Rise of BaKalanga

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Recently in Luswingo, Plumtree

ABOUT 40km north of Plumtree Town lies a sacred place in Tokwana Village, Bulilima District, called Luswingo. 

Originally called Ntandabagwana, the place is similar to Khami, Bumbusi, Great Zimbabwe, Ziwa, Matendera and Mataletale, among other stone-walled monuments dotted in Southern Africa.

Lying on a hill by the banks of Thekwane River, the heritage site is the cradle of BaKalanga culture. 

A successful and thrilling cultural festival was recently held there. 

Running under the theme, ‘Totjebuka kule kwatinobva tilumbidza patimile, tibaka lamangwana’ (Honouring our past, celebrating the present and building the future) the Luswingo Kalanga Cultural Festival drew people from all over Zimbabwe and beyond our borders. 

But then there was something interesting The Patriot observed in Luswingo. 

BaKalanga are ‘rising’ and reclaiming what is rightfully theirs as a people. 

For long, the history of how BaKalanga were downtrodden, disempowered and humiliated, particularly by the Nguni and the British, in their own land has seemingly been ignored, but it’s time the story is told. 

No doubt TjiKalanga, as a language, was suffocated over the years and Kalanga chiefs were reduced to headmen by the powers that were then.  

The story of BaKalanga and how they were ill-treated by the Nguni and the British reminds one of the following little story currently making rounds on social media:  

“Once Hitler came to one meeting with a live chicken. 

He started to pluck its feathers off one by one.

The chicken quacked in pain, blood oozing from its pores. 

It gave out heartbreaking cries but Hitler continued without remorse, plucking feather after feather until the chicken was completely naked. 

After that, he threw the chicken on the ground and from his pockets, took out some chicken feed and started to throw it at the poor creature. 

It started eating and as he walked away, the chicken followed him and sat at his feet feeding from his hand.

Hitler then told members of his party: ‘This chicken represents the people. 

You must disempower them, brutalise them, beat them up and leave them. 

If you do this and then give them peanuts when they are in that helpless and desperate situation, they will blindly follow you for the rest of their life. 

They will think you are a hero forever. 

They will forget that, it is you who brought them to that situation in the first place’.”

Is the assertion that BaKalanga have, over the years, been blindly following the people who disempowered them true? 

To unpack this question, we must go back in history. 

According to Bulawayo-based journalist and anthropologist, Saul Gwakuba-Ndlovu, it is important to note that the history of BaKalanga goes way back before the Ndebele came to Zimbabwe around 1838. 

It was a time when BaKalanga were ruled by one Tjibundule who was eventually conquered by the Rozvi. 

TjiKalanga, however, remained a dominant cultural factor and their (BaKalanga) God (Mwali/Mwari) an important national uniting and guiding voice.

When the Ndebeles arrived around 1838 with the first group led by Mncumbatha Khumalo and in 1840 with the last group led by King Mzilikazi, they found the Mambo Empire (Rozvi) more-or-less dormant. 

It is said there were a few pockets of resistance here and there before King Mzilikazi took over the region and he went on to rule undisturbed from 1840 until his death on September 9 1868. 

His son Lobengula was officially installed in March 1870 and his decisions would later change the course and destiny of BaKalanga. 

According to Gwakuba-Ndlovu, King Lobengula started replacing numerous Kalanga chiefs who had not been removed by his father King Mzilikazi. 

It is said when he (King Lobengula) was overthrown by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in November 1893, the company reinstated a few Kalanga chiefs and appointed non-Ngunis to security positions, especially in the British South Africa Police (BSAP), calling them ‘black watchers’.

And as Gwakuba-Ndlovu said:“One of the complaints of the Ngunis, in 1896, before the Ndebele uprisings, was that they could not tolerate their former ‘slaves’ overseeing them as police officers.” 

Therefore, said Gwakuba-Ndlovu, for Cecil John Rhodes to create peace between his company administration and Nguni-led rebels, he promised ‘to do something’ about it. 

He, however, did not fulfill his promise until he died on March 26 1902 at the age of 49. 

Some of his promises were fulfilled only later when a number of Kalanga chiefs were removed and replaced by Nguni chiefs. 

In circulars from the Native Commissioner’s office in Plumtree, Kalanga chiefs were reduced to headmen. 

And with Nguni chiefs at the helm, the British could have it their way. 

A classic example is Chief Ndiweni, who took over from Chief Masendu, and ruled across Thekwane River at Luswingo. 

An area called Osabeni was also under Chief Ndiweni, aka ‘Mphini’. 

It is said, in 1944, Chief Ndiweni was called to Plumtree by the Native Commissioner who advised him that there was need to recruit locals to help the Queen (British) fight the Germans in the Second World War and that the Queen would handsomely thank him.  

Gwakuba-Ndlovu said Chief Ndiweni asked: “How are you going to thank me?” 

And the Native Commissioner replied: “How would you like to be thanked?” 

Chief Ndiweni requested that if the Queen won the war, she must give his sons (Wase, Bhidi and Ndabakayena) land and in addition, ‘remove all Kalanga chiefs’. 

True to her word, Chief Ndiweni was granted his demands when Germany was defeated.  

To date, there is an anomaly whereby there are areas with Ndebele chiefs instead of Kalanga chiefs. 

Notable areas include, Kuwana, Tjingababili, Gonde and Hekwa. 

Pundits contend this anomaly of ‘misplaced chiefs’ should have been corrected at independence in 1980. 

However, some BaKalanga have been found wanting in this regard. 

One Kalanga elder argued many BaKalanga felt happier when they were associated culturally with the Ndebele, including some elderly people who went to the extent of slitting their ears, a custom associated with the Ndebele. 

BaKalanga seemed to have ‘forgotten’ their past, or had they? 

Just like the little story of the chicken, Gwakuba-Ndlovu observes that: “The practice of associating with someone who has not only disempowered or conquered you is called ‘protective social docility’, a practice adopted by most defeated people in the world, slaves included.” 

In fact, most Zimbabweans are guilty as charged in this regard. Having been colonised by the British and years after independence, Zimbabweans still give their children English names and value the English culture, language and norms. 

What happened to our Goremusandus, Tichafas, Thembalamis, Babongiles, Rudos and Nothandos? 

What happened to our pungwes, dariros and biras

When was the last time we had a massive rain-asking ceremony that attracts the attention of the whole nation?

What swallowed our identity as blacks and how did we forget our Mlimo/Mwari, opting for the Bible and a white Jesus we literally know nothing about? 

African children grow up being told: ‘Jerusalem is their sweet home’. 

God forbid!

But back to BaKalanga. 

The fight for the restoration of Kalanga chiefs began in 2007 with the installation of Chiefs Madhlambuzi, Kandana, Masendu, Hobhodo and Tjankuluba. 

However, the push for the restoration of all Kalanga chiefs continues and House of Assembly Member for Bulilima West, who is also the Deputy Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services, Cde Dingumuzi Phuti, insists the restoration of all Kalanga chiefs is long overdue. 

Said Cde Phuti: “The restoration of Kalanga chiefs is long overdue. 

“Actually it is gross violation of rights when a people are made to face gross mutilation of their culture while their language is suffocated.”

Cde Phuti emphasised the need for equal participation of all languages, Kalanga included, in the media, schools and in all public spheres countrywide. 

The rise of BaKalanga, he said, does not only rest with the restoration of chiefs. 

“The pace is not only led by chiefs,” said Cde Phuti. 

“A clamour for appropriate representation is driven by people who air and claim what is rightfully theirs. 

“Kalanga chiefs countrywide must be restored now! 

“How can they continue to face humiliation from white settlers and continue to face the same to date. 

“Who then is the custodian of their culture? 

“Restore Kalanga chiefs and restore the legacy and purpose of rain shrines and see if Zimbabwe will not thrive.”

Indeed, the history of Zimbabwe would be incomplete if BaKalanga are not duly recognised as custodians of the cradle of Zimbabwean religion and culture. 

After all, the acropolis of Zimbabwean spirituality, Matonjeni/Njelele, is there in Matobo, Matabeleland South.

The time for BaKalanga to rise is now!

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