By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
HAVING got rid of the man claiming to be Nkulumane, King Lobengula then concentrated on consolidating his power over the Ndebele Kingdom.
Mbiko Masuku and his pro-Nkulumane supporters had been either physically eliminated or forced to flee into exile, or to adopt new identities for their safety.
Many indigenous traditional leaders had been killed during an earlier period when Swazi military bands raided mambo’s territory.
Remnants of the mambo kingship had either later been neutralised by Mzilikazi’s warriors or were living in mountain retreats for fear of Nguni warriors.
In that kind of socio-cultural environment did King Lobengula strike his roots in a territory stretching from roughly where Kwekwe town is now located in the east, to the Mntoutsie River in the west in what is now Botswana.
That river is now known as the Macloutsie, and is south of Francistown.
To the north, Lobengula’s rule ended at the Victoria Falls, formerly named Shongwe Inotitima in TjiKalanga, and later as Mosi-oa-Tunya in SeSuthu of King Sebituane’s people Shongwe Inotitima means ‘the rock that thunders’, and Mosi-oa-Tunya means ‘the smoke that thunders’.
To the South, his Kingdom ended along the Limpopo River, among the Venda people. The Boers had seized the region on the southern side of that waterway which the Venda call ‘the Bembe’, and named it the South African Republic.
King Lobengula’s territory was secure but for two very worrying more or less common occurrences, which were visits by white concession-seekers, and those by white hunters who wanted permission to roam throughout the territory shooting elephants and rhinoceros for their ivory and hides.
They wanted crocodiles as well for their skins.
These two groups of white people posed a significant threat to the Ndebele Kingdom in that they studied the country’s geological characteristics and passed the information to their respective European governments, some leaders of whom had actually attended the 1884–85 Berlin Conference that divided the African continent among European states.
Hunters, such as Frederick Courtney Selous, were a security threat to the kingdom. Selous later served as a guide, first to the Pioneer Column in 1890, and later, in 1896, to a regiment, a part of which comprised a Bechuanaland Protectorate mounted Border Police.
That regiment did not see any action, however, as the military conflict ended when Cecil John Rhodes entered into discussions in the Matopo Hills with Ndebele leaders while he had just crossed the boarder from Bechuanaland into Southern Rhodesia
Another source of threat, this time that
of a cultural nature, were (Christian) missionaries. Both Mzilikazi and Lobengula actually realised that the Christian religion would culturally transform the Ndebele people, inculcating in them an element of pacifism plus a feeling of socio-cultural inferiority complex.
On one occasion, it is said, as the Rev Robert Moffat was preaching about God’s omnipresence, saying: “He is with you boys even while you are in the bush herding cattle,” Mzilikazi stood up and walked away, shouting: “Unamanga, unamanga, qeda lokho okukhulumayo uze uzolungisa inqola yami!” (You are lying, you are lying, finish what you are saying and come and repair my wagon!).
The reverend responded by saying that it was not he who was uttering those words, but they were in the Book. It is not surprising that missionaries were referred to by amaNdebele as ‘abantu bogwalo’ (people of the Book) and that whatever is in that Book is true and sacrosanct.
As for King Lobengula, in 1870, he first sent people to look for an area where the Rev John Boden Thomson could establish a mission station.
After they had come back with a report and the missionary was bidding the king farewell as he was about to leave for the area identified by those people, Mthombothemba (Hope Fountain), Lobengula remarked: “UNkulunkulu watshiya amaNdebele enjengo kubana enje isikhathi eside. Angiboni ukuthi usefuna ukuthi baguqulwe manje ngoba akula nto embi ngempilo yabo.”
“God left the Ndebele people as they are for a long time. I don’t think he now wants them to be converted.”
Rev Thomson responded as best as he could and the king relented.
It is of great historical significance to note that European governments plotted the forceful colonisation of Africa without any missionary raising a finger, but only for hundreds of them to flock to Africa to preach goodness and peace both before and after the Berlin Conference.
Theirs was a very strange example of misplaced priorities, that is, preaching peace to victims and not to aggressors, preaching righteousness to the innocent, and siding with the guilty, criminal, evil doers.
Christian missionaries should have been on the side of the colonised victims of oppression, those of displacement and dispossession, and certainly not on that of criminals.
What people like Sir Garfield Todd, a missionary himself, and quite a few others did during the liberation struggle was the right, Christian stance.
We now look again at how Lobengula tried to consolidate his power over the Ndebele state. Because it was primarily a military state, he created an additional 10 regiments after he became king. Added to Mzilikazi’s 43, that brought to 53 regiments the total number of the Ndebele Kingdom’s army.
The regiments formed by Lobengula were Imbizo, Ingubo, ISiziba, Ihlathi, Insukamini, Insizwa, Umcijo, Amankanyezi, UM’hoqo and iBulawayo.
Regiments differed from one another by the colour of their shields, and also, but to a much less extent, by their ethnic composition.
Members of the Amapukutwane regiment, which was created by Mzilikazi, were all indigenous young men, and so were the Amankanyezi and the uM’hoqo regiments.
Regiment commanders were almost invariably descendants of Nguni parentage.
However, a few regiments were under the command of men of ‘abeNhla’ extraction, a reference to those whose geographical origins were in the northern reaches of what we now call KwaZulu-Natal. Indigenous were invariably referred to as ‘amahole’, people on the lowest rung of the then Ndebele socio-cultural ladder.
This classification is disputed by some traditional Kalanga social anthropologists who say at the bottom of that social scale were the San, amaSili, what are now generally called abaTwa by most people. At that time, abaTwa meant Pygmies and not amaSili, formerly Bushmen in English.
King Lobengula clearly appreciated the security threats surrounding his territory which his father had divided into four large military provinces: Igapa which covered the western part of the present Matobo District, southern reaches of the Bulawayo