dynasty Trust want to block the move, arguing that they were the natural leaders of the land between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers.

To put their beef into context I will start by giving you a historical background of the matter. On November 21, a newly formed cultural organisation, the Mambo Dynasty Trust, held a public occasion at Stanley Hall in Makokoba high density suburb, Bulawayo, in commemoration of the historic Rozwi (or Rozvi) era.

Chaired by Mike Moyo, a descendant of the Rozwi, the Trust would like the people of Zimbabwe to acknowledge and respect the historical, cultural and other roles that were played by the Mambo rulers.

The occasion was attended by several cultural groups, including the Matonjeni Cultural Association that is known for its repeated calls for more national recognition of the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo’s historic role in the liberation of Zimbabwe.

Also in attendance were representatives of the official keeper of Intaba ZikaMambo, the historically known residence of the last Mambo, Tjilisamhulu, also spelt Chirisamhuru.

The master of ceremonies, Mehluli Moyo, another Rozwi descendant, introduced and presented the event’s resource persons. The resource persons were the well-known Nguni — Suthu historico — culture expert, Pathisa Nyathi, a history professor from the University of Botswana, and this writer who gave a historical overview of the advent and role of the Rozwi rulers in what was then known as BaKalanga territory.

I began by narrating the well-known Great Lakes region origins of the Bantu now resident in Southern Africa. The BaKalanga originally lived in that region, but particularly in what was called Tanganyika, a TjiKalanga word which means “where the land began”. Tanganyika is now Tanzania’s mainland.

It is not known how the BaKalanga separated from the rest of the group whose leader was called Malambodzibgwa (“the one who refuses to be strained or stopped”). Malambodzibgwa was later given the title “Munhumutapa” (the person who captures other people). That became a widely used title as his influence and that of his successors spread southwards up to the Gwilo (Gwelo/ Gweru) River, eastwards up to the Indian Ocean, northwards up to the Zambesi, and westwards up to the land of the Tonga people in the present day Kariba region.

South of the Gwilo River was a savannah area which fell under the rule of Madabhani, king of the BaKalanga. Madabhani ruled by administering corporal punishment on his erring subjects for a wide range of offences, and he used the whip of a plant called nhazwa in TjiKalanga, and isikhukhukhu in iSiNdebele.

Because of the copious use of the whip, his area was known for particularly that, kulanga in TjiKalanga, whence the name BaKalanga (those of the corporal punishment). It is important to point out that this name has absolutely nothing to do with uLanga of the northern Nguni people who live between the Tugela and the Pongola rivers, with the Indian Ocean lying to the east and south-east. In any case, Langa lived in the eighteen century, some four or five centuries after Madabhani, and thousands of kilometres from the region of the BaKalanga.

Madabhani lived at the Khami rocky hills where he felt so safe that he said to himself and to his subjects that he was bellowing like a bull since he had no challenger to his throne. To bellow in TjiKalanga is kubundula.

Because of that, he was given the sobriquet Tjibundule (the “bellower”), the king of the BaKalanga. His warriors occasionally fought those of Munhumutapa on the Gwilo River, his being on the western bank, and Munhumutapa’s on the eastern.

Historians have no idea in what period these occasional battles could have taken place. However, written Portuguese records indicate that the Portuguese bought a number of slaves from Munhumutapa in 1441. We do not know whether Madabhani had already moved south away from Munhumutapa by then.

In spite of that historical uncertainty, we know that while Tjibundule (Mudabhani) was bellowing while in his rocky abode on the banks of the Khami River, some 20 or so kilometres west of where Bulawayo now stands, a large group of people were travelling northwards along the Ntugwi River, crossing into his territory from that of the Venda people. The Ntugwi was later named “Thuli” by the Ndebele of Mzilikazi.

Those people were led by their king whose name was Madlazwegwendo, a son of Matabayile, born of Tjigalamoto, son of Tjibhayangedungo, and referred to themselves as “BaNyayi” or “BaRozwi.”

They settled on the upper Ntugwi River, at a place near which is a black flat rock which was later called Lutombo gwabaNyayi (the flat rock of the BaNyayi) by the BaKalanga. They lived there apparently for many years. Oral tradition has it that Madlazwegwendo, their king, died there.

He was succeeded by his son, Maluzapi, who lived for a very long time, so long, in fact, that he became so old that those who looked after him had to plaster his back occasionally with warm cow dung to enable him to walk a little. His son, Tjilisamhulu, was installed before the old man had died, and immediately planned to extend his territory by attacking Tjibundule.

The first attempt did not succeed because Tjilisamhulu’s army lost its direction on its way to attack Tjibundule. Oral tradition has it that it got so confused in the bush because of Tjibundule’s charms whose power was in his fontanelle hair which was plaited and coiled that it looked like a car radio aerial.

Tjilisamhulu’s army eventually returned home and Tjilisamhulu’s medicine man, Ngomane Gumbo, advised him (Tjilisamhulu) to procure a strand of Tjibundule’s fontanelle hair so that he (Ngomane) could use his own charms on it to weaken those of Tjibundule.

At about that time, another group of immigrants arrived in the territory occupied by the BaNyayi. They had also come from the land of the Venda, and had followed the Ntugwi River, more or less the same route as that of the BaNyayi.

Those people called themselves BaNyubi and were of the Malaba clan. They were widely known for having a god with rain making power. The god could make formerly sterile people become fertile, cure illnesses, and even helping those who believed in him or her to win wars as well as avoid misfortunes. Their god was and is called Mwali and lived in a cave from which his or her voice was heard.

Tradition has it that Tjilisamhulu became an adherent of that deity and paid tribute to the shrine where the god was worshipped. He did not involve Mwali in his plans, however, to seize Tjibundule’s land through conquest. Instead, he decided to use one of his daughters, Bagedze, whom he offered as a wife to the unsuspecting Tjibundule. Her avowed mission was to get a strand of the Kalanga king’s hair.

Her first attempt to get the hair failed, but she succeeded on the second. After that she feigned illness and requested to be escorted to her home to be treated according to her people’s traditions and customs. Tjilisamhulu’s medicine man, Ngomane Gumbo, performed his magic to neutralise Tjibundule’s charms by doing whatever on the hair strand brought by Bagedze.

Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com

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