Bulawayo burning: The follow of pursuing King Lobengula to the dark forests with a raging river

27 Sep, 2020 - 00:09 0 Views
Bulawayo burning: The follow of  pursuing King Lobengula to the dark forests with a raging river Imbizo warriors from The Graphic 1893

The Sunday News

Pathisa Nyathi
Rider Haggard indicated in his book that between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers there were mineral rich King Solomon’s gold mines.
It was at a time when both gold and diamonds were being keenly sought after. In 1867 gold was found at Tati in present day Botswana while diamonds were found at Kimberley in the same year. In 1884 more gold was found at the Witwatersrand. The colonial project, going under the term the “Scramble for Africa” commenced. One of the key players in the ensuing scramble was Cecil John Rhodes from England. By 1889 he had, after securing a concession from King Lobengula in October 1888, obtained a charter from Queen Victoria. The coast was clear for him to embark on the mineral-driven project to colonise Southern Africa ahead of several competitors: Germans, Portuguese and Afrikaners.

In 1890 he put together an invading force, euphemistically referred to as the “Pioneer Column” that proceeded to occupy Mashonaland, with the Union Jack being hoisted on the kopje on 13 September 1890. The search for the much hyped gold started in earnest. By the end of 1892 it was clear the famed gold mines were not in Mashonaland. They could only be in Matabeleland, they thought. All manner of political shenanigans and intrigue were resorted in order to find the flimsiest of excuses to attack Matabeleland.

That came about following what is generally known as the Victoria Incidents which were engineered by Rhodes’ friend and Administrator Dr Leander Starr Jameson. It was all systems go after a team of volunteers, who were promised gold and land claims took off from Fort Victoria (now Masvingo). The party from Masvingo was led by Major Allan Wilson while another party, under the leadership of Major Patrick Forbes set off from Salisbury (Harare). Major Forbes became the overall commander of the combined invasion force.

It was the ensuing battles in which the recently declared national hero Mtshana Khumalo excelled in rallying the Ndebele forces against the invaders that led to his being recognised as a more than deserving national hero. At Iron Mine Hill the two parties combined and marched towards Matabeleland. The white forces were beefed up by men provided by a number of Shona chiefs: Zimuto, Chivi, Churumanzu and Gutu, among others.

Their first skirmish was at Lalaphansi where the men supplied by the chiefs failed to follow instructions. Upon seeing the approaching fierce-looking Ndebele soldiers an instruction, “Lalaphansi” was to be followed by lying down and taking cover so that the advancing Ndebeles would be mowed down by white soldiers. The instruction was not obeyed and the name of the site of encounter has endured to this day — not far from Mvuma.

The invaders proceeded and the first serious encounter took place at Bhonko where the Bulawayo-Harare road crosses the Shangani River. Insukamini Regiment under the command of Manondwane Tshabalala engaged the invaders on 25 October 1893. The maxim gun decided the outcome of the military encounter. Insukamini was defeated and the invading force proceeded towards Bulawayo. It was here when Imbizo asked for authorisation to engage the advancing white forces. They were not amused with Insukamini’s performance who they accused of accompanying the enemy force as if accompanying a wedding party. “Allow us, oh our King, to hold them by their beards and in no time we shall be back to cultivate crops for our children.” Imbizo was the crack regiment which prided itself as being the best among the best.

Authorisation granted, Imbizo went ahead to engage the enemy. At Gadade (Goddard) on 2 November 1893 Mtshana led the Ndebele forces into battle. The invaders had created a defensive laager and protected themselves from within. The machine gun, isigwagwagwa down the Ndebele fighters who were beefed up by other regiments such as Ihlathi and Isiziba. In open ground the Ndebele spears were no match for the American-developed machine gun. The Ndebele however, charged forward, in the process jumping over dead comrades and wading through rivulets of blood. “Vala ngebhetshu!” they chanted as they charged forwards. They sought to close the muzzle of the machine gun that was spitting death. It was Mtekeza Nyathi, who I interviewed in the 1980s who painted a vividly gory picture of the events that took place on the fateful day. They were the progeny of the survivors at the Gadade debacle. The survivors waded through flowing blood streams.

“Siyibuyane bentethe ezaphuma embizeni eGadade!” His father participated in the battle and survived. Word was relayed to the King, at KoBulawayo, less than 40 kilometres away. It was all over. With Imbizo finished (Imbizo iphelile!) it was clear what that meant. The King abandoned KoBulawayo and proceeded north to avoid capture. He commanded Sivalo Mahlangu to burn his capital town. Many regiments, Mtshana’s Imbizo included, travelled due north with the King.

The King’s party included ox-wagons and horses past Umvutshwa town. On 4 November 1893 the invading forces, finding Bulawayo burning with ammunition for the Martini Henry rifles exploding, occupied KoBulawayo, an event that painfully marked the end of the Ndebele people’s KoBulawayo and the start of the curiously named settlement and later a town by the name of Bulawayo. The kind hearted King had remembered the three white residents and instructed that no harm should befall them. The three were James Dawson, James Fairbairn and William Usher (uMampondweni).

A song was crafted to remember the fate of Imbizo at Gadade:

Kith’ Emagcekeni, (At Magcekeni our home)
EGadade, ( At Gadade)
Kwasal’ obaba, (There fell our fathers)

The queens, princes, princesses and the Bulawayo and other citizens in the Ndebele State followed. It was after several weeks that they were told not to continue following the monarch since the “sun had set.” In the mid-1980s I interviewed Ndlumbi Mahlangu, then living just north of Isiphongo Hill. As a young child he was among the returning multitudes who were going to surrender to the victorious white invaders.

Excited to capture King Lobengula, the invading force did not stay long in the smouldering former city. A pursuing party was set up under the command of Major Patrick Forbes. Major Allan Wilson was also in the patrol which duly set off to catch up and capture the King. The party went past Shiloh (eTshayile) south west of Inyathi Mission where Reverend Thomas Morgan Thomas lived after falling out of favour with the other missionaries. He was Welsh while his colleagues were English.

The King’s party crossed Bubi and Lupane rivers and proceeded beyond Gwampa Valley. Meanwhile, the Forbes party was closing in on the King. Before King Lobengula left, the Njelele Shrine had been consulted. Mwali, uNgwali promised to shield the King by causing heavy rains to fall. It turned out it was much more than just the rains. Even the white non-believers acknowledged later there was a force, a supernatural one at that, that seemed to work against them.

When the pursuers had crossed the Lupane River they decided to return and offload some of the weaponry that they were carrying so as to travel lighter and thus move more swiftly. It was a good decision for the Ndebele and a foolish one on their part. If they had not returned to Shiloh they would have caught up with the King with disastrous consequences. In the absence of the flooded Shangani River it was unimaginable that Mtshana would have delivered a military master stroke. He needed the river and the rains to design a winning strategy and tactics.

In the final instalment we shall see how Mtshana rallied the Ndebele forces leading to the wiping out of the 34-strong party in which there was no survivor.

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