The Sunday News
THE question is the extent to which some Nguni groups affected the various Shona/Karanga groups in Zimbabwe up to 1860. The Nguni groups were brought about by the Mfecane, the great disturbances of Southern Africa often associated with state formation in KwaZulu Natal.
In Zimbabwe, many historians think it brought to an end the Zimbabwean culture following extensive raiding and killings, absorption of some people in to their groups. Many people are said to have been forced into hills and mountains to seek refuge. However, some of these accounts have been exaggerated.
The Nxaba group and Gaza Nguni arrived in the region first before 1830 and their effects are felt in Manyika, Tete and Sofala. Later groups arrived after 1831 but these too were hardly felt as they fought among themselves and were moving rapidly across the plateaus for example Zwangendaba’s group.
However, it was the south-western regions that were badly affected for example Changamire Rozvi were overrun by Nguni and their state centred at Danangombe and Manyanga were destroyed.
The Rozvi eventually succeed in driving away these groups but at considerable loss to their army and leadership. The Ndebele arrived in 1840 but by that time there were no other Nguni groups left in Zimbabwe except the Gaza-Nguni. The Ndebele occupied the Karanga in the south-west and established a considerable tributary area. The Ndebele impact on the local Karanga should not only be seen in terms of raiding but acculturation (language). By 1860, this process was already in motion such that the Rozvi/Karanga identities were no longer apparent. The groups involved were: Ngwane-Maseko-Ngoni, Zwangendaba-Ngoni, Nyamazana’s group and Mzilikazi-Ndebele. Each of these groups weakened Shona societies in various ways though the Ndebele are said to have inflicted the final and decisive blow.
Beach says that the impact of Mfecane on the Rozvi State have been exaggerated? What was being exaggerated? It was negative impacts as opposed to positive impacts. The question of raiding was raised and it became a problem among the Shona societies but it must be remembered that raiding was a way of life which was their way of life even during Shaka’s time in Zululand but however, it did not generate such catastrophe. With any incursions, the process of dispossession, dispersions and acculturations were inevitable. In the final analysis, Shona societies were disrupted by Nguni groups through constant raiding — imposition of their dress, customs, language were effected for the purpose of common identity thus Shona societies were culturally absorbed thus assuming Nguni identity for example Gaza dress and weapons were brought in and this brought a culture of raiding of weaker groups. Thus socially, economically and politically, the Shona societies were negatively affected for example cattle were raided by the Ndebele which was part of their economy and it was raiding which also affected their political control of their sphere of influence for example some Shona placed themselves under Ndebele influence possibly because of fear to be raided by them. This further created political divisions among the Shona societies for example Nxaba restocked its human population and cattle by raiding the Manyika and Teve.
Sometimes force was used to those who rejected. The Rozvi economy was not destroyed but weakened. Ngoni invasions brought untold sufferings and destruction on the Rozvi State. It must be admitted that Nguni invasions disrupted their economic, social and political life for example agriculture and trade with the Portuguese
But there were new military skills of fighting introduced along Zulu lines. Idea of centralisation of power, unity, loyalty to the rulers was demonstrated to the Shona society by Mzilikazi. State formation process was also brought in by Mzilikazi as a nation builder that is people of different cultural backgrounds were infused together through inter-marriage and adoption of Shona religion and Ndebele language. New kind of unity was demonstrated though Ndebele society was stratified.
But the Rozvi never came under Ndebele influence. The Rozvi collapsed through the influence of Nguni groups but the Shona never came under the control of the Ndebele except those who lived closer to their kingdom. For example, the new Changamire Tohwechipi successfully resisted Ndebele raids who attempted to expand in Mashonaland but the struggle went up to British invasion in 1890s.Those who failed to pay tribute to Mzilikazi were the ones who were raided.
There was a concept of peace brought in by Nguni groups. Sometimes the Ndebele made peaceful arrangements with the Shona for example the Ndebele got young men to strengthen their army and in turn gave the Shona cattle but with no right ownership. The Ndebele did not disrupt their trade with Portuguese but they slotted into the pattern of Shona long-distance trade. It must be noted that Ndebele raiding was exaggerated by European missionaries, explorers, traders to justify their existence in Zimbabwe.
Dr Manners Msongelwa is the president of History Teachers of Zimbabwe and a teacher at Camelot College in Kwekwe.