The Muchemwa, Munhuwepayi Nhohwe legacy: Part two


THIS week I had to dash to Unyetu with Yona’s supplies.
The roads have taken a battering from the incessant rains.
The road I used took me to close proximity of Rambakurimwa, Masasa, Dombo and Unyetu secondary schools.
These are schools where I can almost bet no one will get five ‘O’ Levels that include English and Mathematics.
Without which many are condemned to a life of toil.
This has been the case for quite some time now.
Roads and bridges are emotive issues in this district.
That is not the case with the quality of education.
This makes Mangwende Munhuwepayi, our hero this week, a ruler ahead of his time.
Last week we saw how the Nhohwe resistance to European rule collapsed with the Bokoto surrender on September 2 1898.
Efforts by Muchemwa to wage guerilla style acts of defiance also collapsed in 1903.
Thereafter the Nhohwe people became subjects of BSACo rule.
The Native Commissioner replaced Mangwende as the political authority in the Mangwende Reserve. The traditional capital of Mahopo and grave shrine were annexed from Mangwende reserve to complete, symbolically, the Nhohwe loss of political autonomy.
Mangwende Mungate II became just a symbolic ruler.
He was reduced to a mere spokesperson for his people, a useful link between the European and African populations.
Quite often he had to endure the humiliation of conveying and implementing policies that were patently against the wishes of the Nhohwe people.
However, Nhohwe ancestors appeared to have a plan in place to rescue their children.
Between 1905 and 1908 Muchemwa had sired a son during his final years in captivity at Murehwa Centre.
This son, Munhuwepayi, was raised by its mother and uncle, Gomba.
Munhuwepayi, despite being very intelligent, only did primary schooling.
He then worked as a police sergeant in Bindura, a golf caddy in Mrewa, a waiter with Rhodesia Railways and later as a bus conductor.
In 1936, upon the death of Mangwende Chibanda, the Native Commissioner Oliver nominated Munhuwepayi as the next Mangwende.
Oliver was an admirer of Munhuwepayi’s modern disposition.
Munhuwepayi was married to a well-educated woman, Helen.
With assistance from Helen, Munhuwepayi worked hard to improve his literacy levels.
He also managed to attend the Domboshava Government School of Agriculture.
Munhuwepayi became obsessed with the view that the Mangwende people could only regain their lost sovereignty through education and adoption of modern ways of socio-economic development.
On the face of it this seemed to make him an ally of the District Commissioner but he had other ideas.
In 1946 Native Commissioner Oliver allowed the establishment of a Mangwende Local Council whose mandate was to discuss and agree on development priorities in the Mangwende reserve.
It consisted of the Native Commissioner as Chairman, Mangwende as Vice-Chairman, Mangwende’s five sub-chiefs and several elected members.
This miniature legislative council was a halfhearted attempt by Oliver to introduce European style democracy in Mangwende reserve.
He expected to push through his development priorities without any opposition.
Munhuwepayi welcomed this opportunity to show Oliver where, in a democratic set up, power resided. He mobilised members of the council to vote against Oliver’s development proposals during council meetings.
The first clash was during implementation of the government cattle destocking exercise.
Mangwende demanded and won the right to implement the exercise ahead of Oliver.
He argued that as chief he had the knowledge and authority to ensure just implementation of the exercise.
Mangwende Munhuwepayi’s approach was humane as he ensured that widows and other vulnerable groups got insulated against this impoverishing exercise.
His approach won him many admirers such that the song, Mangwende waramba kudambura, became an anthem for the Nhohwe people.
Soon after the destocking issue, Mangwende again clashed with Oliver over the establishment of an Independent African Secondary School in the Mangwende Reserve.
Oliver wanted council to concentrate on construction and repair of roads and bridges while Munhuwepayi wanted top priority to be the establishment of an Independent Secondary School.
Oliver wanted the United Methodist to establish a secondary school, but Munhuwepayi wanted a secondary school controlled by the Nhohwe people.
Munhuwepayi had the majority of council members on his side.
During successive council meetings Munhuwepayi and his allies vetoed expenditure on roads and bridges arguing that people needed more education than roads and bridges.
This was at a time NDP and later ZAPU were recruiting heavily in the Mangwende Reserve. Munhuwepayi’s position resonated with ZAPU’s call for more schools as captured in the cry, Nkomo hatina zvikoro, Nkomo tinoda zvikoro.
Oliver finally lost patience with the Mangwende defiance and in 1961 Munhuwepayi was deposed as Mangwende for involvement in nationalist politics.
The Nhohwe people were devastated by the dethronement, an act that intruded into their traditions on Mangwende succession.
The clearest sign that they disapproved of Oliver’s interference with their chieftainship succession was when the Mukarakate house refused to nominate a Mangwende insisting the chieftainship was still in the Mungate house as Mangwende Munhuwepayi had not been procedurally deposed.
Munhuwepayi was indeed an NDP/ZAPU activist.
He was later detained at Gonakudzingwa and on his release was banished to a 25 kilometre radius of the then Salisbury.
He was not allowed to visit Mangwende reserve even during bereavements of relations.
He died in November 1988 and was buried at the Mahopo shrine.
History will remember Munhuwepayi as a nationalistic chief who sacrificed his personal interests to promote and protect those of his people.
He took Europeans in their own game and beat them hands down.
Unfortunately there were not many like him at the time.
Many chose to be stooges of the colonial regime as they pursued narrow personal interests.
Today Munhuwepayi, like his father Muchemwa, is missing in national chronicles and has no presence on the Mangwende landscape.
A landscape that celebrates Oliver’s victory in the form of the United Methodist’s Murehwa High School, Church of Christ’s Nhohwe Secondary School and Anglican Church’s Bernard Mizeki High School.
Is it too much to have expected my maternal uncles to do a harambe to build a Community Secondary School and name it after Munhuwepayi?
On my way back from Unyetu I found myself pondering, “do we have schools in Chikomba?”


  1. Thank you for this post. This is my family history. My father was the son of William Edwards and Chief Mangwende’s daughter. I remember chief Munhuwepayi Mangwende and visits to his house in Seke when I was a child. I always wanted to know why he didn’t ever visit us and what happened to his hand? My father said I asked too many questions for a small child….


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