A NDEBELE song goes: “UNkulunkulu wasidala ngamandla.” This is the sum total of Ndebele religion and all else in matters of their religion derives from this.

To think that this is simplistic would be mistaken due to lack of understanding. There are other religions, eg Judaism, Christianity, Islam and others whose basic tenet is that there is a God who created men and everything that there is and all religious activities are meant to please and appease this God. Where is God?

Somewhere out there. Out there where – in the sacred mountains, in the deep dark forests, in the secret river ravines, in the deep seas – please, where? A, wena ugangile, umbuzo onjalo kawubuzwa. Uvele ufunelani ukwazi?

Jews and Christians will quickly point to the sky, up there beyond of beyond the sky. Really? Both the Jews and Christians share an interesting story of a man named Enock who, because he was good, God allowed him to drive his horse chariot to heaven up there! Today it would be a Mercedes-Benz.

Christians allege that Jesus Christ was simply lifted bodily into the sky to join His Father in Heaven somewhere up there.

The Ndebele will point the opositive direction elizweni labaphansi, somewhere beneath the earth. Do not ask too many questions.

Religion is not science. You do not need proof. All you need is to say yes it is so. However, this is not to say that religion is blind. Christians insist that all that is needed for you to be a good child of God is to believe.

The Ndebele have no unbelief, not to believe is untenable. That is why the Ndebele people did not have believers and non-believers.

To be an unbeliever was not to exist. You knew it that God lived in the underworld where your dead fathers went to and continue to exist there all time. In this sense Ndebele religion accommodated the concept of eternity with the accompanying element of everlasting joy and pleasure. Bathi abeNguni imibuso kwelabaphansi mithi (lifting up three fingers): Inyama, utshwala, abafazi.

So, according to the Ndebele, God has His abode somewhere there in the underworld, but whether or not he actually lives with the departed people and shares their joys nobody knows. The trouble is that when you die you take (or are given) a one-way ticket.

Nobody has ever come back from the land (of spirits) of the dead to report what life is like down there. You see, the logic of the Ndebele is that when you are being buried after death you are being put on your way down. The journey may be long and hazardous and that is why a man is buried with his spears, axes and other tools and a woman with pots and mats for cooking along the way.

Christianity looks at it differently. Man has an indwelling spirit inside him which is part of the self as long as you are alive. As soon as you die, the spirit quickly departs from the body. What is buried is the rotting flesh only. The spirit is indestructible.

But where does it go when it leaves the corporate body? There is Biblical inconsistency here (don’t raise your eyebrows). In the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus. Lazarus died and went to live in spiritual (physically) luxury with Father Abraham.

This is Jesus’ story, unless you say it was only an illustration. Read especially form John you end up with the impression that good people die and go up to join their Lord Jesus in God’s heaven.

Surprisingly, the Pauline version teaches that there is a long waiting period, and more surprisingly, in the grave where the physical body was long decomposed. Only when Jesus Christ is coming back for the second time will the graves open up and “the dead in Christ shall rise”, to meet their Lord in the sky. Well, which is which?

Christian theologians will want to tear me to pieces for raising this matter. They vehemently refuse to see the inconsistency in all this.

Not so in the Ndebele religion. There are no religious controversies or inconsistencies. God is one supreme being and cannot be divided (no sons, no wives, no anything) as is believed in some religions. Like in many other religions God in Ndebele is invisible.

He has never been seen. He stepped forward in the dim past to create man and other things and then withdrew into the unknown. He was seen by nobody else except by Himself when he did these things. One can only glean a hazy picture of the Ndebele cosmology.

One cannot say or deny whether God has a head and legs. But the overall impression is that the Ndebele people regarded God as an immaterial spiritual being.

Some people have charged that the Ndebele God was inactive and, therefore, of not much help to His people. Yes, in comparison with the Hebrew God who interacted personally with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and many others. But in later Hebrew times He withdrew and interacted through other human agencies – the priests, the prophets, and so on. Thus had begun a dispensation of a go-between.

If this concept is understood properly the Ndebele people are more at home with the idea of a go-between. Izangoma, izanuse and other spirit mediums were part and parcel of the worship system and a means of interaction between God and His people.

A wrong notion was built up by white missionaries and strangely is being promoted by the black Christians of the Evangelical churches, especially those of Pentecostal persuasion, that Africans generally and, therefore, the Ndebele also, worshipped their ancestors.

This claim can be made only out of ignorance and by closing one’s mind to the truth. It will be explained in a later article that the Ndebele (and other African peoples) worshipped God through their ancestors. This is the medium theory which Jesus projected in John that God can be accessed only through Him.

A discussion of the Ndebele religion cannot be complete without talking about the Kalanga/Nyubi Ngwali region. In a very short time it became weaved into the matrix of the Ndebele way of life spiritually and physically uniting the Nguni, the Kalanga/Nyubi, the Sotho, the Venda, the Tonga and Nambya into one strong political unity.

This uniting religion calls for a new definition of the title Ndebele.

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