The executions of Nehanda and our ancestors


WHEN you know the hanging of our ancestors you understand why we are still a spiritual colony of Britain.
This is so because true liberation is spiritual.
It is fought on the religious front.
We have given up the spiritual struggle.
We have embraced the white men’s religion.
We are baptised in their name as their children.
They preside over our bodies and send our souls to their heaven or hell when we die.
We leave our children in their care as guardians of their souls.
Real freedom cannot be sustained on the basis of a religion that took part in sending our ancestors to the gallows and deprived us of our heritage.
Below is an account of the hanging of our ancestors and the role of the church in preparing them for their death and spiritual defeat.
It comes from A History of Christian Missions in Zimbabwe by C.J.M. Zvobgo.
According to Catholic priest, Fr Richartz’s eyewitness account, the leaders of the Ndebele and Shona risings, Kagubi, Nehanda, Mashonganyika and lesser-known figures were sentenced to death and others to long prison terms.
Kagubi, “the leader of the Mashona rebels was sentenced to death for ordering the murder of a native who had been employed by white men”.
With him were Nehanda, the most famous heroine of Mazoe and eleven others.
Richartz visited them on several occasions in their cells prior to their execution and spoke to them of their approaching death.
He exhorted them to listen to his instructions and “make a good end”.
All of them “hoped against hope that they would regain their liberty or that at least their sentence would be commuted to penal servitude”.
“During the first days, I used to instruct the condemned prisoners together except Kagubi and Nehanda who were kept separated from the others.
“The other eleven seemed to like what I told them, but Kagubi refused to listen to me.
“As soon as I began to speak about religious subjects, he would say, ‘Go to the others; I refuse.’”
Kaguvi attempted to bribe Richartz to secure his freedom.
“He promised me 10 herd of cattle if I could get his sentence changed.”
On Monday April 25 1898 Richartz returned.
Dziribi, Kagubi’s daughter, a pupil at Chishawasha, wanted to see her father before his death. Richartz asked for permission for her from the Acting Magistrate and called her to town on Tuesday April 26.
She arrived in the afternoon with her sister, Likande.
Richartz went with them and a Christian boy, Victor, to the prison and talked with Kagubi who had given him in the morning some hope of changing his mind.
“The conversation with Kagubi during which Victor and Dziribi did their best to induce him to yield to my instructions and receive baptism had the good result that Kagubi promised to do as they asked.
“When the children had gone I talked with him alone and he assented and even asked me to promise him that he should not die without having been instructed and baptised by me.”
The gaoler had asked Richartz in the morning to inform Kagubi, Nehanda, Mashonganyika and Muzampi, that they were to be executed the following morning.
Kagubi “showed fear and began to cry”,
Mashonganyika and Muzampi took the news “quietly”.
Richartz did not talk with Nehanda until evening “in order to avoid a scene”.
When he saw her in the evening at about 6 o’clock, in the presence of Victor who “tried his best to persuade her to listen to me” and told her she would die the following morning, “she began to behave like a mad woman.
“She took her blankets and wished to leave the cell, and when told to remain and keep quiet, she refused and said she never would endure to be locked up.”
“When we saw that nothing could be done with her I went away with Victor, and Nehanda began to dance, to laugh and talk, so that the warders were obliged to tie her hands and watch her continually, as she threatened to kill herself.”
On Wednesday April 27 Richartz tried again to speak with Nehanda and “bring her to a better frame of mind, but she refused, called for her people and wanted to go back to her own country, Mazoe, and die there, and behaved as she had done the night before”.
“When I saw that nothing could be done with her, the time for the execution having arrived, I left Nehanda and went to Kagubi who received me in good dispositions.
“While I was conversing with him, Nehanda was taken out to the scaffold.
“Her cries and resistance when she was taken up the ladder, the screaming and yelling on the scaffold disturbed my conversation with Kagubi very much, till the noisy opening of the trapdoor upon which she stood, followed by the heavy thud of her body as it fell, made an end to the interruption.”
Thus ended the life of Nehanda, the most celebrated heroine of the Shona rising.
Meanwhile, Richartz continued to instruct Kagubi.
“Though very much frightened, Kagubi listened to me and repeated that he would no longer refuse to receive baptism.”
After Kagubi made the necessary acts of faith, “I baptised him and gave him “the name of the good thief, ‘Dismas’, with whom he was to share the great blessing of forgiveness in the hour of death.”
Richartz promised him again that he would take care of his family.
After he had given him “some suitable exhortations to die well and to continue making acts of faith and repentance”, the hangman came and did his duty.
“Kagubi did not give the least trouble or make any lamentations.
“He died as he had been told the evening before by Victor to die, quiet and resigned, and, I hope, in good dispositions.”
Mashonganyika and Muzampi “were very well disposed.
“When I entered the cell of the former, he rose and saluted me in a very friendly and cheerful manner and answered all my questions very satisfactorily.
“He asked me to look after his children and tell them that he was dead.
“I baptised him John Edward. He died quietly.”
Muzampi was “more difficult to prepare” but he listened to Richartz’s exhortations, “taking his death willingly”, and he baptised him Peter Canisius.
After some time had elapsed and the last body had been taken down and placed with the others in the gaol hospital and inspected by the authorities, they were all covered up and Richartz conducted the funeral service.
In the afternoon Richartz visited the remaining nine prisoners and found them “excited and restless in consequence of the executions in the morning, and indisposed to listen to instruction”. He left them alone and proposed to keep Victor at the gaol and see them the next day.
On the morning of Thursday April 28 1898 Richartz went with Victor to the gaol and talked with four prisoners Maremba, Ndowa, Zvidembo and Gundusa who were to be executed on Friday April 29.
Victor “very fluently” repeated Richartz’s instructions, “removed their doubts and difficulties, and in the end they seemed well disposed and willing to die as children of God”.
In the afternoon, Richartz saw them again and found them fully determined to do what they had promised in the morning and were ‘glad’ when he assured them that they would certainly not die before he had instructed and baptised them.
He saw them again in the afternoon and they listened ‘readily’ to his instructions.
On the morning of Friday April 29 1898, Richartz arrived at the prison at about 5.20 and had ample time to talk to the four men.
They were “quiet and resigned and clearly expressed their wish to be baptised and go to heaven” .
He baptised Maremba, Joseph Peter (Martyr); Ndowa, Joseph Barnabas; Zvidembo, Joseph Thaddeus; and Gundusa, Joseph Thomas.
All of them, especially the last two, “died quietly and with resignation”.
While they were being executed, Richartz conducted prayers for them and afterwards, the burial prayers over their dead bodies in the prison hospital.
Mvenuri, Mashindu, Munyongani and Chirisere were executed on Monday, May 2.
Richartz succeeded in persuading the last two to be baptised.
The other two “flatly refused”.
Fr Richartz has left a legacy for us of using the white man’s religion to preside over the burial of our heroes and send their souls to the white man’s heaven or is it hell?
Who says we are not a spiritual colony of Britain?
Next week we discuss the executions in Bulawayo.


  1. This information is very important. I did not know all this and many people are not aware of this part of our painful history. Where were these heroes buried? What was the name of the person who was executing?

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