Sunday, May 13, 2007


Lobengula, King of the Matebele, was a South African Ndebele king. His kingdom was the last of the major African states to be destroyed by the colonialists in southern Africa.

In the early 19th Century, after a quarrel with Shaka, the Zulu King, Mzilikazi fled Zululand with his people and fought his way into what was to become Rhodesia, and is now known as Zimbabwe, where he established the Ndebele (Matabele) kingdom. Lobengula was his son, a descendant of the Khumalo dynasty. Lobengula was, in some ways, lucky to have lived long enough to ascend to the throne. It is said that, Lobengula and Nkulumane, along with their mothers, were sentenced to death by their father, Mzilikazi. However, Mncumbatha Khumalo felt pity for him, released him and instructed him to go and hide. Mncumbatha Khumalo returned and told the King that he had followed his (the King's) directive. The King eventually found out, and had mercy on Lobengula, but he didn't want Lobengula to enter his court yard. One of the Chiefs was asked to take care of Lobengula; as a result, Lobengula did not get first hand experience of how state affairs were run.

A depiction of King Mzilikazi

Lobengula ruled the Ndebele during a time of crisis in central Africa. The Berlin Conference (1884-1885) was to cut Africa into spheres of influence for the European powers, eager to establish colonies. The Ndebele kingdom's geographic position made it the center across which the ambitions of the Europeans collided. Lobengula's sympathies and soft spot for the missionaries, which he had inherited from his Father, King Mzilikazi, eventually led to the downfall of the Matebele Kingdom. Lobengula's Kingdom encompassed both Matebeleland and Mashonaland, but this country was rich in natural resources, which was the interest of European settlers. Through various concessions and treaties,Lobengula was tricked into signing over his Kingdom to the authority of Cecil John Rhodes.

The chameleon gets behind the fly, remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then another. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.

The British happens to be the best people in the world, with the highest ideals of decency and justice and liberty and peace, and the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for humanity.

—Cecil Rhodes

Cecil John Rhodes

Coming from the south, over what is now known as Botswana, the British worked through Cecil Rhodes to establish themselves in Lobengula's land. Rhodes, then premier of the Cape Colony, wanted to carve out a vast British colony which would stretch from the Cape of Good Hope to Egypt. The railway line he planned to build to link Cape Town and Cairo would run through Ndebele territory. He also wanted a British presence in central Africa, to block Boer movement northward. The Portuguese dreamed of a link between Angola and Mozambique across Ndebele country, and the Germans wanted one between South-West Africa and Tanganyika. From the Congo, the Belgians were pressing southward toward Lobengula's domains. The Boers from the Transvaal had their eyes on the fertile lands on the northern side of the Limpopo.

Imperialist and Capitalist Cecil Rhodes; from Cape Town to Cairo

The British sent a missionary, John Smith Moffat, to Lobengula's court, to keep an eye on British interests. Moffat was the son of a missionary who had made a name for himself among the Botswana to the south. Lobengula welcomed him as a bearer of spiritual tidings. The missionary persuaded the King to sign a treaty with the British, by which Lobengula undertook not to cede land to any power without the consent of the British. Sections of the army opposed the treaty, on the score that it surrendered the sovereignty of the Ndebele to the British. Lobengula believed and argued that the man of God wanted a friendship which would protect that very sovereignty.

Rhodes followed the Moffat maneuver with a delegation to Lobengula, which asked for, and got, permission for Rhodes to trade, hunt, and prospect for precious minerals in Ndebele territory. This came to be known as the Rudd Concession (1888). In return Rhodes offered 1, 000 Martini-Henry rifles, 100, 000 rounds of ammunition, an annual stipend of £1, 200, and a steamboat on the Zambezi. He formed the British South Africa Company to explore the concession, and organized 200 pioneers, promising each a 3, 000-acre farm on Ndebele land, and sent them north with a force of 500 company police.

Rhodes's plans infuriated the Ndebele. Lobengula canceled the concession and ordered the British out of his country. As he had only spears to ensure respect for his commands, the British ignored his order, proceeded to complete the road link with the south, and brought in more settlers.

In August 1889 the King Lobengula wrote to Queen Victoria to complain:

"The white people are troubling me much about gold. If the queen hears that I have given away the whole country it is not so."

Lobengula next tried diplomacy, an art in which he had never excelled. He gave a concession to Edouard Lippert from Johannesburg in the Boer Republic. Lippert was to make an annual payment to Lobengula for a lease which gave him the right to grant, lease, or rent parts of Ndebele land in his name for 100 years. This attempt to play the Boers against the British was Lobengula's undoing. Lippert turned round and sold the concession to the very company Lobengula had expelled. The company cut up Lobengula's land and distributed the promised farms to the pioneers.

The company's British shareholders were pleased with Rhodes's strategy. Encouraged by his victory, Rhodes next planned to extend the railway line from Mafeking northward. This line was to run through Ndebele territory. But by this time, Lobengula and his people were no longer in the mood to allow further incursions into their lands. Rhodes had to start thinking of war.

British telegraph wires were cut near Victoria. The company's police seized the cattle found near the scene of the crime. It turned out that the animals belonged to Lobengula. The Ndebele military clamored for their return. War was averted by the British negotiating a settlement.

While these developments were taking place, the British extended their control over land which Lobengula claimed. Black communities which had owed allegiance to Lobengula were encouraged to come under British rule. This was not difficult to do, because Lobengula had not treated his weaker neighbors with much understanding. It became clear that British intentions and Lobengula's independence were incompatible. War broke out toward the end of 1893. The Ndebele army was crushed, and Lobengula fled northwards and died about a month later.

By 1895, the country was known as Rhodesia, and, since 1980, the independent Republic of Zimbabwe.



BarbadosInFocus / PictureInFocus said...

This is a wonderful and informative post. The rape of Africa today still exists.

Anonymous said...

Habari Liz,

I like this story and history. I remember I first met it when I was attending O-level studies. The day when I read it (from the book titled the "History of Central Africa", can't remember the author though) I shed tears.

I tell my (European) friends here (in the UK) that the current "Zimbabwe crisis" dates far back even before the Chimurenga War I. Though I can't agree with some of Mugabe's deeds but I was happy when the "promised land" was taken away from "white settlers".

Liz, I thought Rudd Concession was pioneered by James Rudd. Cecil Rhodes came to Africa (South Africa) after being advised that his weak lungs and chest problems would heel under tropical climate!

I hope next time you give us full stories of Chimurenga I and II.This one here is Chimurenga II.




Hello Barbados in Focus, I am glad to learn that you find the posting informative.

Tanzania Boy: Lobengula is one man I also came across during my 'O' levels history class. I agree with you on the historical component that has clearly shaped and influenced current events within Africa. Most events such as conflict are usually presented in a snap shot format with little to no background information that has led to the event in question. For example the Rwanda Genocide.

As for the Rudd concession C. D. Rudd was a crony of Cecil and was working with him at the British South Africa Company.

As for Chimurenga wars I need to dig deeper into my history books:))


Anonymous said...

Hie All,

With the Chimrenga wars, we only have the history that was given to us in the books, if you really want to know about it, ask people that actually took part and some of the people in the Zim Gov at the moment. They really know what took place, U-tube also has some Video clips you can checkoout to get an idea. Enjoy.....