When a cultural obsession becomes a farce


By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

A RECENT revelation that a South African-born and based great grandson of the last Ndebele King, Lobengula, was secretly crowned as King Lobengula the Second is an example of how an outdated cultural obsession can become a farce.
Bulelani Khumalo lives in South Africa’s Cape Province, and first featured in regional news a couple of years ago as the traditionally right successor of King Lobengula.
The announcement was made by some people who are well-nigh obsessed with the resuscitation of the Ndebele monarchy.
In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, another claimant, Peter Zwide kaLanga Khumalo, who has been campaigning for the same position for several years, and still contends that he, and not Bulelani, is the traditionally right successor of king Lobengula.
Bulelani Khumalo is said to be supported by the Ntabanzinduna Chief, Felix Nhlanhlayemangwe Khayisa Ndiweni, whose alleged involvement in the matter is questioned by Peter Zwide kaLanga on the ground that his own chief’s position is not officially recognised by his own brothers.
There is yet another claimant to the Ndebele kingship who says he is a descendant of Mzilikazi by another son and not Lobengula. He is demanding the keys to the Bulawayo State House because he claims to be the legitimate person to live in that official Government residence.
So, the tussle for the Zimbabwean Ndebele crown is three-pronged; one corner having already secretly crowned its claimant in the person of Bulelani Khumalo whose place of abode is South Africa, as has already been observed.
Lobengula was militarily defeated by Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company’s forces in November 1893 and he escaped across the Zambezi River to seek refuge from his cousin King Mpezeni Jele of the ‘Angonis’ in what is now Zambia’s Eastern Province.
The BSAC administration then immediately brought together the former Ndebele Kingdom with Mashonaland’s 32 chiefdoms to form what they named Southern Rhodesia, the last part of that name being an extended Latinised feminine form of ‘Rhodes’, in honour of the British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes.
Lobengula died near Lundazi in Mpezeni’s Kingdom in about 1920. In 1921 Ndebele, leaders in Bulawayo sent a seven-man delegation to go and pay their traditional last respects to King Mpezeni Jele. The Zimbabwean Ndebele throne has thus been vacant for 125 years.
A military uprising was launched first in Matabeleland in March 1896 and soon spread to Chiweshe, Mazowe, Mhondoro, Rusape, Marondera, Chinamhora, Mutoko, Murehwa and several other parts of Mashonaland, but was crushed by the BSAC military forces with the active participation of British troops.
Before the arrival of Mzilikazi and his militarised refugees between 1838 and 1840, the region now called Matabeleland was ruled initially by a Kalanga King, Tjibundule (Chibundule) Hhowu (Ndlovu) who was defeated and overthrown by a Rozwi (Lozi) group headed by a ‘Mambo’, a word which means king.
Successive mambos followed one another for about three to four centuries and covered a geographical territory that lay between the Mntotsie (Macloutsie) River (now in Botswana) and the Gwelo (Gweru) River in Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province.
To the south and south-east of that region, we find the Venda people from whose region the Rozvi are believed to have originated in the hazy, remote past.
In the west and centre were the Kalanga people while to the north were the Tonga and Nambya tribes.
The eastern reaches of that region were inhabited by the Karanga people, a tribe closely related in its origin and language to the Khalanga (BaKalanga).
Each of those tribes had its own traditional hereditary rulers, some of whose descendants are still in power up to now.
Mzilikazi’s people used their military power to impose their own chiefs and administrative system, replacing a large number of Venda, Kalanga, Tonga, Nambya and Karanga rulers in the process.
They, in turn, were defeated by the white colonial settlers as has already been stated above and their last king, Lobengula, fled to the north of the Zambezi River where he eventually died.
Meanwhile, the country’s history has been moving on, not separated as Mashonaland and Matabeleland but as one, Zimbabwe, with one Constitution.
A section that deals with the appointment, installation, role and remuneration of traditional hereditary leaders in that fundamental law has no provision for kings.
The most senior traditional hereditary position in Zimbabwe is that of a chief, followed by that of a headman, below which is that of a village head (sabhuku).
It is in that Zimbabwean constitutional context that Bulelani Khumalo’s so-called installation or coronation is a legal nullity, an occasion by culturally ambitious individuals signifying an internationally outdated institution.
Most of today’s nations are republics and not kingdoms. On the African continent, there are only three monarchies: Lesotho, Morocco and ESwathini (formerly Swaziland).
Of those three, two (Morocco and ESwathini), are absolute monarchies.
Lesotho’s case is a merely constitutionally retained cultural historical remnant, just like the British Crown, and is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers.
It would appear that people who support the revival or retention of monarchies psychologically live more in a relatively remote past than in the future.
Many of them revere ancestral spirits either consciously or unconsciously and see kings as well as other traditional hereditary leaders as living embodiments of particularly deceased rulers.
Theirs is a belief and, as such, is an inseparable part of their very psyches and lives. They are emotional and not rational about that archaic politico-cultural institution and are either unwilling or unable to compare objectively the perceived services given by a monarch to his/her subjects with the actual budgetary expenses incurred by the nation to maintain the monarchy.
In the case of ‘King’ Bulelani Khumalo’s position, not only is it an unconstitutional cultural creation, but he himself does not have a geographical territory he can realistically refer to as his kingdom.
The territory he can assume to be his kingdom comprises chiefdoms under some Nguni traditional leaders who sympathise with the revival of that defunct kingship.
That would make him a ‘king’ by sufferance rather than by constitutional legitimacy and right.
In the next instalment, we shall give a historical narration about how the Ndiwenis (who are a leading clan of the Amangwe) became involved in the chieftainship of the AmaNtungwa of Matshobana Khumalo’s lineage.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell
0734 328 136 or through email. sgwakuba@gmail.com


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here