Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are the ANC being haunted by ancient warriors?

A notable fact one can observe in most history books dealing with African affairs, is that almost all Black African leaders, who have made a name for themselves in Africa, are described as “military leaders”, or were “military leaders” (or freedom fighters) at some point in time. To this day, prominent political figures such as Mandela, Zuma, Malema – the whole ANC bunch, still proudly describe themselves as “freedom fighters”.

It seems that “peace” is a foreign concept to these people, and when it is achieved it does not last too long. Wars and talk about wars is a subject that lies so close to their hearts, that if they cannot find reasons for making war within the boundaries of their immediate setting, they will go search for it somewhere else.  The younger they are, the more keen they are to declare and make war, like the “kill-the-Boer” lunatic, Malema, for example, who after threatening to overthrow the Botswana government, has now also declared “economic war” on South African Whites. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), have declared war on Eskom, and it seems that the SANDF is preparing for some unknown war

War and more war is all they can talk about, and I haven’t even mentioned the numerous wars within ANC ranks – never mind the civil wars going on in Africa!

And – while all this talk about war is going on, there’s a new ‘Dangerous Weapons Bill’ on its way to Parliament, that intends to outlaw toy guns, pepper spray, knives and other "dangerous weapons" in public places – (Source). -- As if the law-abiding citizens have not been disarmed enough already! 
Speaking of “enough” -- I think I’m going to change the subject matter of this posting somewhat, and go back a few years (about 180 years, long before the Boer Wars),  as I’m reasonably certain that those ancient African warrior-ancestors are haunting our modern-day African leaders. Yep, I’m talking about those ancient ancestors whose murderous deeds and acts of genocide they’re trying to distort and/or obliterate from modern-day history books!

Shaka Zulu is probably the most notorious murderer of the whole lot, but there were plenty others. For the sake of keeping things simple I’ll concentrate on one despot, relatively unknown to most South Africans, called uMzilikazi.

When describing the origins of Bulawayo, located in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe (old Rhodesia), most present-day online sources will briefly state that the city was founded by the Ndebele king, uMzilikazi around 1840 after the Ndebele people's great trek from Zululand.

One has to truly search deep to discover what really happened along uMzilikazi’s long and winding route from Zululand, but once that is done then it becomes clear why modern-day liberal-minded historians try to impress their masters by not mentioning his name too often, because uMzilikazi was a tyrant of note, who first wrote his name in blood all over the old Transvaal high veld, long before the region was settled by Europeans, and long before he reached modern-day Zimbabwe.

Online sources such as SA History Online, try their very best to sketch a picture of a great Southern African king who founded the Matabele kingdom, without going into too much detail by what horrendous means he accomplished this task. Other sources describe him as “the greatest Southern African military leader after the Zulu king Shaka.” Their descriptions are usually sourced from a few kind words written in David Livingstone’s autobiography.

The Wikipedia page on Mzilikazi provides a reasonably accurate profile of the man, but this posting will not be quoting from that source. I’ll be using the excellent research done by one of my favourite authors, Thomas Bulpin, whose books have provided me with enjoyable reading these past few weeks – far more pleasurable than reading the daily news headlines!

The entire chapter dealing with Mzilikazi can be read in the Tia Mysoa Bookstore. The text was scanned from chapter 4 of Thomas Bulpin’s “Lost Trials of the Transvaal” – 1965 Edition. Readers are welcome to surf over to the bookstore, or stay on this page to read the first few chapters.

By Thomas Bulpin (1965)

In Zululand, the great chief Shaka employed numerous adventurous and ambitious individuals in his military service. Among the henchmen of this black Caesar was a certain Mzilikazi (the great abstainer). At the time this story begins he was a man of about thirty years of age, the son of Mashobana, the uncle of the chief of the small Khumalo tribe who lived around the headwaters of the Black Mfolozi River.

This Khumalo tribe had been much cut up in the recent fighting. Both Mashobana and most of the tribe’s royal family had had their heads cut off to grace the mantlepiece of Zwide of the Ndwandwe tribe, who was a renowned collector of such interesting trophies. Mzilikazi had prudently attached himself to the rising star of Shaka about the year 1820 and had soon been elevated to the rank of commander of one of the minor Zulu raiding bands.

This Mzilikazi was a young man of considerable ambition. Tradition tells us that, about 1822, Shaka entrusted him with one of those tasks in which several Zulu units were joyfully engaged: the looting of neighbouring Sotho tribes.

Mzilikazi crossed the Transvaal border for the first time and thoroughly routed a number of the weak Sotho clans resident there. Then, according to his master’s orders, he rounded up their cattle and returned home. So far, so good. But Mzilikazi erred in keeping a quantity of the loot for himself.

This was an elementary mistake. Shaka had eyes in the back of his head, especially to observe such infringements. Up through the bush came a small police force to effect punishment. Mzilikazi cut the ostrich feathers from their heads and sent them home. This was the end as far as Shaka was concerned. One of his army units was hurriedly detached from its normal duty and sent up to liquidate Mzilikazi.

The Zulus found Mzilikazi and his followers entrenched upon a hill known as enTubeni. After examining this stronghold for a while the Zulu commander sought out a renegade Khumalo man, suitably bribed him to act as guide, and stole upon Mzilikazi in the night. There was a sad massacre upon the hill beneath the stars.

With the dawn, Mzilikazi and about 300 of his more athletic followers were in full retreat to the north, leaving their slower parents and womenfolk to such mercy as they could expect from a Zulu army.

In such fashion did Mzilikazi commence a career which was destined to write his name in blood over the Transvaal high veld and end with the creation of the Ndebele (Matebele) kingdom in Rhodesia.

For the present he was intent only on putting the safety of distance between himself and Shaka. However, once he reached the Transvaal plains he felt increased security; and the necessity of recouping losses in wealth and women became imperative.

Towards the end of 1823, therefore, Mzilikazi started to despoil the Sotho clans, At first he worked with guile, lies and treachery. Then, as his power grew, he became increasingly aggressive. He erected for himself a kraal named ekuPhumuleni, (the place of rest), somewhere near the source of the Olifants river, in the modem Bethal area. From this centre his robber band operated in all directions.

The Sotho tribes named the newcomers maTebele, for the same reason that they had applied this name to the earlier migrants of old chief Musi. As Mzilikazi’s following soon became more Sotho than Zulu, the Sotho form of the name came into general use among them, whilst the Zulu version—Ndebele—remained to distinguish the earlier people. The same process affected Mzilikazi’s own name, for the Sotho corrupted this to Moselekatze; and by that name he is best known in the TransvaaL

It would be useless to try to follow the complex details of Mzilikazi’s rise to power. Suffice to say that by means of his adventures he increased both his wealth and his following, for the women of conquered clans were impressed as wives and the young men enrolled as warriors.

At first the Sotho tribes tried to fight back. Tradition tells, for example, how the local Phuting tribe sent their army hidden behind a herd of cattle to attack Mzilikazi. If they hoped Mzilikazi would be dazzled by the dust and cattle they were sadly wrong. He was too guileful for that. He sent his youngest regiment down, yelling loudly enough to wake the dead. The cattle turned and stampeded upon their own masters, and there was a sudden end to the matter. It was a lesson in tactics which duly impressed the Sotho, but, strangely enough, was not long remembered by Mzilikazi for, years later, his people fell victim to an almost similar fate.

So, south and east of Phurnuleni, the Sotho were attacked and looted. In the north, in the Belfast area, dwelt the Koni people, whose origin was so mixed between Karanga and Sotho that the tangle still has to be straightened out. Mzilikazi added to the confusion of their family tree by throwing them out of their town of Motomatsi, where Dalmanutha stands today. Leaving the ruins of their stone huts behind, they removed to a ridge called Mohlatopela (Blouboskraal) east of modern Machadodorp.

At this place they built a strange sort of fortress, whose ruins may still be seen to the right of the present road between Helvetia and Waterval Boven. The huts, surrounded by stone walls, looked down from the summit of the hill. Piles of boulders were kept in store to be rolled down on the heads of invaders while agriculture was carried out on protected terraces, and astonishing semi-enclosed passages of stone led to the water supplies.

All this industry was commendable, but of no avail. The Koni were prised out of their stronghold, and today their remnants are scattered all over the Transvaal.

The Pedi, still further north, at the time of Mzilikazi’s arrival, had grown to a sizable and prosperous tribe under the leadership of a renowned chief named Thulare, who counted among his regular activities a trade with the Portuguese at Lourenço Marques. Thulare, fortunately for himself, died just before the storm broke. His sons were not so lucky. A succession of Mzilikazi’s bands came to attack them. At first the Pedi held firm. They even defeated the first few attacks and flattered themselves with a popular song. “The wild beast is tired,” they sang. “It sleeps. Its roars trouble us no more.”

The words were as fatuous as those in most popular songs. A few months later the whole tribe collapsed. Only one of Thulare’s sons—Sekwati—was able to escape with a few followers to the protection of Coenraad de Buys (known as Kadishe) in the Soutpansberg, who gave him a good training in banditry.

By the end of 1824, Mzilikazi was certainly ruling the roost in the Eastern Transvaal. Then came a season of drought, and rumours that news of his success had reached Shaka and was likely to attract a Zulu raid. Mzilikazi decided to remove himself still further away from Zululand, into some salubrious clime where rainfall was on a more generous scale and security more certain.

Spies had already investigated the lands of the Hurutshe and Kwena people, further west. Although they had been looted by Manthatisi and her horde they were still desirable properties. Accordingly, early in 1825, Mzilikazi burned down his Phumuleni kraal, incinerating in the ruins a number of captive Sotho, whose spirits could act as a rearguard against the anticipated Zulu raid.

With a host amounting now to over 2,000 warriors, accompanied by their women and families, Mzilikazi trudged off. Scattering the Sotho people before him like a herd of antelope stampeding before a hunter, he made his way into the warm and sheltered river valley of the Aapies which the first Ndebele had named Tshwane but the new Ndebele now renamed enZwabuhlungu (painful to the touch).

In this valley, where Pretoria stands today, watched by those serene hills which have seen so much of the doings of man, Mzilikazi and his followers settled down to build new kraals. All down the length of the stream the kraals and out posts were scattered, while Mzilikazi’s new capital, emHlahlandlela, (where the pathway is cut), was erected near the junction of the Aapies with the Limpopo.

The Transvaal had certainly changed from the peaceful land John Campbell had visited a short five years before. Two adventurous traders, Robert Schoon and William McLuckie, who roamed into the Transvaal from the Cape during 1829, have left us some impressions of the place as they found it; and the contrast during those five years is remarkable.

The whole of the western Transvaal looked as though it had been hit by a cyclone. Everywhere was the wreckage of former homes, with a few stunned surviving inhabitants hiding in the bush trying to recover their wits. Instead of the great, bustling towns like Kurrechane, the travellers now discovered some of the oddest human habitations ever built. Fearful of surprise attack and haunted by lions, who had grown bold from feeding on human corpses, the people had taken to the trees. Near one spring the traders discovered a large tree containing in its branches seventeen tiny conical huts. To A. Steedman, compiler of an old book of travels, the traders described these treetop homes:

“These are used as dormitories, being beyond the reach of the lions, which, since the incursion of the Mantatees, when so many thousands of persons were massacred, have become very numerous in the neighbourhood, and destructive to human life. The branches of these trees are supported by forked sticks or poles, and there are three tiers or platforms on which the huts are constructed. The lowest is nine feet from the ground, and holds ten huts, the second, about eight feet high, has three huts, and the upper story, if it may be so called, contains four. The ascent to these is made by notches cut in the supporting poles, and the huts are built with twigs thatched with straw, and will contain two persons conveniently.”

Other huts were built in clusters on stakes fixed into the ground. Over the whole Transvaal there hung an atmosphere of dread. The two traders visited Mzilikazi’s kraal on the Aapies River and were treated well enough by the tribe; but the land was ruined. Only Mzilikazi sat, like a ghoul, happily enjoying a hideous feast. For the rest, misery and death, or slavery under his rule, was the only lot in life.

Mzilikazi, dread despot of the old Transvaal, did not dislike the visits of Europeans—provided there were not too many of them. The horseback visit of Schoon and McLuckie excited him and opened his eyes to the fact that there was a new world beyond the horizon, in whose novel existence he had hitherto only half believed. Accordingly, he resolved to despatch two trusted henchmen on a visit to the land of the white men, to investigate for him their social nature and the manner of their kind.

The rest of the story continues in the Tia Mysoa Bookstore... Click here to read the entire chapter.

Other related posts in the bookstore:

  • Superstitious Mountains - These are the mountains known today as the Soutpansberg Mountains (Salt Pan Mountains) situated in the modern-day Limpopo province. It is the most northern mountain range in South Africa.
  • Winding Paths - This is a brief but colourful account of how some of South Africa’s existing roads and highways came into being. The chapter also provides some lesser known and/or forgotten legends associated with these ancient winding paths.

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