Nehanda missed a golden chance to claim uncontested glory

Just in case readers have concluded that Maxwell Zimuto’s frivolous comment about the Jameson Line represents an historical fact, rather than a mere political statement, I must respond to his comments, which were provoked by my recent article published in the Southern Eye, while I was out of the country.

Jonathan Maphenduka

Let me start by expressing amazement that Zimuto took it upon himself to take up the cudgels with me over an article that addressed British duplicity over Mthwakazi’s self-determination case. The British must have immensely enjoyed themselves on reading his reaction.

While there is a discernible conciliatory tone on the need to forget the past, some of Zimuto’s political aberrations can only be described as contemptible in the extreme.

I will deal with them later in this article. You cannot promote a spirit of reconciliation by burying your head in sand to deny blood-letting against unarmed sections of the population. Any attempt to gloss over such episodes helps only to harden the feelings of the victims.

As for his assertion about the Jameson Line and protectorate status of Mashonaland after the occupation, let me recommend to him the Cambridge History of the British Empire, A2/1/2 pages 516 and 522 of the Colonial Office Archives, Volume 426 of Africa South Series. He may also care to read Peter Baxter’s revealing book, Rhodesia, Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890 – 1980.

Reference to Munhumutapa’s kingdom is totally irrelevant because no one in his sober senses will challenge the fact that it extended to the limits mentioned by Zimuto.

We are not concerned about its extent and the natural glory that went with it. Another irrelevant offer from Zimuto is his reference to the tragic fate of Nyenyezi and Mhlaba’s family.

No one wants to pretend that Lobengula was an angel, and one can go so far as to state that he was lucky he lived in the 19th century. I must state that the two men were entitled to save their own skin, even if this turned them into collaborators with the settlers who committed genocide against their own people.

Zimuto quotes Lobengula as denying the existence of the Jameson Line. Long before 1890, Lobengula’s kingdom extended to the present-day boundary with Mozambique.

After the occupation of Mashonaland in September 1890, Lobengula was denied by the settlers the right to include in his jurisdiction the lands beyond what became the Jameson Line.

It called by this name because Leander Starr Jameson enforced its acceptance by Lobengula through the use of precision arms of war.

It is, therefore, understandable, therefore, that he was forced to recognise the Jameson Line created by an enemy who was armed to the teeth with modern and rare arms of war.

Once Jameson had sufficiently asserted his authority on the boundary line, Mashonaland, on May 9, 1891, became a British protectorate by an Order in Council of the British Parliament.

On February 11, 1888 King Lobengula put his mark and affixed his seal to the document known in history as the Moffat Treaty. In its preamble it reads: “I Chief Lobengula of the tribe known as AmaNdebele, together with the Mashona and Makalaka (MaKalanga) tributaries, …”

What is important is that the king thought he was ushering in “peace and amity” with Her Britannic Majesty.

The treaty worked to Rhodes’ advantage, while he planned war against Mthwakazi, actively supported by British representatives in both Cape Town and Bechuanaland. This episode explains the king’s standoff with Sir Henry Loch.

The event known in history as the Victoria incident came a few months before the invasion of Mthwakazi in October 1893.

There are conflicting accounts about what really happened. But it is clear that the incident was designed as a pretext to provoke war between the settlers and the kingdom.

Demonising the “perfidious Matabele” was the pretext used by Rhodes and company to protect “poor Mashonas” against “ferocious savages” led by Lobengula, to invade Mthwakazi. The world will soon be told who the real savages were between white settlers and the Matabele.

It should be noted that two months before Rhodes was granted the infamy known as the Royal Charter, Jameson had signed a secret agreement with mercenaries at Fort Victoria to invade Mthwakazi.

To provoke war, Jameson ordered the murder of Prince Mgandani and others by Captain Lendy and his comrades for being “insolent” before Jameson. The details do not matter, but it must be noted that several chiefs who refused to surrender the king’s cattle when accused of cutting miles of the telegraph copper wire, ended up dead with their people.

The settlers who massacred one chief and his people were led by none other than Captain Lendy. These innocent victims of colonial barbarism deserve a space in the national roll of honour.

Zimuto, a Karanga assimilado whose forebears originated from Swaziland with a totem of Maphosa, claims “the only blacks that are known to have been in the settlers’ army are those that the invaders came with from South Africa”.

Zimuto infers that these so-called recruits from South Africa included Nyenyezi and Mhlaba. Such ignorance is criminal.


For those who want to know the truth, I recommend The Downfall of Lobengula by WA Willis and LT Collingridge which detailed accounts of the invasion and the subsequent pursuit of King Lobengula in his flight to the north can be seen. Loud and clear references to “our Mashona” or “friendly natives” can be found in the book. These were recruited from Zimuto’s home area of Masvingo and from modern-day Harare.

When the British-MaShona marriage of convenience had served its purpose, loudly proclaimed to the world as the need to “protect poor MaShona” in the planned invasion of Mthwakazi, the people of Mashonaland faced gruesome death for daring to join Mthwakazi’s forces in the rebellion of 1896/97.

Those people of Mashonaland, who took refuge in caves were blown up with explosives. Nehanda, that remarkable woman in history, was defiant to the end before she was hanged under that msasa tree in Harare.

The cruel question that the people of Mashonaland have avoided to answer since that fateful day in 1897 remains unanswered is why did Nehanda die?

How can the people of Mashonaland call the people of Mthwakazi their enemy when history has recorded how the MaShonas, in rebellion, displayed rare gallantry under the command of the Matabele warriors during the rebellion?

Why did their professed protectors turn their executioners? To reconcile the reigning tribal tensions that have torn the people asunder, those who admit to the commission of madness against a section of the population must have a rethink.

The world does not need the Lobengulas and (President Robert) Mugabes in the 21st Century. Let me end by recalling a popular legend.

Nehanda is given credit of having prophesied the occupation of her country by “knee-less invaders”. This referred to white settlers whose peculiar dress was a pair of long trousers.

The vexing question is why did she fail to organise her people into a resistance movement to keep the invaders out?

It leaves one wondering whether this woman was not A creation of mythology to establish a glorious identity. She had the time and, apparently, the courage to do it.

She would not have been the first woman in history to do it, if we remember that one English woman organised her people against the Romans.

But Nehanda missed a golden opportunity to claim uncontested and lasting glory untainted by doubt.

Her failure handed to Mzilikazi the glory of an organised kingdom that held sway over the country until the white man came.

Our Partners:   NewsDay   The Independent   TheStandard  MyClassifieds