By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
THOSE heading the national revolution were by and large traditional leaders, that is chiefs and headmen and other aides.
Among the chiefs who played prominent roles in that historic uprising were Mashayamombe and Nyamweda of Mhondoro Reserve, Makoni of Rusape, Hwata, Chiweshe and other traditional leaders in what are now called Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central provinces.
Among spiritual leaders who closely guided the development in those two regions was Mbuya Nehanda whose strong influence was over a Mazowe District region called Gomba.
A great deal of armed activity occurred in that area and affected Salvation Army missionaries, miners and farmers who had displaced indigenous people by grabbing their land.
Another very influential spiritual leader was Sekuru Kaguvi who lived and operated in the Mhondoro Reserve.
Aged about 40 years at that time, Sekuru Kaguvi led armed raids into neighbouring white-occupied areas such as Norton, named after Joseph Norton, an early English settler who had seized a 17 000-acre chunk of land which he called ‘Porta Farm’ some 30km west of Salisbury (Harare).
Joseph Norton was killed near Chief Nyamweda’s palace on June 17 1896 and a group of guerillas, ostensibly led by Sekuru Kaguvi, later raided Porta Farm and liquidated the entire three-member Norton family and two white male assistants inside or near the farm house.
The Ndebele guerillas went for white settler-farmers and traders in the rural areas, but spared the missionaries in keeping with King Lobengula’s instructions to his warriors not to harm ‘these vessels’: ‘Lingabulali izitsha lezi’ (Don’t destroy these vessels).
There were, however, attempts to harm some of the missionaries at such places as Empandeni and Dombodema.
But the lives of the men of the cloth were saved by local people. That was the case with the Dombodema Misson’s Reverend George Cullen Harvey Reed who was secretly led away from the mission station to be hidden at the Luswingo Ruins to the north of the mission, while his cattle were driven to the south.
The Ndebele guerillas, commanded by Qhugwana Habangana, followed the cattle spoor and eventually found the livestock but minus the missionary.
Rev Reed was rescued by a two-man mounted contingent from the Bulawayo laager some three or so months later.
The uprising gained much momentum in both Mashonaland and Matabeleland.
In the former Ndebele Kingdom, virtually every white person was in one or other laager at one of the urban centres.
Mission stations, such as Hope Fountain, went up in smoke after missionaries had moved Bulawayo for safety.
There was a well co-ordinated armed campaign in the Gomba region of the Mazowe Valley where Mbuya Nehanda was inspiring contingents trained and commanded by a former ‘Black Watcher’ named Masvi Nyandoro.
Salvation Army missionaries and white miners had sent save-our-souls (SOS) messages to Salisbury and literally desperate efforts were then taken to bring every white person from that region to the Salisbury laager.
Every horse rider, every wagonette, every bicycle rider travelling along the Mazowe-Salisbury Road had to pass through volleys of bullets from either the towering rocky outcrops or from the much nearer tall roadside elephant grass in which lay hidden one or other of Masvi Nyandoro’s armed guerillas, their spiritual and moral guide, Mbuya Nehanda, giving orders through her personal messenger, a Mandaza, hiding in relative safety in one of the kopjes’ roomy caves, but within earshot of what was going on.
A relatively large number of white settlers were killed in those historic skirmishes, and so were patriots and innocent black civilians murdered by white mercenaries in retaliation for their own casualities.
A more or less similar scenario was unfolding along the Salisbury – Chishawasha Roman Catholic Mission Road where on June 18 1896, Father Bihler rode into town.
He returned and was accompanied by Lieutenant Guipratte, a British South Africa Company (BSAC) mercenary, but originally a French army officer.
They were under instructions from Justice Vintcent to bring every white person to the Salisbury laager.
Some white people had arrived overnight from Enterprise Mine.
A group, headed by Father Richartz, also of Chishawasha, had to leave for Salisbury through a hail of fire from the Mhembere Village cluster of huts.
After their departure, some Chishawasha Mission buildings were burnt down by the patriots.
Meanwhile, a mercenary contingent known as the Natal Volunteers, had arrived from South Africa.
Their initial destination was Bulawayo, but were diverted to Mashonaland to deal with the worsening situation there as Chief Makoni and his people had also picked up the cudgels and made the Salisbury-Umtali (Mutare) Road impassable.
Cecil John Rhodes was on his way from Cape Town to Bulawayo, so were a number of British military officers sent to come and take charge of the entire military operations.
The BSAC had embarked on a scorched-earth campaign to destroy crops in all the Matabeleland fields.
By October-November 1896, the Ndebele patriots were without a morsel of food and the usual regional drought was threatening.
The BSAC’s financial situation was showing serious signs of distress, what with Dr Leander Starr Jameson’s abortive raid on the Rand and now this unexpected uprising.
For its part, the British Government was willing to lend a hand by way of military personnel provided Rhodes footed the bill.
It was a combination of these factors that led to the historic Matopo Indaba. Both warring parties were in dire straits and a solution was most urgently needed.
However, the white settlers in the laagers were more assured of seeing tomorrow as they had food supplies than most Ndebele warriors in some of whose communities starvation had reached alarming levels, resulting in cannibalism in some areas, such as the Solusi Mission.
Physical distance, coupled with security considerations, made consultations between the Matabeleland and the Mashonaland patriots impossible.
Rhodes seized that strategic opportunity with both hands to convene a conference to hammer out some peace terms with the Ndebele guerilla leaders.
But in Mashonaland, he deployed more and more BSAC and British armed forces to round up as many patriots as possible, including Mbuya Nehanda, her messenger Mandaza, her military commander Masvi Nyandoro and her spiritual colleague, Sekuru Kaguvi.
Mbuya Neyanda successfully absolved her messenger Mandaza during their trial and he was duly freed.
She told the court that Mandaza only did her bidding and was not responsible for whatever he did.
But Masvi Nyandoro plotted with other prisoners to escape from jail.
However, he secretly informed jail guards about the plan.
When the time to execute the plan arrived, all those involved, except Masvi Nyandoro, were arrested and were later hanged.
He was freed!
Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were hanged on orders of the High Court of Matabeleland which read: In the High Court of Matabeleland. To the Sheriff of the Territory of Rhodesia, within the limits of the Matabeleland Order in Council of the 18 July 1894, or his lawful Deputy, Greeting:
The Queen against Nianda in custody:
“Whereas it appears of the Record that at a Criminal Session of the High Court, holden before Mr Justice Watermeyer at Salisbury on the second Day of March in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Ninety eight the above named Nianda (Nehanda) was duly convicted of the Crime of Murder and was sentenced by the Judgement of the said Court to be hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution and at such time as His Honours the Administrator should be pleased to appoint.
“And whereas it also appears of Record that His Excellency the High Commissioner has duly authorised and approved of the execution….”
The court was then referred to as the court of Matabeleland as stated above to emphasise that the BSAC had actually defeated the Ndebele Kingdom and was using its official name as that of its new acquired territory.
The reader will note that the court was located in Salisbury and not in Bulawayo.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. email@example.com