Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
GOVERNMENT has taken a bold step to correct a one-sided narrative of the famous Battle of Pupu, which for many years deliberately overlooked the African perspective.
Under President Mnangagwa, the Second Republic has made an undertaking to correctly portray and promote the country’s rich history and cultural heritage.
The Shangani (Pupu) Memorial Site, a place where King Lobengula’s Imbizo Regiment killed settler forces’ commander Major Allan Wilson and his fighters on 4 December 1893, has also been reconfigured to represent the whole story. It is now justifying the victors in the battle that took place there.
The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) has started refurbishing the Shangani (Pupu) Memorial Site, which is situated on the outskirts of Lupane, the provincial capital of Matabeleland North.
King Lobengula’s regiment led by General Mtshana Khumalo defeated the Allan Wilson Patrol during the 4 December 1893 battle, blocking the attempted capture of the King by the colonialists.
Despite their superior weaponry comprising Maxim guns and cannons, Major Wilson and his forces were killed by King Lobengula’s brave warriors.
The epic battle that was fought on the shores of the Shangani River, symbolises the beginning of a protracted resistance against settler colonial regime.
Until recently, a tapering stone pillar with names of a 34-soldier unit of the British South African Company (BSAC) that was ambushed and annihilated by more than 3 000 Ndebele warriors, was the only structure erected as a landmark by the Rhodesian government.
The obelisk has 34 names of Maj Wilson’s patrol inscribed on it.
In telling the story of the Battle of Pupu, the colonialists deliberately overlooked the Ndebele perspective.
Chronicle news crew visited the memorial site at the weekend and observed that most of the infrastructural works being undertaken by Government have been completed ahead of commissioning by President Mnangagwa on a date yet to be announced.
Some of the improvements include the erection of a perimeter fence, construction of a horseshoe shaped exhibition wall panels at the site, ablution facilities and the drilling of a borehole.
The display panels show Ndebeles resisting colonial forces manifesting in the battle at Bonko by the Shangani River and at Gadade in Mbembesi. The exhibition also relives the burning of King Lobengula’s Royal capital at Emahlabathini. When the King got the news of the defeat of the Ndebele army at Bonko and Gadade he ordered the burning down of the royal town as per tradition and fled towards the Shangani River accompanied by a force of about 2 000 to 3 000 men.
The exhibition also shows the pursuit of the King by the pioneers. A force of 34 men, later known as Shangani Patrol, was assembled to pursue and capture the King.
The settler army reached the southern banks of the Shangani River on the evening of 3 December 1893 only to learn that King Lobengula had crossed the day before and that his entourage had briefly rested under the leadwood tree before proceeding north.
Traditional healer, Mr Impiayipheli Mpofu said they regard the site as a sacred area
“This place is where our ancestors fought the whites and won. We continue to respect this place and we come here to appease our ancestral spirits,” he said.
Chairman of Pupu village heads, Mr Sam Tshuma said: “We respect this place so much because that is where our ancestors shed their blood as they fought the enemy. Whenever we have challenges in Pupu, we come here to conduct traditional ceremonies and dances in line with our customs.”
He said the site carries historical significance hence it should be preserved for future generations with information correctly portraying their history and cultural heritage.
Chronicle news crew also observed a group of men and women clad in their traditional attire singing and dancing at the memorial site barefooted.
Renowned historian, Mr Pathisa Nyathi said in documenting the Battle of Pupu, the colonialists deliberately overlooked the Ndebele perspective, which Government is now correcting.
“Government has come up with a new monument, which will be in line with a perspective from the African victors, precisely the Ndebele warriors. This is a new effort, which in a way is trying to portray the battle in a different light which is the Ndebele perspective,” he said.
“The site continued giving praise to the colonialists who were defeated and killed there. The monument that is being rebuilt now, has been there, but only in memory and commemoration of the 34 soldiers of the Allan Wilson Patrol.”
Mr Nyathi said the efforts under the Second Republic were commendable as they will change the one-sided narrative of the battle.
“What has always been known are the names of the 34 white soldiers who perished during that battle. Sadly, the names of Ndebele warriors, probably running into 100, who also died during that battle are unknown,” he said.
Mr Nyathi said there are two mass graves of the fallen Ndebele heroes at the Shangani (Pupu) Memorial Site, but due to the general neglect of history and culture during the First Republic, their names are not known.
“We need to do a research and come up with a list,” he said.
“We have also agreed with relevant authorities that when we get those names, they should also be put in the panel including their regiments and the commanders of those particular regiments.”
Mr Nyathi said information was never documented by the whites in their archives and urged families of the fallen Ndebele warriors to assist in that regard.
“I am hoping that there will be research that seeks to identify the fallen heroes at Pupu, Gadade and Bonko. It is very important that we have that information and with what is happening now under the Second Republic, there is a possibility that it can be done,” he said.
Mr Nyathi said the battle was not necessarily confined at the memorial site. He said the whole saga started on the southern bank of the Shangani River and extended towards the northern side of Shangani River going further to Emavikaneni.
“We have always portrayed the battle as if it was confined to one spot where there is now a monument. It is much broader than that because it not only the army which accompanied King Lobengula when he was crossing Shangani River,” he said.
“There were also women and children who according to the Ndebele military tradition they don’t fight. If you confine the Pupu battle to that site, how do you then explain the bullet holes on the Mutswiri tree where Lobengula briefly rested?”
Mr Nyathi said they are also proposing a site museum, which will only focus on Ndebele military traditions.
“If you focus on Ndebele history centred on its culture, you cannot leave out the issue of spirituality. The Ndebele would not go out to war and exclude spiritual intervention,” he said.
“We are talking of spiritual manifestations because there is a strong belief that Dakamela Ncube performed some ritual which resulted in the rain and Shangani River flooding. Remember were it not for the rain and the river, there is no doubt the white settlers were going to capture King Lobengula.” — @mashnets.