Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
DEEP down in the hills of rural Matobo District sits Mbembeswana, a humble and unassuming village. But, humble as it may appear, it is where the remains of one of the greatest Ndebele warriors, Chief Mdilizelwa Fuyana, lie.
Chief Fuyana was a member of King Lobengula’s Imbizo Regiment that was under the command of General Mtshana Khumalo which defeated the colonialist Allan Wilson Patrol during the Battle of Pupu on December 4, 1893, when the first shots of resistance against colonialism were fired in Zimbabwe.
While the commander of the Ndebele forces on that victorious day, Gen Khumalo befittingly got all the praises for outfoxing the colonialists, not much is said about Chief Fuyana, who is reported to have delivered the fatal blow to Major Wilson at Pupu.
Pupu is situated across Shangani River in present-day Lupane District in Matabeleland North Province.
Through oral sources, the late Ndebele warrior is believed to have, in close combat, delivered the fatal blow on Major Wilson, who was liquidated together with 33 other imperialist forces.
The Ndebele warriors, in defence of their State and King, girded their loins and took on the invading force under the command of imperialist Major Wilson.
The colonial forces were in pursuit of King Lobengula who had abandoned his capital, koBulawayo, following the defeat of his elite force, the Imbizo Regiment, at the Battle of Gadade.
Gen Mtshana’s exploits have seen him being granted National Hero status by the Second Republic led by President Mnangagwa, a fitting tribute to a military strategist.
As the country commemorates the 42nd Heroes Day on Monday, a Chronicle news crew yesterday visited Mbembeswana and spoke to the Fuyana family.
Located about 30km south of Maphisa Growth Point, the little-known village resembles a place that is completely detached from the rest of the world.
The news crew also visited Chief Fuyana’s grave where a tombstone has been erected and inscribed with the words: “In loving memory of Chief Mdilizelwa Fuyana, Iqhawe le Sizwe.”
The graveyard has been fenced off to protect the grave of the revered warrior from being vandalised by stray animals.
Tracing the family history, Chief Fuyana’s grandson, Mr Sifanele Fuyana (65) said: “I am the only surviving elder, all my siblings have since died and I am last born in my family.
My grandfather fought during the Pupu Battle and delivered the fatal blow on Major Allan Wilson who was wiped out together with 33 others.”
Mr Fuyana said as a family, last year they decided to erect a tombstone for the warrior although they are not sure of his birthday including the day he died.
Mr Fuyana said his ancestor Maphisa left KwaZulu with King Mzilikazi during the Mfecane period.
He described him as a very brave warrior who was very close to the king and earned the nickname Ingwemnyama kaMzilikazi kaMatshobana, mainly because of his bravery.
“We regard him as, ‘ingqalabukhosi’ bakoFuyana as he was the first to be installed chief when Mzilikazi settled in the land between the Zambezi and Limpopo.”
Renowned historian, Mr Pathisa Nyathi said it is acknowledged by Ndebele oral sources that Maj Wilson was speared to death by Mdilizelwa Fuyana, the son of Maphisa, who was chief of Isizinda Regiment/Village.
“For years his role in that encounter had remained a closely guarded secret. By 1912 he led his people from Centenary to the Tshatshane Reserve where they still live to this day.
All the 34 soldiers of the Allan Wilson Patrol perished,” he said.
“One commentator writing about that fateful day said only a bird, by flying straight up, would have survived. Major Wilson did not command birds.”
Mr Nyathi said hundreds of Ndebele soldiers equally lay dead in defence of king and State.
“There were no burials for them.
White corpses lay there too till the arrival in January of 1894 of James Dawson who buried the corpses and made an inscription on the trunk of a mopane tree: ‘To Brave Men’,” he said.
The trunk with the instruction is kept at the Natural History Museum in Bulawayo.
On the instructions of Cecil John Rhodes, Mr Nyathi said the remains of the Wilson Party were exhumed and interred at Great Zimbabwe and ultimately on a monument on Malindandzimu, a sacred hill in the Matobo National Park.
In a recent interview with our sister paper, the current Chief Mayenga Fuyana described his great great grandfather as a selfless man.
“This was highly indicated by him declining to assume the same position he held under Mzilikazi by suggesting to the new king, Lobengula, that he should take his younger brother Magwegwe instead,” he said.
“Magwegwe was a genius and all the chiefs that came to King Lobengula first went through him and hence the moniker bestowed on our chieftaincy as, ‘induna yezinduna’.
We all are aware of the legendary Magwegwe.”
Chief Mayenga said Maphisa was even recognised by the Rhodesian administration as there’s a township in Bulawayo (Sizinda township) and a school (Maphisa Primary) in the same township named after him.
Matobo Rural District Council has also named a new township in Maphisa after the late Vice-President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo’s wife, Johanna MaFuyana.
MaFuyana was a direct descendent of Chief Mdilizelwa Fuyana.
Chief Mdilizelwa was the son of Maphisa Fuyana, Chief of Isizinda Village /Regiment.
He was part of Isizinda Regiment, but as the soldiers were already greatly depleted by earlier encounters with the colonialists then at Pupu he fought under the command of Mtshana Khumalo who led the Ndebele crack regiment, Imbizo
It was the final stand by the determined warriors to defend the king and the State and the battle was won, but unfortunately the war was lost and the mighty State crumbled
With the Ndebele State having fallen with the demise of Imbizo at Gadade, the crack regiment of the State and with Isigodlo (Palace) set alight by Chief Sivalo Mahlangu, who had been sent by King Lobengula.
The Battle of Pupu was fought by remnants of the Ndebele regiments who were determined to die with the King.
Of the British South African Company (BSAC) mercenaries that were determined to capture the king, Maj Wilson led the pursuing party while Major Forbes followed with the reinforcement and the maxim gun.
The maxim gun had done untold major damage in previous battles at Gadade and Shangani.
Maj Wilson was closing on the king’s party and crossed the Tshangane River while Forbes remained on the southern side of the river.
The Ndebele warriors deployed on the southern part were led by senior commanders, Fusi Khanye and Manyewu Ndiweni while on the northern part of the river was Mtshana Khumalo assisted by Dakamela Ncube and Chief of Babambeni.
Chief Mayenga Fuyana said after the fall of the Ndebele State, Mdilizelwa moved back to koBulawayo and was eventually settled at Centenary or Entabeni Emnyama the area around Figtree where he became Chief of Isizinda Village after the death of his father Maphisa.
“With the whites spreading their influence by taking fertile land and pushing blacks to the so-called reserves Mdilizelwa too was forced out.
In 1912 he moved with his people to an area across the Tshatshane River known as Isizinda today,” he said.
Chief Mayenga Fuyana said his father, Chief Herben whom he succeeded named Maphisa Growth Point after their ancestor in the early 1970s.