When Shaka’s father Senzangakhona’s health was failing him, Bibi his eighth wife convinced Senzangakhona to appoint Sigujana her son to take over the chieftainship of the Zulu tribe. This he did much to the annoyance of Dingiswayo king of the Mthethwa tribe, because he had been assured by Senzangakhona that Shaka would be nominated the next chief of the Zulus.
Shaka’s half brother Ngwadi - son of Gendeyana of the Mbedweni clan which was a sub clan of the powerful Qwabe tribe - in a fight with Sigujana, overcame him and killed him.
There are some stories that Ngwadi ambushed and murdered Sigujana or paid to have him killed. I do not personally believe these stories to be true.
After Sigujana’s death Dingiswayo appointed Shaka to take over the chieftaincy of the Zulu tribe and sent the iziCwe regiment to assist him with the take over of the position of chief. Shaka was then subservient to Dingiswayo until after Dingiswayo’s death.
During the year of 1817 Dingiswayo ordered a campaign against Matiwane of the Ngwane tribe in the area north and west of Nhlazatshe Mountain. Shaka took about 1000 of his Zulu soldiers with him for this campaign, leaving Mgobozi Ovela Entabeni of the Msane tribe to look after the home guard and Mdlaka to guard the Zulu’s southern border against the strong Qwabe tribe. Dingiswayo provided a force of a further 2500 of his soldiers and together with another 1000 men of the Ntshalini and other minor tribes his army including Shaka’s Zulus numbered about 4500 men.
Matiwane was a proud man and a fearsome warrior as well as being a very gifted military strategist. He was described as being short but very powerfully built and was known for wearing a black and white calfskin cloak. He knew he was threatened with danger from the south, as his spies and intelligence network notified him of the mobilization of Dingiswayo’s army. In the eventuality of being attacked he approached his neighbour, Chief Mtimkulu of the Hlubi tribe on his western boundary and asked him for permission to hide his cattle in and around the mountains of what is now the town of Utrecht. Mtimkulu gave his permission and the cattle were driven to this safe hiding place.
Dingiswayo would not allow Shaka to practice what he later called “Impi Ebomvu” Red War or Total War. Matiwane was forced into a quick surrender and his tribal land was incorporated into the vast area controlled by Dingiswayo as a commonwealth of southern Nguni tribes under a form of “Pax Mthethwa” like the Romans had a “Pax Romana”.
Dingiswayo then informed Matiwane that from now on he was going to be, as well as the other neighbouring Nguni tribes, under Dingiswayo’s paramountcy. This was at the time before Shaka started out on his major conquests and it is important to note that this was under the rule of Dingiswayo of the Mthethwas, not under Shaka and the Zulus.
The start of the MFECANE
The result of this campaign by Dingiswayo is what led to the start of the catastrophic tribal migrations known as the Mfecane or Difaqane to happen.
Dingiswayo is not to blame but he was merely the catalyst which provided the circumstances that allowed the Mfecane to happen
Once Dingiswayo and his army had left, Matiwane requested Mtimkulu permission to fetch his tribes’ cattle, remember that the Hlubi tribe was a large and powerful tribe.
It is also important at this point, to understand the events leading up to Dingiswayo's chieftanship.
Dingiswayo’s father Jobe, who had been chief of the Mthethwa in the early nineteen century was old and his two sons were impatient for the chieftainship, so they plotted against him in order to take over the chieftainship of the Mthethwa tribe. The eldest son Tana wanted the chieftainship and the youngest son Godongwana aided him in his attempt to overthrow their father Jobe.
Jobe who was no fool found out about their intentions and sent his warriors to raid Tana’s kraal or muzi. Tana was killed in this raid and Godongwana escaped with an assegai or spear wound in his back. He sought safety and refuge with the Hlubi chief Bungane whose son was Mtimkulu.
Godongwana changed his name to Dingiswayo (The Wanderer or The Troubled One).
After Jobe’s death Dingiswayo then returned and took over the chieftainship of the Mthethwa tribe and retained a feeling of gratefulness to the Hlubi people for sheltering him.
To Matiwane’s surprise Mtimkulu refused to return the Ngwane tribe’s cattle.
Matiwane obtained some of Mtimkulu’s hair as “nsila” to use in a magic potion or mthakati but before any witchcraft spell could be cast on Mtimkulu, the Ngwanes were struck without any warning like a bolt out of the blue, with an attack on them by the Ndwandwe tribe under Zwide.
Zwide swept down on the unsuspecting Ngwanes killing all he found in his path. The Ngwanes had lost their cattle which were the tribes’ wealth and they were driven out of their homes and their tribal area and as such were in a state of chaos.
Matiwane now had to consider his next move for his tribe’s future survival.
The Hlubis occupied an area of rugged terrain and a campaign against them could not be launched lightly. Zwide had rightly concluded that after the confrontation with Dingiswayo, Matiwane would be an easy target and that he Zwide was far enough away from Dingiswayo to be relatively free from Mthethwa retaliation. This attack, forcing the Ngwanes out of their tribal lands, is what started the Mfecane and ZWIDE is directly to blame for this catastrophic period of history.
The Northern and Southern Nguni tribes were over populated in the area that they occupied. For nearly a hundred years they had occupied the 150 to 200km wide coastal strip in which they resided and their cattle had bred up and the tribes’ people had increased.
On the eastern side was the Indian Ocean, to the south the coastal strip was blocked by the British in the Eastern Cape area as well as the Boers who as Voortrekkers were to spread into this inland area coming around the western side of what is now Lesotho from the Eastern Cape, beginning in 1835. On the western side was the “Barrier of Spears”, “uKahlamba” the Drakensberg Mountain chain and above its heights were the Sotho or sometimes called Sutu tribes, who had settled this highland plateau which was now almost as populated as the coastal plain settled by the Nguni tribes.
To the north lay the Thonga tribes as well as the malaria ridden swampy area of the lower Pongola River.
Matiwane, now faced by disaster decided to seek a new home for his Ngwane tribe.
He therefore had no choice in preventing his people dying of starvation but to attack the nearest tribe for their cattle, for food as well as land to live on. He chose to attack the Hlubis who had placed him in this position and he did so with an intense ferociousness that even Shaka would have admired. He rampaged through the Hlubis massacring the inhabitants of the main kraals, including Mtimkulu and in doing so recovered his cattle. The Hlubis fled in disarray but gathered under Mtimkulu’s brother Mpangazita and crossed the mountains clashing violently with the Sotho tribes including the Batloka under Mantatisi who was to become a very big role player in this area together with her son Sikonyela. She was so ferocious that she scattered the tribes including the Bafokeng, Bakwena. Makwakwa and had even beaten Moshweshwe at Bhutabhute, causing him to retire to Thaba Bosiu.
Matiwane decided to abandon the Hlubi lands and settled his Ngwane tribe in the lower foothills of the Drakensburg in and around what became known as the Klipriver County near present day Bergville. Here they lived in some sort of peace for a few years.
Dingiswayo and Zwide were dead, and Shaka was in supreme command of the now large and powerful Zulu nation. The Zulu impis were travelling further and further afield causing Matiwane to realise that he would soon be targeted and could not expect any leniency like he got from Dingiswayo.
At the start of winter in the year 1822 Shaka dispatched his general Mdlaka with an army of 7000 men to restore order across his border in Natal. Ndlaka crossed the Tugela River looking for the Cunu's under Macingwane. He found them and at kwa Cekwane aka. Dronkvlei he caught him and a massacre ensued. Macingwane fled with two of his sons and shortly after this disappeared off the scene of history. Mdlaka now approached Matiwane and the Ngwanes unexpectedly from the south.
Matiwane abandoned this area as well as his cattle and escaped with his tribe over the Drakensberg Mountains.
With no time to plant crops and re establish his herds of cattle he had to resort to raiding and plundering any tribes that had food, for the Ngwanes to live on. The Hlubis under Mpangazita, the Ngwanes under Matiwane and the Batlokwa tribe under Mantatisi spread chaos and destruction upon the Sotho tribes in the region.
Unknown to each other Mpangazitha and Mantatisi circled towards each other and finally clashed at Mabolela and this battle saw Mantatisi retire over the Caledon River where she was able to defend her tribe against Mpangazitha’s attacks.
We hear that in 1823 Matiwane unexpectedly came across the main body of the Hlubis and after a savage battle lasting nearly 5 days the Hlubis were finally broken and only a few pockets of survivours managed to flee the massacre inflicted on them.
Historical facts and events now become confused and vague, because there was no presence of Europeans to record the events that followed. Europeans had begun to arrive in the coastal plains of the Nguni tribes while Shaka was still alive and were able to record events still fresh in the memories of the inhabitants. There had been no penetration of Europeans amongst the Sotho tribes so nothing was recorded.
Matiwane’s’ movements were heard about in fragments but overall chaos reigned in the region of the upper highlands and plateau above the Drakensberg. Tribes were attacked and displaced and it seemed that groups of people were either fleeing or searching for something, mainly food to survive. Cannibalism had begun to be common as people were desperate to stay alive. It was estimated that nearly two and a half million people were involved in this tragic period. There were no formal settlements or villages, only displaced bands and mobs of desperate people who raided and pillaged in order to live.
Eventually we hear that Matiwane, realizing that he could not budge Mosheshwe from his mountain fortress of Thaba Bosiu, angled down south to the southern end of the Drakensberg and came to a halt in what was then Tembu country near Mt.Baziya in the Eastern Cape.
What Matiwane did not know was that the Zulus had embarked on an expedition all the way down to the Great Kei River which was at the border of what was then British Kaffraria. The presence of Matiwane was known but the British confused him with the Zulu raiding expedition who had long since returned to Zululand.
A military party of 30 Europeans and a small party of natives supporters under the command of Major Dundas bumped into Matiwane and attacked him and it was in this battle that he first experienced gunpowder and firearms.
Major Dundas reported this skirmish to Colonel Somerset who had a vastly superior force of the 2nd Battalion of the Border Regiment, a party of supporting Boers and 18 000 Tembus under his command. Somerset believed that Matiwane was actually the Zulu raiding force that had long since left the area, and attacked Matiwane’s Ngwanes defeating them and believing wrongly that he had smashed the Zulu force.
Matiwane’s spirit was finally broken; he was now without his tribe almost alone, so with those who remained of his tribe he set off for the north. His idea was to appeal to Shaka for clemency and mercy. Arriving near Thaba Bosiu, Mosheshwe offered him refuge and sanctuary which Matiwane declined. He left his wife who was ill and some of his sons and this weary homesick old warrior set off back home for Zululand.
He arrived in Zululand to find that Shaka was dead and Dingane ruled in his place. Dingane accommodated him for awhile and then summoned him to appear before him. Matiwane suspected the worst and he removed his brass arm ring which he handed to his son Zikhali ordering him to return home to his mother. When Matiwane appeared before Dingane he was asked where all his people were. “These are all that are left” he replied upon which Dingane ordered them to be taken away to a nearby hill and put to death by having their necks broken by twisting. Matiwane was tortured and had his eyes taken out and wooden sticks driven up his nostrils. This hill was named after him – KwaMatiwane – and it was on this same hill that the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and his party of seventy men were murdered on 6th February 1838.
There is a story that Dingane had become friendly with Hlati, one of Matiwane’s sons and when Hlathi unexpectedly died, Matiwane was suspected of witchcraft and therefore put to death.
Zikhali fled to Swaziland and whilst living there fell in love with Nomlalati a Swazi princess. King Sobhuza was against this liaison and Zikhali had to flee back to Zululand. Dingane is said to have had a change of heart and he took pity on Zikhali and gave him the present tribal area below the Drakensberg. Princess Nomlalati also fled Swaziland and joined Zikhali and happily to say lived in peace after that. Their son Ncwadi became chief when Zikhali died in 1863. I was told that on some of the early maps of the Drakensberg, Cathederal Peak was named “Mpondo we Zikhali” or Zikhali’s horn.
Matiwane chose the wrong direction to break away, had he chosen to go north he would have been ahead of Mzilikazi by a few years and who knows what greatness he could have achieved.
You have to appreciate that with the movements of people not being recorded, things can appear confusing. The Ngwanes were all from a common ancestor, and like the Ndebele people, splinter groups split off and settled in different areas which over time leads to confusion as to Who is Who.
One added factor needs to taken into account. During the Anglo Zulu War it must be mentioned that Theophilus Shepstone Jr. had under his command 180 Hlubis of the baTlokwa, Mafunzi provided 73 of his tribe and the Ngwanes provide 37 scouts, all volunteers who fought for the British against Cetshwayo and the Zulus.
For further reference, the iziThakazelo’s of the Ngwane isiBongo are to the best of my knowledge;
Hlongwane, Mtungwa, Hlanzelibanzi, Sangwini, Dlamini, Mlangeni, Khuluse, Zikode, Luhlongwane and Shabangu.
FURTHER REMARKS ON THE MFECANE or DIFAQANE in Sotho: