Closer look at Ndebele kingship revival…is it still relevant

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

THE Ndebele kingship revival and succession controversy has reached an interesting stage where the Zimbabwe High Court has declared it unconstitutional and, ipso facto, illegal.
Some descendants of the two Ndebele monarchs, Mzilikazi and Lobengula, are trying to revive that kingship by installing one or another of three claimants: Peter Zwide Khumalo who claims to be a descendant of Lobengula’s son, Nyamande.
In January 2018, Peter declared himself King Nyamande Lobengula II; there is also Bulelani Colin Lobengula Khumalo, born by a grandson of King Lobengula and bred in South Africa’s Cape Province.
He was supposed to be crowned King Lobengula II at Bulawayo’s Barbourfields Stadium on February 3 2018, but the projected occasion was declared illegal by the High Court because the Zimbabwe Constitution does not have a provision for a king or kings, but for chiefs, headmen and kraal heads.
It is not clear whether Bulelani Colin Lobengula Khumalo, born and bred in South Africa, has acquired Zimbabwean citizenship, or whether he is a South African.
If he is South African, the organisers of this project need to explain how a foreigner (for that is what he may be according to the Zimbabwean law) can become a monarch of a part of Zimbabwe.
The third claimant is a man who was born Stanley Tshuma, but who says he is, in fact, a great-grandson of King Mzilikazi’s son, Hlangabeza, a brother of Lobengula.
Tshuma wishes to be crowned King Mzilikazi II.
He says his claim supersedes those of the other claimants because Mzilikazi was the first king of the Ndebeles.
Whatever the claim or by whomever it is made, it is now of no consequence as the High Court has passed a judgment against the campaign’s objective, that is, the revival of the Ndebele Kingship.
What is of great socio-cultural interest and value to Matabeleland is whether or not the region supports the wish to resuscitate the Ndebele monarchy, or whether or not the region is for the maintenance of the present republican dispensation; that is to say the constitutional status quo; or whether or not the region would prefer to have a king or paramount chief for each of the region’s seven indigenous ethnic communities which are Venda, Suthu, Kalanga, Tonga, Nambya, the San also known as the ‘Bakhwa’ or ‘Abathwa’ (from which the name Mthwakazi is derived) and the Nguni, of which the Khumalos were the kings until 1893 when King Lobengula fled across the Zambezi River after he was defeated by Cecil John Rhodes’ mercenaries.
Historically, each of those tribes had their own head or heads. Those communities were militarily defeated by the Ngunis when the Ngunis settled in the region where a territorial expansion military process was begun soon after their arrival in 1838 up to about a decade or two before the British South Africa Company (BSAC) of Rhodes moved lock, stock and barrel into what was later called Mashonaland in 1890, some 52 years after Mzilikazi’s group settled in what became Matabeleland.
The BSAC later attacked Matabeleland and seized the region, eventually leading to what it is today in terms of chieftainships.
The region had been ruled by a Rozvi king referred to as ‘mambo’, the last of whom was killed by Swazi warriors some of whom proceeded further to the north-east across the Zambezi River to settle in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.
Another legend says that, that mambo, whose name was Chilisamhulu (Chirisamhuru), committed suicide to avoid being captured by the Swazi warriors.
One of his sons, Ntinhima, and a large number of his father’s subjects escaped and settled in the Buhera area in Masvingo Province from where they subsequently increased and spread all over that area.
Meanwhile, Mzilikazi’s people arrived in the region following a military defeat of their forces by a combined army of Boers and Khoi Khois in the north-western region of what was later named the Transvaal.
The message in this article is simply that Mzilikazi found various communities in what the BSAC administration later called Matabeleland.
He militarily defeated those communities in more or less the same way as the BSAC’s forces defeated his son’s, Lobengula’s, troops later.
The liberation struggle could have regarded Mzilikazi and his people as settlers just as the white people were, but it did not, for the sake of unity, especially for the purpose of defeating the white settlers who were the common oppressors of the black people, the Ngunis included.
If, however, the Ngunis now wish to revive their monarchy, it is important that the people in the whole region called Matabeleland should be consulted, preferably through a referendum.
It is utterly inadequate to create a little known organisation such as Chief Mathema’s ‘Royal Crown Trust’ to deal with and decide on such an important issue.
Admittedly, the Royal Crown Trust can continue to function but only at the level of identifying who should succeed King Lobengula, a purely Khumalo family matter.
But the much bigger aspect of whether or not Ndebele kingship should be revived is at least a regional and not a tribal or clannish affair.
At most, it is a national issue in-as-much-as it is a national constitutional matter.
Matabeleland comprises Beitbridge, Gwanda, Filabuso, Esigodini, Matobo (Kezi), Bulawayo, Mguza, Inyathi, Nkayi, Hwange, Insiza, Nyamandhlovu, Bulilima, Mangwe, Binga and Lupane districts.
People in each of these districts fought for the liberation of this country.
They participated in the struggle so that they can freely choose their representatives in various national institutions.
Should it be necessary to amend the country’s Constitution so that there is a provision for a king or kings, the people affected certainly ought to be consulted, not just chiefs, headmen and kraal heads, but the entire population at large.
We are not discussing in this article the merits and demerits of monarchism vis-a-vis republicanism but we are highlighting the right of the people to say whether or not they want a king or kings in their respective areas.
However, it would be utterly outdated for Matabeleland to revert to the pre-1893 Ndebele autocratic, monarchial, socially discriminatory system that placed the Ngunis at the top of a social scale, and those people whom they found in this region (abanikazi balona leli ilizwe) at the bottom of that scale.
Each ethnic community has a right to be ruled by one of its own and to select that individual in completely free and fair circumstances.
That is one of the freedoms for which we sacrificed our time and whatever else.
It is true that some descendants of some of the indigenous people of this region may be supporting the Nguni kingship campaign.
They may not wish to see their own ancestor’s kingship or chieftainship revived or restored.
That kind of attitude is a result or a part of a socio-cultural process referred to by sociologists as ‘protective social docility’.
That simply means the practice by a defeated people to dance to the tune of their conquerors not only by adopting their culture (language included), but also by physically entrenching them in positions of authority and even defending them thereafter.
Among such docile people, African history tells us that there are examples of some who claimed to be descendants of or somehow related to their conquerors.
That practice was very common among some east, central, northern and west African black communities who were ravaged by Arab slave traders.
They promoted and defended the slave traders.
In our Zimbabwean situation, the issue at stake in Matabeleland is whether traditional leadership should be from, and by each, indigenous community or from. and by, the historical conquerors of those communities.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: sgwakuba@gmail.com

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