The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
OUT in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, lies three graves next to Luvuyo Hall, an old community centre in Fingo Village, Kwa-Ndacama.
The trio of graves is made of polished granite, with concrete paving and pebble stones laid around them. Most people in Kwa-Ndacama, which means a place of no hope, do not know who these graves belong to. The answer to their identity is given by an inscription on of the graves, which reads:
“Lapha kulele uMntwana weNkosi yamaNdebele, A N L Mzilikazi kaMatshobana Owazalwa ngo 1880 Wafa ngo 1910”.
Buried beside the Ndebele prince, wrapped in granite for eternity next to him, are his wife Rosamand and his son Rhodes Njube Lobengula. The three modest graves are far-flung links to the last Ndebele monarch, Lobengula, who saw his offspring scattered after the defeat of his kingdom by the British.
Last week, it was announced that the Sarah Baartman Municipality, located in the western half of the Eastern Cape, had not forgotten these remnants of Ndebele monarchy who found themselves buried far from their father’s former seat of power in Bulawayo.
The municipality had identified King Lobengula Museum, which was established in 2018 around the family’s old homestead, for preservation because of its historic significance. It has set aside R80 000 for renovation of the museum, with work set to start next month. The museum is also expected to give space to young performing artistes from the area.
“We are trying to establish a route that used to link all the sites that they used to stay in,” said an official at the museum in an interview with the Sabc. “As we know they used to stay in Bethesda and from there they moved to Pedi and from Pedi they came here. So, basically that is the route that we are trying to build. During the arts festival here in the township, you don’t find places where the children can come and perform. We want to create this place as somewhere where children can come perform and act.”
An official from the municipality told the Sabc that the museum was expected to attract both foreign and domestic visitors.
“Our key role, as a district is to market local municipalities as a destination by not only domestic tourists but also international tourists. If you research the history of the former Makana municipality you will realise that it was also marketed as a city of saints by virtue of having all those churches there. When you look at Makana you realise that it is a city that is full of history and heritage so the project was befitting our scope,” said the official.
The honour of Lobengula’s family tree also comes as a chance to restore the dignity of a family that was decimated by the insecurity of the invading colonial forces, who later colluded with South African authorities to make sure that the Ndebele monarch’s offspring never took root in Bulawayo and Zimbabwe again.
Njube was allowed to visit Southern Rhodesia at the onset of the 20th century, which was the only time he was allowed to do so. According to the South African Heritage Resource Agency both the British government and the company were at one in their refusal to entertain any revival of the Ndebele monarchy. When the Ndebele indunas requested that Njube, Lobengula’s son be allowed to return as king to then Rhodesia from the Cape, where he had been exiled and educated, the High Commissioner refused in the most emphatic terms.
“Obviously, he cannot be allowed to resume his old authority and in my opinion is impossible for him, whatever may be his first intention to confine himself to a subordinate role as an officer of the Government.
Our experience with Dinizulu is to me conclusive proof of the correctness of my opinion,” he reportedly said.
Given the constant refusals by colonial authorities for him to visit his countrymen, Njube had his pregnant wife smuggled to Matabeleland to give birth. He was to follow her later. When he applied to the military for a pass to visit Matabeleland for two months to have his first child born there, the colonialists objected to his application. Subsequently, “… a De Beers detective was set to watch his movements until it was learned that the military authorities had prohibited Njube from leaving Kimberley (SA).
When Njube finally passed on, the Native Commissioner triumphantly exclaimed in 1910 “…the natives realise that the last connecting link with the royal house of Khumalo had been severed.”
The exile of Lobengula’s offspring had tragic consequences for them personally. While Njube played a game of cat and mouse with colonial authorities, far away from his kin and kith, he eventually died frustrated still trying to find his way back home in the face of a suspicious and unforgiving capture.
His younger brother, Mpezeni, had died a decade earlier. Meanwhile, Nguboyenja, who was educated had an equally tragic end. Educated in England and able to speak English fluently, he returned to Rhodesia 20 years later to find that the gift of his education, given to him by the Charter Coy, was a curse rather than a blessing.
It is said that he could not speak in his native tongue when he returned. For the last fifteen years of his life, he held his silence, refusing to speak to anyone until he passed on during a fine Bulawayo morning in June 1944, according to literature.