Origins of the name KoBulawayo

by Shingirai Huni | Sunday, Apr 20, 2014 | 6483 views
King Lobengula Khumalo

King Lobengula Khumalo

Bulawayo @120 Pathisa Nyathi
“IT is my job to declare the town open. Gentlemen I don’t think we want to waste any talk on it. I make the declaration now. There is plenty of whiskey and soda inside so come in.”
These historic words, uttered on 1 June 1894 by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, the Administrator for Matabeleland, marked the official opening of Bulawayo as a town.

The landmark speech was made at the entrance of the Maxim Hotel along Fife Street, close to where the TM Supermarket is located. To the east of the hotel was the Market Square, an open field where farm produce and other wares were traded. Later the City Hall was built within the Market Square precincts.

This year Bulawayo marks and celebrates 120 years since it was declared open by Dr Jameson, the trusted friend and ally of Cecil John Rhodes. It was Dr Jameson who masterminded the demise of the Ndebele State in 1893 when he found a good pretext and followed it up in what later became known as the Victoria Incidents of July of that year.

A small Ndebele party led by Mgandane Dlodlo and Manyewu Ndiweni was dispatched by King Lobengula to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fate of the royal cattle. In subsequent events Commander Dlodlo was shot dead. That marked the beginning of the end of the erstwhile Ndebele State.

In this initial article we seek to narrate events and processes that led to the name Bulawayo. We hasten to add that in Zululand King Shaka’s capital was called KoBulawayo. King Lobengula’s KoBulawayo was not named after the former. However, it was a congruence of the circumstances surrounding the ascent to the throne.

Both men, Lobengula and Shaka, were resisted in their bid to assume the reins of power. We shall tell the story why King Lobengula named his capital town KoBulawayo. In the meantime we give the historical events that led to the choice of name. The events are traceable to the Afrikaner-Ndebele war of 1837. At the time the Ndebele were resident in the Marico Valley having relocated there in 1832 following their clashes with the Zulu (Dingane had assumed power following the assassination of King Shaka), the Griqua and some Sotho-Tswana groups.

Meanwhile, the Afrikaners, disgruntled with British rule in the Cape, decided to embark on their now famed trek generally referred to as the Great Trek. The trek commenced in 1835 and their destination was what they touted as “unoccupied lands” further to the north. And yet that was the area where the Ndebele were settled with their royal capital at eGabheni.

A clash was inevitable. Indeed, the two antagonistic peoples engaged in a fierce military encounter. The one notable battle in 1836 took place at Vegkop. It was there that the Ndebele fighter Mkhaliphi Khumalo distinguished himself by rallying the Ndebele forces and leading them in battle. Mkhaliphi belonged to the aManyangana/Ngwende section of the Khumalos.

However, the decisive battles took place in 1837. Earlier in the year the Ndebele had come under attack from the Zulu, the Griqua and the Sotho-Tswana groups. It was the Afrikaners who forced the Ndebele to remove from Marico. It was during the rainy season with crops in the fields.

King Mzilikazi decided to split his people into two groups. The one group comprising the two generic amaxhiba, aMnyama angankomo (led by Majijili Gwebu) and aMakhanda (led by Dlundluluza Dlodlo) were placed under the leadership of Khondwane Ndiweni his maternal uncle. Khondwane hitherto referred to as Gundwane in history books, was a brother to Cikose Ndiweni, the mother of the king. In his group were the royal wives and the senior queen.

Among them were Fulatha Tshabalala, mother of Prince Lobengula and Mwaka Nxumalo the mother of the heir apparent Nkulumane, born in 1828 when the king and his Ndebele were resident in the Magaliesberg area, where Pretoria stands today. He was born when London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary the Reverend Dr Robert Moffat was visiting from Kuruman in the land of the Bathlaping-hence the name of the prince. Both princes Nkulumane and Lobengula were in Khondwane’s party.

Meanwhile, the king struck due north together with people from the two generic villages, iGabha (under Maqhekeni Sithole) and aMhlophe (under Gwabalanda Mathe). This separation forms the basis for the name KoBulawayo. For two years the two groups were separated. As the king was the only person qualified to order raids, Khondwane and his group who were staying at Gibixhegu in the Malungwane area decided to instal Prince Nkulumane.

While it is noted that Prince Nkulumane was born in 1828 it will be apparent that at the supposed installation he was very young and unmarried. Be that as it may, the king was sought out and rejoined with the Khondwane group but not before he taught them an indelible lesson on committing treason. The offending chiefs were summoned for trial and found guilty. They were killed and their demise is immortalised in the name of a hill outside Bulawayo called Ntabazinduna (hill of the chiefs). The queens were not spared either as both Mwaka Nxumalo and Fulatha Tshabalala were put to death.

The fate of Prince Nkulumane is shrouded in mystery, uncertainty and confusion, ranging from assertions that he was killed to wild claims that he was sent to South Africa to live among his maternal relatives. The bottom line though is that his fate is not known and the young prince did not live within the Ndebele State right up to the demise of his own father in September 1868. Then came the time to instal a new king. Prince Nkulumane was undoubtedly the rightful heir with Prince Lobengula as the fall back candidate.

Mncumbatha kaKholo kaManzamnyama Khumalo was in charge during the interregnum. He and the senior chiefs sent emissaries to South Africa in search of Prince Nkulumane. Their searches even took them to Natal where Lord Shepstone, uSomtswewu, was Secretary of Natives. He brought a lot of political and succession intrigue into the succession issue as he was keen to establish British foothold within the Ndebele State. That would happen, he imagined, if the new king was aligned to the British. Shepstone told all and sundry that the rightful heir was in Natal, in his employ!

All the searches did not yield positive results, prompting Mncumbatha and colleagues to instal Prince Lobengula in 1870. As per Ndebele tradition the young king left the capital town of Mhlahlandlela to establish his own town. The new town was aptly named Gibixhegu in memory of Khondwane’s capital town, established near present day Bushtick,(iBhostiki), which was destroyed following the coming together of the two sections separated at Marico in 1837.

Aware that Lobengula was not the rightful heir and convinced that the searches were not thorough enough, some sections of the Ndebele people stood against the installation of Prince Lobengula. They even opted to stay away from his coronation. Opposition was centred around Chief Mbiko kaMadlenya Masuku, chief of Zwangendaba, a village located across the Mbembesi River at a place called eNgcekezeni. Mbiko’s wife was Zinkabi Khumalo, a direct elder sister to Prince Nkulumane. She instigated Mbiko to usurp power. Mbiko was apparently supported by his kinsman Mkhokhi Masuku of Nyamayendlovu. INgubo under Fusi Khanye also came out in support of the rebels who were predominantly of Nguni stock.

King Lobengula had no choice but to engage Chief Mbiko and his allies in battle. Chief Mbiko and many of his followers and supporters were killed, so was Princess Zinkabi Khumalo. It was the actions, precisely the resistance, of the rebels to Lobengula assuming the reins of power that led to the new king changing the name of his new town established at eNyokeni not far from both Mhlahlandlela and Hope Fountain.

“I am he who is persecuted and rejected by my own people.” In SiNdebele that translates to “Ngingobulawayo”. Therefore, the place where obulawayo (note the word is in single form and refers to one person, Lobengula) lives, given in the locative form, is koBulawayo, and not Bulawayo which is the English version or corruption of KoBulawayo. That change in name came about in 1871-72 after the civil war. The meaning of the name has hitherto been given, in some quarters as “the place of slaughter”.

That came about as a result of failure to appreciate the figurative rendition of the verb “bulala.” Secondly, it was a deliberate attempt at portraying the Ndebele nation in bad light as comprising a people who were bloodthirsty and were killing their adversaries at their capital. Be that as it may, we are pleased to note there is now some appreciation of the meaning of KoBulawayo (see Burrett: 2014).

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  • Induna uGasa

    I beg to differ on the instalation of Nkulumane, it wasnt a matter of ordering raids, but the people thought the king was dead since they had not heard from him for a while. it also coincided with the Inxwala period. those are factors that led to Nkulumanes installation as king.