Great heroes of Chimurenga …the murder of Nehanda, Kaguvi and Mwari priest

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VERY soon Zimbabwe will commemorate Heroes’ Day as we remember the suffering and sacrifices made by our heroes in the fight against the evil colonial system.
In the next three parts we shall be looking at what our heroes went through and the suffering they endured in order to free this country.
This week we are looking at the gruesome murders of Nehanda, Kaguvi and the Mwari high priest by the former colonial masters.
How was Nehanda killed?
Where was she buried?
What about Kaguvi?
Before we answer the above questions, let us briefly look at what led to the above horrendous killings and what happened after.
When the British colonised Zimbabwe 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.
In short, there was wide-spread misrule throughout the country.
It was therefore not surprising 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.
There was a bigger reason for the people to rise up in arms – the ‘bad influence’ of the mhondoros or masvikiros – local spirit mediums which they referred to as ‘witchdoctors’.
The colonial master went on to say the ‘mhondoros’ did not want whites in Zimbabwe hence spirit mediums were urging people to chase every British settler out.
It was therefore not surprising when spirit mediums were targeted for murder.
The high priest of Mwari at Matopo hills in Matabeleland, the area where the very first battles of the First Chimurenga took place, was the first spirit medium to go.
The settlers sent a hitman, an American called Russel Burnham to take him out and that was done.
The second spirit medium on the hit list was one Charwe who was the spirit medium of a famous guardian spirit called Nehanda.
Charwe Nehanda stayed in the Mazowe administrative district near Harare.
In her case, the Rhodesians did not send a hitman, but instead falsely accused her of murdering the native commissioner of her district, Henry Howlin Polland, who in fact had been killed in battle.
They then went on, in one of the shortest murder trials in history, to find her guilty and sentenced her to death.
Once the British High Commissioner based in South Africa at the time once got to know about the death sentence passed on Nehanda, he quickly dispatched a letter to the judge to have her executed immediately.
Below is part of the letter.
“The Queen against Nehanda in custody under sentence of death for murder.
I do hereby certify that a report of all the proceedings upon the trial of the said Nehanda for murder in and before the High Court held at Salisbury on March 1898, hath been transmitted to and laid before me as High Commissioner for South Africa by His Honourable the judge Watermeyer when sentence of death was there and then pronounced upon the said prisoner.
I hereby duly authorise and approve of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda.”
Once, judge Watermeyer had received the above authority, he immediately wrote an instruction to the sheriff authorising him to kill Nehanda.
Below is the instruction.
“To the sheriff of the territory of Rhodesia.
The Queen against Nehanda in custody.
His Excellency the High Commissioner has duly authorised and approved of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda on Wednesday April 27 one thousand eight hundred and ninety eight within the walls of the Gaol of Salisbury between hours of six and ten in the afternoon.
She shall be hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution. This instruction is therefore to command you that cause execution of the said sentence to be had and done upon the said prisoner accordingly and that you keep and detain her in your custody until she shall have undergone the said sentence.”
And so Nehanda was taken to the gallows.
It is interesting to note that although judge Watermeyer instructed that Charwe Nehanada 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 Mazoe which is based on eye-witness accounts of the First Chimurenga in the Mazowe area says categorically that: “Nyanda (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.
It’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 gaoler of Nehanda, one Patrick Hayden, who should in fact have hung her by the neck is also buried there.
On top of this, in that cemetery, there is a mass grave of Rhodesian soldiers who were killed in the First Chimurenga.
When one looks at the trials of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi who were tried for being the spirits behind Chimurenga, one is left without doubt these so called trials were fake.
One is tried for murder and within a month, found guilty and killed. Was this justice?

1 COMMENT

  1. The High priest at Mwari Shrine in Bulawayo is not mentioned. Was it not Mukwati Who walked all the way from Bulawayo to Harare. He was on a mission to mobilize the uprising against the white settlers. Was killed in Chiweshe. His group or entourage we compelled to depart back to Bulawayo. They hot pursued by the settler army who caught up with them somewhere near Chinhoyi. The white settler army demanded the where about of Mukwati. They informed them of his death in Chiweshe. They then demanded for Mukwati”s divine staff. They capture it and posted to England for detention. It was only realized to Zimbabwe recently

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