The Sunday News
Religion occupied an important position among the Rozvi people. They believed in a supernatural being called Mwari up to 19th century. There was a strong link between the Rozvi political system and their God — this belief in Mwari was later on spread to other parts of the country where the Rozvi had never ruled.
The Mwari cult affected most of the Shona- Ndebele societies. They came to believe that any misfortune in their lives was linked to their inability to please Gods that is issues such as inadequate rainfall, poor harvest and famine, wars, diseases were associated with punishment from the Gods. The Mwari cult is believed to have been established at the Matopo shrines in Matabeleland South province.
Like any other pre-colonial African society, agriculture was an important aspect of Rozvi economy. In Gold mining, Rozvi rulers had monopoly over gold mining though ordinary people were allowed to mine their own gold. Tribute was paid by vassal chiefs — gold, livestock or grains, animal skins and tobacco — but was not paid in large amounts.
It was a sign of allegiance, neither was it paid regularly, so it could not do much to its economic base. Local trade was practised by ordinary people who exchanged grain and cattle for other basic goods because agriculture was prone to drought. Trade supplemented their economy.
External trade in gold was practised but not on a large scale.
The Rozvi economy was relatively stable with each of the economic facets contributing to the structure of the economy.
Reasons why the Rozvi offered little resistance to Nguni groups
Mzilikazi’s arrival in 1836 completed the conquest of the Rozvi and finally settled. This could have been due to less competent rulers for example Tohwechipi who lacked political experiences. The impact of Ndebele was more of cultural than military.
Continued internal crises for example civil wars, succession disputes. This could have disrupted the political base of the state hence weakening its political structure that is order, stability and peace.
Drought could have been responsible for the decline of its economic base that is successive droughts led to environmental degradation.
This meant that agricultural economy that is cattle rearing and crop farming was no longer as strong as it used to be. Thus, drought weakened its economic base hence causing unnecessary migration of people in search of good pastures for their cattle. The state became stateless hence vulnerable to Nguni groups.
Impact of earlier Nguni groups that is raiders – Nxaba, Nyamazana, Maseko, Soshangane – these had negatively ravaged the Rozvi State making it easier for the Ndebele to complete the process which had already underway. These raided cattle, women, grain. Its population were assimilated thus leading to Rozvi depopulation. Nyamazana killed Chirisamhuru in 1836 and Nxaba also attacked Rozvi.
Some human bones in graves were discovered showing the extent of their destruction but however, one should not be blinded by the impact of droughts within the State. Superior military tactics of Nguni groups also played a part.
These were fully equipped with Zulu tactics of Shaka — for example the death of Chirisamhuru left the State without a strong political leader but his son Tohwechipi tried to command the State but this was not very effective because of political divisions between the Changamire dynasty and Mutinhimira family.
This made the state vulnerable to external attacks and then offered little resistance. Some of the Rozvi houses placed themselves under the Ndebele rule by 1840, possibly they did not want to be raided by the Ndebele.
Michael Tidy and D Leeming pointed out that the Ngoni under Zwangendaba brought disaster to large parts of Central and East Africa destroying the Rozvi empire for example on their migrations they were like a swarm of locusts destroying anything they pass by — used scotched earth policy that is burning villages and their crops.
Thousands of people were killed and dragged away to join the Nguni army. During these wars, the Rozvi people were unable to cultivate their fields and sometimes crops were destroyed. They also attacked trade routes between Danhamombe, Zumbo and Masekesa.
In the final analysis, agricultural production, trade and gold mining declined thus weakening the economic base of the State. Again their herds of cattle were raided and Nyamazana with a small Ngoni army fought against the already weakened Rozvi Empire resulting in the killing of Chirisamhuru leaving the state without a competent leader. Young men were also raided affecting agriculture.
Size of the State was also too vast to be ruled by one leader. People were scattered all over the region such that there was no effective control — thus some sub-rulers started to rebel against Tohwechipi — resistance in paying tribute thus affecting the economic status of the state.
Civil wars and succession disputes were also a factor. The 18th and 19th century was characterised by civil wars thus worsening the political situation of the state — struggling for power among the Rozvi families: Changamire vs Mutimhira family for example Swabazvi Lukuluba remained jealous towards the legal successors (Changamire dynasty).
A weak economic base coupled with a weakening political system resulted in a gradual loss of territory by the Rozvi that is there was lack of control over the vassal chiefs who paid tribute to Changamire dynasty. Such groups started to mount raids against the Rozvi people.
Depletion of resources was another factor. Gold and ivory-trading items no longer able to sustain the Rozvi economy.
Dr Manners Msongelwa is the president of History Teachers of Zimbabwe and a teacher at Camelot College in Kwekwe.