Farewell Cde Nkiwane


IT is sad when great national heroes depart, but it is consoling when they have walked the mile illustriously.

Certainly, 93 years is a long mile. 

Cde Abraham Dumezweni Nkiwane the late national hero was born in 1928, and departed on July 6 2021 after faithfully serving Zimbabwe, fighting for her liberation from as early as 1962 when he was one of the first cadres to smuggle arms into Rhodesia from as far as Tanzania. 

These were subsequently used for some of the very first sabotage operations against Rhodesia.

He was one of the founding pillars of ZAPU military operations, a member of the ZIPRA High Command responsible for training. 

He worked tirelessly to secure training facilities for ZIPRA cadres in several countries. 

It is thus impossible to quantify his contributions to ZIPRA operations against Rhodesia. 

Whenever we come across such heroism, we are disappointed the way colonial history textbooks have underplayed the history of Umvukela/Chimurenga in Matabeleland, making it seem as if it was a Mashona betrayal and not so deep-rooted in Matabeleland.

In honour of Cde Nkiwane, the staunch revolutionary who organised for the country’s liberation from the early days of nationalism with the likes of Cde Benjamin Burombo, and  fought as one of those at the helm of ZIPRA till final victory, we want to underline something crucial: The First Chimurenga/Umvukela started in Matabeleland, and the First Chimurenga/Umvukela warriors were undefeated thus Cecil John Rhodes had to call for Indabas. 

He was defeated on the battle field and he sought terms of surrender in the Indabas. 

We want to state categorically and unequivocally that the Chimurenga/Umvukela warriors in Matabeleland were warriors par excellence.

Muchemwa (2015) writes: “When Chimurenga 1 eventually erupted in Matabeleland in March 1896, it was with unparalleled vengeance.”

The Ndebele were not acquiescent with white robbery of the land. 

They were totally at war with the whiteman for taking their land, for looting the whole of their herd, which was the largest south of the Zambezi at least a quarter of a million, and the insult was to have to herd these cattle which were theirs but now belonging to the white robber.

The Ndebele wanted the whiteman out or dead. 

They are not a people who ever accepted for a moment to bow down to the whiteman. 

They were bitter about being forced to work in their mines and their farms for the whites, being subjected to dawn raids in which their young men were captured and forced to work in the    mines which were theirs, and on the land which was also theirs, but now ruthlessly appropriated by the British robbers. 

They had endured but with ‘postponed vengeance’ until the First Chimurenga/Umvukela which erupted in March 1896.

The First Chimurenga/Umvukela, started with a war dance by Ndebele warriors at a cattle village in Essexvale Esigodini. 

The war dancers were warriors from the Indunas (Chiefs) of Godlwayo, including Chiefs Maduna, Mahlabeni and Mafu.

The war dance was remarkable for its military zeal and anger against the British South Africa Company (BSAC) native police. 

In the melee which ensued, a policeman and a war dancer were killed and the war dancers escaped to the Matopo Hills.

What we are establishing here is quite simple and straight forward: The Ndebele were no less enraged by the invasion of the land by the British armed robbers, and they did declare war and fought the armed robbers ‘with unparalleled vengeance’.

They fought and pursued the white robbers relentlessly, defeating them in each battle until the final routing in the Umguza River Valley battles (April 16 – 25 1896). 

From April 16 to April 25, the Chimurenga/Umvukela warriors defeated each contingent of white forces which confronted them, forcing them to constantly pile up reinforcements until they had amassed a battalion of 820 soldiers armed with weapons of mass destruction such as Maxim guns, Mountain guns and Hotchkisses. 

“The ensuing contacts were intense, often at close range where only pistols could be used. The Cape Boys were completely overrun by the Chimurenga Warriors. Captain  Selous’ force was cut off  from the main  force and the entire European settler Battalion was routed on 25 April 1896.” (Muchemwa:2015)

Thus the British were defeated in Matabeleland.

To underline this defeat of the whiteman in their land, the Chimurega/Umvukela warriors sent an unmistakable message to the armed invaders.

They surrounded Bulawayo with nearly 2 000 warriors, armed with Martini-Henry Rif. 100 members of the Native Police who had deserted joined the 2 000 Chimurenga/Umvukela warriors. 

These were armed with Winchester repeater rifles, Lee Metfords, Elephant guns, Tower-muskets and Blunderbuses, assegais and knobkerries

But Rhodes would reject the message and mobilise reinforcements from England.  

These reinforcements from  England, the Chimurenga/Umvukela warriors defeated once again in Matopos in July 1896. 

Of this Matopo defeat Muchemwa writes: “A form of guerilla warfare had emerged which rendered General Carrington’s conventional strategy useless and incredibly ridiculous. 

After one week of intensive fighting, over 20 European soldiers lay dead, and nearly 50 were wounded, but with no casualties to Chimurenga Warriors.”

This time around, Rhodes could not hide his head in the sand like an ostrich. 

He called for the Indabas. 

He could not defeat the Matabele warriors militarily.

Cde Nkiwane is born of this great Chimurenga’Umvukela warrior mettle which relentlessly fought the white robber until he called for the Matopo talks. 

We want to honour Cde Nkiwane for being true to who he was and still is; a descendant of great warriors such as King Lobengula, who made a strategic retreat successfully ensnaring his pursuers and leading them to their death at the hands of his own warriors.

Cde Nkiwane is of the rank of Chimurenga/Umvukela warriors such as Chief Maduna and Mahlabeni Mafu and Chief Godlwayo and the Godhlwayo regiment. 

He is of the rank of the fearless Ntini and the Ngnoba regiment, Mpotswana and the Nyamandlovu regiment, Nyamanda and Siginyamatshe, Sikombo and Makumbi and many a fierce, fearless Matabele warriors. 

Like his grandfathers and great-grandfathers before him, he fought and defeated the white menace.

He was laid to rest in Umguza and we feel honoured as we remember the Umguza  River Valley battles which defeated the whiteman in Matabeleland. 

He lies in Umguza with full honours of his own heroic fore-bearers in whose footsteps he faithfully walked.

Lala ngokuthula qhawe lama qhawe!


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