|Brief History of Mthwakazi (English)|
|Thursday, 17 April 2008|
A Brief History of Mthwakazi
Dr. Samukele Hadebe
The Ndebele people are found mainly in the provinces of Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North,
When and why the group was later renamed Ndebele is a subject that has been debated without convincing conclusions, partly because the subject is full of half-truths and myths. Mzilikazi and his Khumalo, as they were known then, moved northwards from
It is perhaps important to note that today there is another Nguni group that settled in Sotholand in present day
In 1837 Mzilikazi’s group, by then referred to as the Ndebele, entered what is today
The name Ndebele, therefore, did not refer to a single ethnic group but to a multi-ethnic nation. Ranger writes that, "Before 1893, I have argued, the Ndebele state was manifestly a ‘machine for multi-ethnic assimilation of peoples…There were not [any] ethnic “Ndebele” but rather a conglomeration of peoples who were members of the Ndebele state…" (Ranger 1999:100). Within the newly founded Ndebele nation, which was then a kingdom, the Sotho out numbered the Nguni while AbeLozwi far outnumbered both the Nguni and the Sotho. It seems that the problem of identity within the nation was already felt at that early stage, especially insofar as the distribution of political positions was concerned. The original Nguni group referred to itself as the AbeZansi, meaning ‘those from the south’, while the Sotho group was known as AbeNhla, meaning ‘those from the north’ and lastly the rest of the majority were AbeLozwi. Historians have employed misleading terminology like caste and class to describe the ethnic composition of Ndebele society.
According to one historian who has written much on Ndebele, "The most outstanding feature of contemporary written evidence for early Ndebele history is that none of it was penned by an Ndebele person" (Rasmussen 1978). It is obvious that the names Ndebele and Matabele were imposed on this nation though they have been accepted as the official designation of the people. History has a number of cases of groups of people referred to by derogatory names. It is interesting to note that the people rarely refer to themselves and their nation as Ndebele or Matabele but as ‘Mahlabezulu’ or ‘Mthwakazi’. It is not surprising that several cultural and artistic groups use the latter names, eg Vukani Mahlabezulu Cultural Society or the Mthwakazi Actors and Writers Association (MAWA) to mention a few. In public meetings, the people refer to themselves collectively either as Mahlabezulu or Mthwakazi and the same is found in literature and drama. Some lines in Mzilikazi’s praises read:
Wembangomkhonto, Wemba ngenduku,
Inkosi yabeNtungwa labeThwakazi!
(He fought with the spear, he fought with the knobkerrie
The king of the Ntungwa and Thwakazi people)
The Ntungwa are people of Nguni stock while Thwakazi refers to the generality of the rest of the populace. Mzilikazi's success in building the Mthwakazi nation was based on a number of basic things: one code of conduct and equality before the law, one Nguni language (now called Ndebele) and meritocracy. Various cultures and traditions continued under the new nation but the promoted language was Ndebele. Mthwakazi as a nation has a brutalized history and most recent suffered a genocide but the unity of the nation is unshaken.