Untold story of First Chimurenga heroes


TO many Zimbabweans, Professor Terence Ranger will be remembered as someone who contributed immensely to the documentation of Zimbabwean history in particular, and African history in general.
The historian rose to fame through his seminal book publications from the 1960s and key among them include Revolt in Southern Rhodesia 1896-97. 
By examining the First Chimurenga of 1896-97 against British colonial rule, Ranger illustrated the underlying factors of African culture and political system which they were prepared to defend by force of arms against intrusive white influences.
His chronicle of the First Chimurenga’s foremost military strategist Chief Chinengundu Mashayamombe and how between June and July 1896 the Rhodesia army suffered several military defeats at the hands of Chief Mashayamombe.
In their own words, the settlers admitted Chief Mashayamombe’s military might.
One of the oral sources McGregor who was involved in one of the battles said:
“The battle raged for three days, but the Pioneers could not dislodge Mashayamombe.
“The biggest force to fight the war was at Mashayamombe, but we could not defeat him. We had more casualties than the natives.”
The war dragged on deep into 1897 when Chief Mashayamombe was finally conquered by the BSAP in July.
Zimbabweans have been bombarded with books written by European historians who have deliberately downplayed and diluted the achievements of African warriors.
For example, Chief Chingaira Makoni, apart from being a great military strategist and a pain for the colonialists who he evaded for months and defeated on numerous fronts, he is mostly remembered for his death rather than his military prowess.
Most historical accounts always focus on the execution and the transfer of the slain warrior’s head to Westminster Abbey in London as most historians deliberately ignore the military prowess of Chingaira.
However, through Ranger, we now know that Chingaira was a great military strategist who killed 372 settlers, a tenth of the settler population of that time.
Ranger also chronicled the legendary story of Chief Kadungure Mapondera who refused to tolerate white rule.
The story begins with an alleged concession that Mapondera entered into with the British hunter Frederick Selous that purported the Mazowe Valley territory was British, to keep the Portuguese out.
Just like King Lobengula and Cecil John Rhodes’Rudd Concession.
Ranger, however, gave a comprehension of events that followed after the occupation of the Mazowe territory.
Chief Mapondera refused to subordinate himself to white rule so he moved from Mazowe Valley towards the east where he joined Chief Makombe to fight the Portuguese.
However, Mapondera returned to Mazowe in 1899 after the executions of Nehanda, Kaguvi, Makoni, Mashonganyika, Hwata, Chiduku and Svosve and started his own war to avenge the death of his comrades.
He fought running battles with armed patrols of the Pioneer Column and was driven deep into Mount Darwin.
His most spectacular military operation was the storming of the British South Africa Company administrative centre at Mount Darwin in 1901.
He envisaged that once he took Mt Darwin, he would send messages to other Shona chiefs to the south to rise once again against white occupation and rule.
However, he was defeated and he retreated into Tavara territory, but continued his raids from across the border.
But when the Portuguese eventually occupied the Tavara territory, Mapondera had nowhere to go.
Dejected, he returned to Mazowe in August 1903 and shortly afterwards was arrested.
He was sentenced to seven years with hard labour, but he refused the humiliation and instead went on a hunger strike and died.
It was the defiant story of Kadungure Mapondera that finally closed the bloody chapter of the First Chimurenga.
Not only did Ranger illustrate the African political system, but he also highlighted the critical role of religion and spirituality during the First Chimurenga.
Historians have depicted the African religion as evil and demonised, the same brush also paints the spirit mediums and ancestral spirits.
There has also been distortions that Mukwati was a spirit medium like Mbuya Nehanda and Kaguvi.
He was not.
Mukwati was a Nyusa, a high priest, a messenger who shuttled between God and the people.
Because of his strategic position he occupied and nature of the duties, it was inevitable that he would mobilise people during the First Chimurenga.
During the Ndebele Umvukela (uprisings) Mkwati assumed the spiritual commander position that was just as important as the military field commanders possessed.
Mukwati wanted to win the war against the white settlers by reviving the dead Rozvi state, however, on July 5 1896 his Ntabazikamambo station now Ntabazinduma was attacked by Cecil John Rhodes.
Mukwati escaped to Matonjeni, Matopos.
And when he was followed at Matopos, he escaped to Somabhula in Gwelo, but was pursued.
Mukwati headed for Mashayamombe where he linked up with Kaguvi and together decided to install a Rozvi paramount chief who would build a force that cut across all Shona chieftainships to fight the white man.
But the white settlers were on full alert, and he was pursued.
Mukwati escaped to the north of the country into Korekore land where he finally met his death.
Ranger drew on a wide range of archival and oral sources to argue that the history of African peasants in Zimbabwe produced a specific consciousness unlike peasant role in Mau Mau or in the war in Mozambique.



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