The arrival of the AmaNdebele in Matabeleland and the succession of King Lobengula

The arrival of the AmaNdebele in Matabeleland and the succession of King Lobengula

This article is from the Oral History Statement of Ntabeni Kumalo, son of Mhwebi, who was a son of Mzilikazi, made to Foster Windram on the farm of J.P. Richardson on 19th and 24th November 1937 with J.P. Richardson and Peter Kumalo when he was a journalist at he Bulawayo Chronicle in 1937 with those persons in their home kraals who had personal knowledge of the events that had taken place. J.P. Richardson and Peter Kumalo came in their capacity as interpreters.There are copies at The National Archives of Zimbabwe

 (CR 2/1/1) / Bulawayo Library.

When you read of the succession of Lobengula there are a number of different versions of events; this statement appears to be the most coherent and its narrative is confirmed in a number of other interviews. Subsequent interviews with Ntabeni Kumalo were held on the 5th of March 1939 and 2nd of April 1939 and 4th February and 10th of March 1940 at his kraal with Peter Kumalo as interpreter.  


Migration of the amaNdebele to Matabeleland

Mzilikazi left the Transvaal with his people to the Limpopo. Just before the Limpopo they parted into two sections. Mzilikazi told Gundwana one of his principal indunas, to take Nkulumane with him and carry out Moffat’s instructions that is, travel with the sun on his right cheek in the morning and on his left cheek in the afternoon…and keep on until they reach a range of granite hills and he said; “if there is any disobedience among my people, you have my leave to kill them.


Lobengula was then about the age when they look after the goats; that is, about seven years old. Nkulumane was born in Zululand and at that time was just reaching the age of puberty.

Gundwana and Nkulumane followed out these instructions. There is a hill in the Gwanda district called Isizeza, and they travelled to the east of that and then they struck up along the foothills on the eastern side of the Matopos and eventually landed at what we know today as the Bushtick Mine, which they called Ntabaenda and settled there. Lobengula was with this crowd. Gibixhegu was the name of the place that Lobengula’s people came from in Zululand. There was no induna of that name. At Ntabaenda they arrived before the rains started when the first leaves come out in September and they built their huts.

The regiments that came with Gundwana were called according to the section of Zululand they came from. They were: UMzinyathi, Nkenankena, Uyengu, Matshetje, Godhlwayo, Zinkondo, Ngwekwe, Sipezi, Insingo, Gibixhegu and Makanda.

The regiments that came up with Mzilikazi were: Mhlahlandhlela, Isizinda, Amambambo, Msizi, Ilanga, Mfagoqeba, Nkani, Kumalo, Mpongo and Magoko who amalgamated into the Magokweni and Inyanda. These were the regiments that went to the west with the King.

Lobengula entered the Amashlogoshlogo regiment. Lobengula was able to walk when he came into the country. He was born at Mkwahla in the year they first clashed with the Boers. When we clashed with the Boers, it was the Boers who made the first raid on us.

Mzilikazi’s first kraal in the Transvaal was in the Magaliesberg. It was called by them Amanengi. The district was called Mkwahla; this was where Moffat visited Mzilikazi.  


Gundwana settles at Intabaenda near the site of Falcon College

Gundwana came and settled at Ntabaenda. Mzilikazi split off and travelled north-west into the Makarikari salt pan. Mzilikazi did his own scouting and as far as I have heard he wanted to settle in the pick of the country, and he told Gundwana to carry out Moffat’s instructions, while he went north to the salt pans. Then he came back and came through what we know as the Bulilima district.

Gundwana’s people got word of his trek from the Makalanga that his forces were there and sent a regiment down to meet the King and to tell him that they had found the place that Moffat had told them of. Moffat had told them: “Your objective is a flat-topped hill which is where the waters divide, the channels being the Zambezi and the Limpopo.” So, they sent for the King to bring him up to this place (Ntabazinduna) while they settled about ten or twelve miles away from it. They would not go to the spot before the King.  

Mzilikazi came through Bulilima, raiding all the way and collecting slaves, and Gundwana met him at the Amanzamnyama River and Gundwana brought him to Ntabazinduna. Here Mzilikazi made his first kraal right on top of the hill. He arrived in the autumn, too late to plough; so, he raided all around among the Makalanga and lived on them; they were just ready to reap. In the winter of the same year he moved down to a place not very far from the junction of the Umgusa and the Khoce Rivers (Mwala Hill) Locally the first kraal was known as Mkuna (Marula tree) Next was Spongweni, then his next kraal was the one where he died, Mhlahlandhlela; the district was known as (Sigoteni) (Esigodini).  


Return of Mzilikazi

When the King came back with the regiment, all his people came from Ntabaenda to Ntabazinduna to greet him and then went back to their own kraals. The Gibixhegu were at Ntabaenda, they lived for a time there. Then liars went to the King and said that Gundwana had proclaimed Nkulumane King during his absence before he came to Ntabazinduna. I don’t know anything about Umoaka being mixed up in it. Whenever a King married, his wife took a vow to be faithful, but I don’t think Umoaka broke her vow. The doctors, not the witchdoctors but the Izinyanga went out and got medicines and the Queen at her marriage had to drink the medicine they prepared and swear her vow, because she may possibly bear a King.

Umoaka had two children only, Nkulumane and Lomadhlozi; she was the right-hand wife and she had the right-hand kraal, the kraal of the heir-bearer. The mother of Lobengula was Fulata. Both belonged to the Gibixhegu kraal. Fulata was the next wife to Umoaka in order of precedence; Lobengula was her only child.  


Story of the robes and Nkulumane

When liars went to Mzilikazi with their story of Gundwana, Mzilikazi called up all his sons – all that might through accident become Kings – that is, the eldest sons of his various wives. Their names were Nkulumane, Mangwane, Lopela, Tshugisa; Lobengula was too young then. He was a well-knit boy, but not as old as the others and he had not yet been enrolled in a regiment. Mzilikazi gathered these young men and told them to sit down here, took his ox-skin robe off and said to Mangwane: “hand me that robe.”  Mangwane tried to lift the robe and said: “Father, I can’t lift it.” Then Mzilikazi called to Lopela to bring the robe and so went through them all and each one was unable to lift the robe until it came to the turn of Nkulumane who lifted the robe and handed it to Mzilikazi. The King said: “how is it that you are able to lift this robe which I treated with my medicine and the others have been unable to? There must be something in the rumours that I have heard that you wish to usurp the throne. I gather from this that the rumours I have heard are true.”


Nkulumane banished from Matabeleland

Then Mzilikazi banished Nkulumane. He told Hwabaai and Ncumbata to take Nkulumane over the border down to the Limpopo and then take him down to Shepstone. As far as we know this was done, but when Ncumbata returned, they spread the story they had killed Nkulumane, and they were told to spread the story by the King. Mzilikazi knew they had not killed him, but he wanted the people to think so.

Gundwana was sent for by the King and refuted the whole story and denied that he had anything to do with it. But the King said: “I have already proved by my medicines that you did corrupt Nkulumane.” Gundwana returned and Mzilikazi sent a party to kill him at his home which was at Mputjeni, about six kilometres from Ntabaenda and about sixteen kilometres from Ntabazinduna; Mzilikazi was then at Mwala Hill.     

A large number of people were killed – all the Gibixhegu kraal, but he did not kill Fulata as she died before this happened. Lobengula was taken down to Mwala Hill, which he calls Mhlahlandhlela. Five men killed Gundwana and then a larger body was sent to kill the others. Lobengula was not hidden away. The King gave orders that he was to be brought back and when he was enrolled in the Amashlogoshlogo he was at Mwala Hill.

Told the story that the indunas were killed at Ntabazinduna, Ntabeni asks for the name of any induna who was killed at Ntabazinduna – J.P. Richardson says that apparently no one can name any. Later in the interview Ntabeni states that he knows nothing of the story that Lobengula was hidden in a grain bin.

While Mzilikazi was at Ntabazinduna, on top of the mountain, he had called up his indunas and allocated the various districts they were to occupy.


Lobengula’s escape from the killing of the Gibixhegu

Lobengula was kept at Eguzuleni by Gwabalanda, but it was not true that Gwabalanda kept Lobengula as his own son. He had instructions from Mzilikazi; he kept Lobengula herding for some time. He was first given the calves to herd and later the more responsible work of herding the grown cattle. Gwabalanda kept him there until he was enrolled in the Amashlogoshlogo regiment.

Lobengula enrolled

Lobengula enrolled in the Amashlogoshlogo and with them was stationed not very far from the original kraal below the junction of the Umgusa and Khoce rivers. The Amashlogoshlogo were popularly known as the Inyoniyamahlanga, the Zulu name for weaver-birds. Lobengula did not come into contact with white people then, only after he became King. The people were then looking for the return of Nkulumane as their King.

The search for Nkulumane

When Mzilikazi died I was very young, but the death was only announced when the counsellors thought fit. All the indunas had a great meeting and said: “What are we to do?” It was decided they should send for Nkulumane. They sent Lotje and Mhlaba, son of Ncumbata and they started from here on horseback. But the Boers said to them: “You cannot take your horses, we are not taking them away from you, but we cannot allow you to take any kind of war material with you, so you must go on foot. You can travel with switches, but you must not carry anything warlike. The Boers were very good to them.

They went down to a point near uMgungundlovu and they met an old woman who said to them: “I see that you are abangiti (my people) I see that you are of my people by the way your ears are cut (the amaNdebele used to pierce the earlobes in a particular way) Where have you come from?” They said: “We have come from Mzilikazi” and the woman said: “We hear that Mzilikazi is dead?” and they said: “It is quite true, and we have come down here on a quest” and the woman said: “Who are you looking for?” and they replied: “We are looking for Nkulumane.”

This woman had been left behind when Mzilikazi left Zululand and she said: “I see a likeness in Mhlaba to a man I once knew who was called Mevana.” This was the eldest son of Ncumbata, who had died. Lotje said: “Yes, this is his younger brother” and the old woman said: “If you are looking for Nkulumane, you are very near your goal” and then she said: “Why are you looking for him, when your father Ncumbata robbed him of his blanket and left him naked when he was told to deliver him to Shepstone. I am surprised that you should come down to get him, when before you delivered him to Shepstone, you took away his leopard skin (kaross).”  


The emissaries return to Matabeleland without Nkulumane

When Mhlaba heard this, he decided to turn back and said to Lotje: “I am going back” and Lotje said: “I am only here as your ears, I am not in charge of this expedition.” So, they turned back without seeing Nkulumane. Mhlaba and Lotje, the leaders, the people who had been given the road, came right back and the Boers gave them back their horses and assegais. When they arrived in Matabeleland, they reported to Ncumbata that they had met this woman and that Mhlaba had got a fright because the woman said: “Your father robbed Nkulumane of his robe and I wonder why you, his son, should be sent back to fetch him.”


Ncumbata appoints Lobengula as King of the amaNdebele

When he heard this Ncumbata concluded that if he re-established Nkulumane (as King) he would be killed, and he said: “There are other branches of the King’s family.” Then all communication with the south was stopped and they did not send again. Ncumbata said: “There is still another of the Gibixhegu” meaning there was Lobengula. Then Ncumbata approached Lobengula and Lobengula said: “Well, you sent emissaries to get my brother Nkulumane; now why have you picked on me?” Then Ncumbata lied to Lobengula and said: “I know perfectly well that it was the desire of your father that you should be King.” Ncumbata was the appointer of Kings.

Now in the time of Mzilikazi, Moshoeshoe sent a gun to Mzilikazi who said: “Who is going to carry this gun?” So Mzondo, the man who brought the gun said: “I don’t know as much as you know about your family” and Mzilikazi said: “The only man that I can give it to is Lobengula.” This was after Nkulumane had been sent away and Ncumbata made use of this to support his story.


Controversy over the appointment of Lobengula as King

Then Lobengula was appointed King, but he said: “What about my brother, he is still alive, as far as I know?” Ncumbata said: “No, he is not alive as far as we are concerned.” Lobengula went on objecting until many headmen came and persuaded him to take over the kingship. All agreed except Umbigo and Lomapela. They objected because they said the King had told them individually that Nkulumane was to be his successor…


Umbigo’s role

…It is true that Umbigo fought against Hendrik Potgieter and that Mzilikazi thought highly of him. It is true that the Zwangendaba refused to come to the funeral of Mzilikazi because of their hostility to Lobengula. They refused to come during the time the body was in the hut, but they turned up for the actual funeral. It is not true that the Zwangendaba wanted Umbigo to be King. This was only a rumour; some of the Zwangendaba who did not want Lobengula to be King said it would be better if Umbigo became King. But Umbigo would not entertain the idea and said they must wait for Nkulumane.


Zwangendaba battle

Lobengula was then at Spongweni. He sent a message to the Zwangendaba, Ingubo and Induba regiments saying he wanted to see them, and they refused to come. They sent three men, Pahlapahla, Dingana and Velakubi with a reply saying: “we want to come and pick iMbuya” (wild spinach) This was meant to signify they had come to ask for peace – the amaNdebele had a rule that the people were not allowed to pick green food or harvest until they got word that the King’s lands were harvested. So Lobengula said: “Have they left their homes? Are they on their way to see me? Have they crossed the Mbembesi River?” The messengers replied: “No, they are still at their homes” whereupon Lobengula said: “Well, if they are still at home, I am coming to fetch them.” Then the great battle took place.  

Lobengula gathered his troops and camped right up against them on the Mbembesi River. Then two men, Mhlatuzani and Somadaga, were sent to Umbigo by Lobengula to say he was there and to ask Umbigo to come and see him. When these people returned to Lobengula they said: “We have come back shivering because we thought Umbigo was going to kill us.

In the meantime, Umbigo had gathered his three regiments at his kraal, which was on the Mbembesi River (near the Turk Mine) and Lobengula said: “Oh, if that is so, strike your flint, rub your firesticks and let us be going.

Lobengula mounted his horse, rode up to Umbigo’s kraal and fired two shots out of his double-barrelled gun with the whole of his impi beside him and then the fight started. Umtigan, Nomabale and Ziguana were the three that went with him all mounted. Lobengula rode right up to the kraal gate, put his gun between the upright poles of the gate and fired two shots… Sodutwana was badly wounded and another was killed on the spot. The kraal was fenced all around with a high stockade. Then Ziguana grabbed his bridle reins and said: “This is our business, not yours.”


How Bulawayo got its name

Lobengula called his town Bulawayo because after he was made King, he collected all the survivors of those who were killed at Gibixhegu – some who had escaped, and some descended from women who had left the kraal and he established them in a kraal where Government House now is. He said: “I am not going to call you the Gibixhegu anymore, I am going to call you koBulawayo which means ‘the people who were to have been killed, but they were not killed.’” It applies to Lobengula himself, because he was to have been killed and Gwabalanda saved him.

…Lobengula first built a kraal at Inyugeni, the other side of Hope Fountain. It was then he changed the name of the people to koBulawayo. When he moved to the site of the present Government House, he took the name with him. By koBulawayo Lobengula was referring to the people of Gibixhegu, so those who survived were called koBulawayo, but the name included everyone, those who were killed as well as those that survived…


Search for Nkulumane

When the meeting took place Ncumbata told the people that Nkulumane was dead. But Lotje and Mhlaba said this was not so, because they had heard in Natal that he was still alive. Nkulumane died at Mpugeni, which is on the other side of Khama’s country.


Nkulumane’s Invasion

Nkulumane came up with the remnant of his people, who were scattered in the Zwangendaba fight, to the Gwanda district to Isizeza Hill and he established himself there, he even built huts. Then he sent messengers throughout the country to tell the people to come to their rightful people and Lobengula had them killed. Then he (Lobengula) sent down a big force to destroy them. When they got near, all the leaders said to the regiments: “Stay here and we will go down and interview Nkulumane.” They had an interview with him and returned, but they advised Nkulumane to get out of the country as the force behind them would annihilate him.

In the meantime, some people of the Nduba went down to meet Nkulumane with forty head of cattle, but the King’s forces arrived before them. The Indunas went over to Nkulumane and said: “We can’t kill you, or we don’t want to kill you. Go.”

The next morning the regiments were ordered by the Indunas to attack Nkulumane. The indunas were making a pretence of an attack really and when they reached the camp, they found the logs still burning, but Nkulumane and his people were gone. The regiments said they could not have gone very far and wanted to follow, and the indunas said: “No, they are leaving the country. Let us go back and tell Lobengula.” On the way back, they met the Nduba with forty head of cattle and took the cattle, killing six men.


Death of Ntunzi

When they returned, Lobengula ordered the induna Ntunzi to be killed because he had not carried out his orders and killed Nkulumane. Ntunzi was killed as soon as he returned, because he had warned Nkulumane to get out. The King blamed Ntunzi and Umtigan for giving Nkulumane warning; but he kept Umtigan, who was married to Lobengula’s sister, Makwa. Umtigan was killed years afterwards because of this incident. (Richardson says the amaNdebele had a custom whereby when the King had marked out an Induna to be killed, he ‘fattened’ him for three or four years) When Nkulumane left Matabeleland, the time he was banished, both his eyes were all right so far as I know. I never heard that the Nkulumane who came up to claim the throne had something wrong with his eyes.


Lobengula reproaches Mhlaba

Ncumbata died after the Zwangendaba battle and then Mhlaba succeeded him. Lobengula said to Mhlaba: “When you made me King did you only give half the power; why is it that I have no sons?” Also, he had gout and he accused Mhlaba of this, as representing his father. Mhlaba said: “No, I didn’t.” Then Lobengula said: “If you didn’t give the full power to me for whom are you hiding it?” Mhlaba said: “Ncumbata said I must not give you full power because Nkulumane might come back.”

Then Lobengula ordered Mhlaba and all his people to be killed, but some escaped. Five men were killed, sons and brothers of Mhlaba. This happened not very long before the coming of the white people…about three years before.

Ncumbata was the appointer of the King. His father was Kolo, then came Ncumbata and then came Mhlaba. This family inherited the right to appoint the King, but although one man proclaimed the King, he acted in committee with the councillors.


Ncumbata and Nkulumane

It is not true that Ncumbata hit Nkulumane with a knobkerrie and left him for dead. But it is true that he reported to Mzilikazi that he had killed him. The truth came out when Mzilikazi saw Ncumbata one day – it was a cold day – wearing the leopard skin robe and he looked at him.  Mzilikazi spoke to Gwabalanda and Mahabahaba, two old councillors and told them: “This man has done me an injury. I cannot understand this; because I sent Ncumbata to hide my son away and now I find he is wearing his robe.” But he said nothing to Ncumbata. Instead he sent for Hwabaai and said: “Was my son killed?” Hwabaai said: “No.” Then the King knew that Nkulumane was still alive. He did not send Ncumbata back with the robe; Ncumbata kept the robe…

When Mzilikazi spoke to Hwabaai about the matter, he said: “How is it that I saw Ncumbata wearing Nkulumane’s robe?” Hwabaai said: “When Ncumbata robbed Nkulumane of his robe, he said to him: ‘This is the robe by which King’s are to be appointed in the future.’” But Ncumbata was not speaking the truth, because really, he wanted the robe, and he made the excuse that he wanted it because he had to have it to appoint the future King. Afterwards Mzilikazi told Gwabalanda and Mahabahaba that it was all right.  


Death of Lotje

It was Lotje that told Lobengula that the white people were stronger than the amaNdebele…The meeting at which Lotje told the King and the people not to fight the white people took place at Umvutsha, after Lotje returned from his trip…at the meeting Lotje said: “Don’t quarrel with these people, rather pay them tax than try to fight if the question arises, because there are many, many of them and their weapons are powerful.”  

All the other indunas were angry and objected to what Lotje had said. They said: “Did the white man send you to tell us to tela? (pay tribute / tax) Lotje said: “No, this is no message, I am telling you this to open the King’s eyes only, in case of what might happen in future – to vusa (arouse / awaken) to open the King’s eyes to the possibility of troubles that might arise in the future.”

All the indunas, young and old protested. They did not however, suggest that Lotje was selling them to the white people. Lotje had previously told Sekombo, a minor induna, of the danger and Sekombo had promised to support him at the meeting. But when Sekombo saw the outburst of the Indunas, his heart failed him, and he remained silent. Lotje was alone against them.

…This thing kept on rankling in their minds for a long time, perhaps years, and eventually the indunas persuaded the King that Lotje should be killed. Lobengula liked Lotje, who was one of his greatest generals, and he did not want to kill him, but eventually he gave in to the perpetual nagging of the indunas who said Lotje was too friendly towards the white people.


Lobengula’s farewell to his people at Shangani

Ntabeni records at the end of his account: When Lobengula was grieving about not taking Lotje’s advice he said to the indunas: “Now we come back to Lotje’s warning. You wouldn’t allow me to tela to the white people (pay tribute or make a treaty) and today, this man has a regiment, that man has a regiment, I have got nothing.”

He said this at Shangani before he left, and he said addressing Bozongwane, who had been responsible in having a lot of people killed, being the King’s Inyanga. “Bozongwane, you were the man who caused so many people to be killed by telling lies about them. Today the people are blaming me for those; but you were the root of the trouble.”

When Lobengula had said this to the whole crowd of people there, he got on his horse with Magwegwe, Gwati, Mshani; the three principal indunas with him and with the body of the people whose hearts wanted to go with him and who followed him. They were not a picked body and the Queens who were there went too and he disappeared, and no one knew what happened to him. I don’t know if he died of smallpox.


Credit: Alan Windram, National Archives of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo Library and Zimfieldguide, Forster Windram, J.P. Richardson, Peter Kumalo and Ntabeni Kumalo son of Mhwebi son of Mzilikazi.

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