Lozikeyi Dlodlo: Queen of the Ndebele
Many of us know about the First Chimurenga of 1896 which was an uprising against the British by the people of Mashonaland. We also have some knowledge of some of the key players of this uprising, but how much do we know of the original key players that came from Matabeleland?
But what some, if not most of us may not know is that in actuality the first war started in Matabeleland in 1893 by King Lobengula and was known as the First Anglo-Matabele War and again the Ndebele fought against British rule in 1896 which was now known as the 2nd Matabele War. This war was referred to as Imfazo or The War of the Red Axe (Impi Yehlok’elibomvu). The resistance and rebellion against British rule were the catalysts that led to what is now commonly referred to as the First Chimurenga war.
One woman who little is known about and was very instrumental in this uprising was The Ndebele Queen known as Lozikeyi Dlodlo, senior wife of Lobengula.
Born in 1855, Lozikeyi was the daughter of Ngokho Dlodlo and uMaTshabalala and was believed to have been born a twin.
She married King Lobengula Khumalo well after his coronation as King. Her marriage to Lobengula was to strengthen the king’s support base as the Dlodlo family were traditional healers (Izinyanga) and military experts. Queen Lozikeyi was the head of the royal women quarters and was attached to one of the King’s prestigious army called Imbizo.
She came from a family of traditional healers (Izinyanga) and she believed that the power of the Ndebele warriors was at its highest peak during the full moon. With this knowledge, the warriors made the first attack on the night of 29 March 1896, under a full moon. The attack happened at the Big Dance ceremony, where the Ndebele warriors, and their allies, the Shona, would kill any white person they encountered.
After the disappearance/death of King Lobengula in 1894, Queen Lozikeyi assumed the role of acting head of state effectively becoming Queen Regent. In 1893 after the First Matabele War, the Ndebele kingdom had been greatly weakened and a significant population displaced. Queen Lozikeyi stepped into the King’s role whilst the issue of succession was being considered. Oral tradition credits her for keeping King Lobengula’s subjects united at a time of strife. In their book Marieke Clarke and Pathisa Nyathi state the following ‘’Lozikeyi became ‘acting head of the Ndebele nation’ and, in effect Queen Regent. But she had to lead ‘with such discretion that the occupying forces did not understand her role’. Thus, she simultaneously ‘succeeded in winning the lasting respect of the Ndebele people, while concealing from the new white rulers (and from European historians) that she was her husband’s acting successor’’.
In the following years, Queen Lozikeyi was resolute in her vision for a reinstated Ndebele kingdom and the return of her people’s land. She instructed her twin brother Muntuwani Dlodlo to rebuild the Imbizo (King Lobengula’s Royal Regiment).
In 1896, along with Muntuwani, Queen Lozikeyi led the resistance against colonial rule and land dispossessions of the Ndebele people. The astute Queen Lozikeyi had carefully stored some of the ammunition which had not been used by King Lobengula in the Anglo-Matabele War of 1893 and the Imbizo regiment were able to use this ammunition against Cecil John Rhodes’ forces. Her war credentials were memorialised by the predominantly Ndebele Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and they referred to her as the Foremother of ZIPRA. As a show of honour and for good fortune, the ZIPRA forces buried two bullets at her grave years after her death. Queen Lozikeyi Dlodlo played an unrivalled and heroic role in the Anglo-Matabele war of 1896. She was in charge of the King's army, thanks to her Dlodlo powers.
By the end of 1896, Rhodes’ forces and the Ndebele army had reached a stalemate but by this time the fighting had been taken over by their allies the Shona in Mashonaland. At this point Queen Lozikeyi led the peace initiative through runners and guided the izindaba (negotiations) in the Matobo mountains. This led to an amnesty and ceasefire, although the Ndebele people had already lost their best land and control to the British. Queen Lozikeyi continued to resist European occupation of Matabeland during the years after the war. Queen Lozikeyi never considered converting to Christianity, but she was happy to encourage missionaries to set up schools and give children western- style education.
History tells us that Queen Lozikeyi did not have any biological children. In line with Ndebele culture at the time, when a woman could not conceive, the woman’s family would provide an inhlanzi (surrogate) to birth for her. In Queen Lozikeyi’s case, her inhlanzi was Mamfimfi Dlodlo (her father’s brother’s daughter). Mamfimfi also experienced some difficulty conceiving and only did so after intervention from an Inyanga called Sidambe. As was customary whenever there was such an intervention, the child was named after the Inyanga and Queen Lozikeyi’s daughter (by surrogate) was named Princess Sidambe.
Queen Lozikeyi established her courts in a plot of land in Bubi District, which today is referred to as iNkosikazi where she is laid to rest. She remained defiant until her passing in 1919 after she succumbed to influenza.
Queen Lozikeyi was a firm, no nonsense, strong-willed, principled, and greatly respected woman even by her rivals the British who referred to her as a very dangerous and intriguing woman and today still her legacy lives on.
Credits: Nduta Wareru, Natasha Fuyane, Various online sources and Marieke Clarke and Pathisa Nyathi (Lozikeyi Dlodlo: Queen of the Ndebele)