The Sunday News
WE continue looking at the names of Ndebele regiments with a view to explaining and interpreting the choice of those names. There are settlements or villages that were given names of regiments. For example, when we say KoGodlwayo, this is a locative name derived from the name of the regiment, uGodlwayo. We normally would not say Egodlwayo as the name of the regiment has been personalised.
The name itself suggests a regiment that is dependable and the king banks on it for defence. Ukugodla is to embrace and indeed, there is a cow named igodlakazi on account of the disposition of its horns. Ugodlwayo was thus a regimental name pregnant with expectation or wishful desire. It was so named in the hope it would live up to its name. We observe that this is indeed true when we scrutinise the regiment’s praises. Suggested in her praises is the idea of her ability to achieve the seemingly impossible, “abatshil’ insimbi ngo . . .” Just who can bend a piece of iron with his “leg?”.
Another line in her praises is ‘‘ . . . umahlabay’ ayithwale . . .” The laudatory term is normally used in conjunction with fighting bulls. With its horns not only will the powerful bull gore another less powerful one but will lift it high. Having such laudatory terms would not go together with a name that suggests weakness. There has to be some complementarity between the two. The praises inspired some sense of self confidence and a never say die fighting spirit. UGodlwayo would have lived to expectation. In this particular case, the name was so inspirational it has endured to this day.
In an article that I penned several years ago I explained why this has been so. In addition to the historical identity of the regiment, resident inter alia in the regimental praises, fighting prowess and exceptional leadership qualities of the chiefs, it was also infused into the common Christian denominational church, the Brethren-In-Christ Church (BICC). Further, BICC built schools that were attended by the children of Godlwayo people. It was the general practice of many churches to provide evangelical services and in addition to these, educational and health facilities. It was attendance at the same BICC educational institutions that cultivated and nurtured some sense of pride and belonging to uGodlwayo.
Whereas originally uGodlwayo was just east of present day Bulawayo, as a result of colonial occupation and concomitant evictions, the citizens of uGodlwayo were pushed to where they are now. Apparently, enduring identities are not common to all historical regiments. Some live through the names of roads, schools and townships.
However, there were places that got their names on account of the identity of the people who lived there. These were not necessarily names of regiments. The famous Mncumbatha kaKholo kaManzamnyama King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana’s confidante lived at Emambanjeni in the present day West Acre area, not far from Cyrene Mission. Emambanjeni derives from Amambambo, a people who are related to the Ndiwenis and the Zwanes. They, like the Mafus, are Amangwe. At one time Amambambo were led by Lukhezo Mbambo and his people were evicted to Lower Gweru at the time the whites were allocating themselves the most fertile land on the Highveld.
West of Inyathi there was a place known as Emazizini, that is the place of Amazizi, a particular people who lived in the area. Arguably the best known Izizi was Mphubane Mzizi the famed doctor who attended to King Mzilikazi. Another person associated with Amazizi was Maphungo Mabhena who tended King Lobengula’s royal herds. After the demise of the Ndebele State the colonists began collecting the royal herds, arguing they were doing it on the basis of conquest. Maphungo refused to surrender the herds to a white party led by native commissioner at Inyathi, the one the Ndebele called uMehlwenduku, Knobkerrie eyes. His name was Graham.
Be that as it may, most names of settlements were given after the resident regiments. The names were given with conquest and defence in mind. We could cite the name Inqobo. It was a settlement north of Inyathi and was part of isiphika at the time when Inyathi/ Emhlangeni was the royal seat. Mthini Mphoko Ndlovu commanded the regiment. Inqobo is derived from the verb nqoba meaning to overcome or defeat. The expectation therefore was that Inqobo would be victorious in battle.
Let us take another example. There was a settlement named after the regiment Umgoqo. Umgoqo is a noun. The verb would be goqa, meaning to fold. There is a proverb in IsiNdebele which goes, “Sigoqwa sisemanzi’’. A skin is folded when still freshly dressed. It is a proverb that gives advice to parents that they should teach good morals to their children, early in their lives. Once bad habits and or morals have been inculcated, it is difficult to eradicate them later in life.
The meaning that was applied in this particular case related to a wooden log, umgoqo that is one of many that are used to close the entrance to a cattle byre/pen or kraal. When imigoqo (plural of umgoqo) are used the cattle in the pen are secured. They have been securely penned. It should thus be clear why Umgoqo as a name for a regiment was chosen. The State, it is expected, should be secured from external aggression as happened in 1847 when the Afrikaners under Andries Hendriek Potgieter, uNdaleka, came up the Shashane River and using some Venda assistants, captured Ndebele cattle. The situation was saved by the Zwangendaba regiment which was commanded by Mbiko KaMadlenya Masuku.
Let us now turn to Ihlathi. This was a regiment conscripted during the time of King Lobengula. Members of Ihlathi were thus younger than those of Imbizo (encinyane) and Insukamini. They were however, older than Iqandalengwenya. Ihlathi’s role becomes apparent when the name is rendered in full: Ihlathi lokuphephela amakhosi. Ihlathi bore defence and security implications. It was the forest in which the kings sought refuge. Defence is evidently implied here.
What emerges from the narrative is that in the majority of cases names of regiments had to do with the defence and security of the state. Ndebele military tradition was that it was men who bore the responsibility of defending the state. Women did not go to war. There were many measures that were taken to ensure regiments were performing at their best. Some of the measures bordered on the metaphysical. There was developed a very strong esprit de corps. It was just not a question of military strategies and tactics but a lot more.
For the Africans spirituality was infused into all aspects of human endeavour. This is why there were doctors who attended the army in various ways. When our history is rendered by people who do not attach much significance to spirituality, these important matters are brushed aside. History is then seen through their eyes. What would be emphasised from an Afro-centric perspective is downplayed or simply not told because to them it is not history but superstitious and pagan practices.