Mbuya Nehanda


Great Zimbabweans
Mbuya Nehanda
“Mapfupa angu achamuka”
“My bones shall rise”
Many of us grew up hearing stories of Mbuya Nehanda.
Mbuya Nehanda together with Sekuru Kaguvi and others were executed for various crimes against the British South African Company workers who had arrived to colonise the then Rhodesia in 1890 in what was to be known as the First Chimurenga or 2NDMatabele War
But who really was Mbuya Nehanda (Charwe Nyakasikana)?
Well if history serves us well, we know that Mbuya Nehanda was really the spirit that was channelled by Charwe Nyakasikana, she was a Hera of the Hwata Mufakose Dynasty. Charwe Nyakasikana was born in 1840, in what is today the Chishawasha District located in Mashonaland Central. She was the daughter of a man named Chitaura, who was the younger son of Shayachimwe. Shayachimwe, founded the Hwata dynasty in the upper Mazowe valley in the late eighteenth century.
It is believed she first channeled the spirit of Nehanda in 1884, but the first known person to have channeled the spirit of Nehanda in 1430 was Nyamhita daughter of Nyatsimba Mutota, the first leader of the Munhumutapa state. Nehanda’s spirit became so powerful and well known that her spirit lived on in human female bodies of various spirit mediums until almost 500 years later when it was believed to occupy the body of Nyakasikana Charwe.
How did Mbuya Nehanda (Nyakasikana Charwe) die and where was she buried?
When the British came in the then Rhodesia in 1890, they immediately instituted a regime of rough justice. The local peoples’ land, mines and cattle were expropriated. On top of that, the local people were forced to work for the English Pioneer settlers on their newly acquired farms, mines and factories under very harsh conditions. It was therefore not surprising that in less than six years of British colonial rule, the local people rose up in arms and declared a bitter war on the colonial settlers.
That declaration of war on the settlers by the people took the British completely by surprise.
How could people they had always considered docile and cowardly suddenly declare war?
They believed the ‘bad influence’ of the mhondoros or svikiro – which they referred to as ‘witchdoctors’ had everything to do with the rebellion.
They believed the ‘mhondoros’ did not want whites in Rhodesia hence the spirit mediums were urging people to chase every British settler out.
It was therefore not surprising when spirit mediums were targeted for murder. Particularly Mbuya Nehanda was falsely accused of murdering the native commissioner of her district, Henry Howlin Polland, who in fact had been killed in battle.
Once the British High Commissioner based in South Africa at the time got to know about the death sentence passed to Nehanda, he quickly dispatched a letter to the judge to have her executed immediately.
Hwata Chiripanyanga who became Chief Hwata in 1892 and was an ally of Nehanda, played a leadership role in the First Chimurenga war of Southern Rhodesia in June 1896. He worked with Nehanda Nyakasikana to organise resistance by the Hwata people against British settlers who had invaded their lands at PaGomba in Mazowe valley. Hwata lost the lives of 100 fighters in guerrilla type battles with British settlers losing more and they triumphed but the triumph of the Hwata people was short-lived. The BSAC reorganised and returned to Mazowe with many soldiers to re-establish control. The BSAC hunted down the leaders of the rebellion. British soldiers went from village to village where they shot and killed any males that fled, burnt several huts of the villagers and stole cattle and grain. The purge went on for three months and to save their people, Mambo Hwata, Nehanda Nyakasikana and Mhasvi came out from hiding and surrendered to the police. No evidence could be found of their physical participation in the rebellion which killed many British people. However, they were tried for the murder of the Mazowe Native Commissioner, Pollard and some African police officers who worked for the BSAC and sentenced to death.
*Mhasvi, a British South Africa Company policeman, of the Nyandoro clan of Harava, deserted the British to join the rebellion at Mazowe, was surprisingly pardoned for exemplary behaviour after his arrest. (Which to me tells me that he was a spy for the British South African Company and indeed sold out Mbuya Nehanda and her party to the BSAC.
And so Mbuya Nehanda was taken to the gallows on 27TH April 1898.
It is interesting to note that although judge Watermeyer instructed that Charwe Nehanda was to be ‘hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution’, respectable written and oral accounts say Nehanda did not die by hanging.
For example, one Geoffrey Bond in his book Remember Mazowe which is based on eye-witness accounts of the First Chimurenga in the Mazowe area says categorically that: “Charwe Nehanda and the condemned prisoners (such as Kaguvi) were blind-folded and shot dead by a squad of majonis (white officers).”
The above version of how Nehanda was killed tallies well with the popular version given by oral historians throughout Mazowe district who say, “Mbuya Nehanda vakachekwa.”
Now where was she buried then?
One Keith Martin helps us here. He says the British South Africa Company created a cemetery in Harare christened Pioneer Cemetery. It is that cemetery west of Mupedzanhamo Flea Market, near the hostels and Rufaro stadium.
It was opened on January 2 1893.
The cemetery was divided according to race and religion as well as military background.
Blacks had their own section to the west called the native section. There’s a big area where graves are not marked. Martin says, “Two of the Africans buried in that unmarked section with their graves unrecorded are of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi of the First Chimurenga.”
It is interesting to note that not only are Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda buried in the old Pioneer Cemetery which is now closed, Judge Watermeyer who sentenced Mbuya Nehanda to death is also buried there.
Furthermore, the supposed gaoler of Nehanda, one Patrick Hayden, who should, in fact, have hung her by the neck is also buried there.
Credit: The Patriot, Various Sources Online.

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