History - Mzilikazi Khumalo (c. 1790 – 9 September 1868)


Mzilikazi Khumalo (c. 1790 – 9 September 1868) born in Mkuze was a Southern African king who founded the Mthwakazi Kingdom now known as Matabeleland, in what became British South Africa Company-ruled Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. His name means "the great road". He was born the son of Mashobane kaMangethe near Mkuze, Zululand (now known as KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa), and died at Ingama, Matabeleland (near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). Many consider him to be the greatest Southern African military leader after the Zulu king Shaka. In his autobiography, David Livingstone referred to Mzilikazi as the second most impressive leader he encountered on the African continent.

Mzilikazi was originally a lieutenant of Shaka but had a quarrel with him in 1823 and rebelled. Rather than face ritual execution, he fled northwards with his followers. He first travelled to Mozambique but in 1826 he moved west into the Transvaal due to continued attacks by his enemies. He absorbed many members of other tribes as he conquered the Transvaal, where he established a military despotism. He attacked the Ndzundza kraal at Esikhunjini, where the Ndzundza king Magodongo and others were kidnapped and subsequently killed at Mkobola river.

For the next ten years Mzilikazi dominated the Transvaal. This period, known locally as the Mfecane ["crushing"] was characterised by devastation and murder on a grand scale. Mzilikazi eliminated all opposition and reorganised the captured territory to suit the new Matabele order. In 1831, after winning a battle against the Griqua people, Mzilikazi occupied the Griqua lands near the Ghaapse mountains. He used scorched earth methods to maintain a safe distance from all surrounding kingdoms. The death toll has never been satisfactorily determined, but it is believed that the region was so depopulated that the Voortrekkers were able to occupy and take ownership of the Highveld area without opposition in the 1830s.

The Europeans who met Mzilikazi include Henry Hartley, hunter and explorer; Robert Moffat, missionary; David Hume, explorer and trader; Andrew Smith, medical doctor, ethnologist and zoologist; William Cornwallis Harris, hunter; and the missionary explorer David Livingstone.

During the tribe's wanderings north of the Limpopo, Mzilikazi became separated from the bulk of the tribe. They gave him up for dead and hailed his young heir Nkulumane as his successor. However, Mzilikazi reappeared after a traumatic journey through the Zambezi Valley and reasserted control. According to one account, his son and all the chiefs who had chosen him were put to death on his orders. A popular belief is that they were executed by being thrown down a steep cliff on the hill now called Ntabazinduna [hill of the chiefs].

Another account claims that Nkulumane was not killed with the chiefs, but was sent back to the Zulu Kingdom with a sizeable delegation which included warriors. During his journey south, he passed through the Bakwena territory in the northwestern Transvaal, near Rustenburg. At the time the Bakwena were struggling to repel repeated attacks from a neighbouring king, who laid claim to the territory that they occupied. Nkulumane assisted the Bakwena by leading his impi [regiment] in a battle in which Nkulumane himself killed the neighbouring chief.

Following this victory the Bakwena convinced Nkulumane to settle in their territory, arguing that it would be futile to return to the Zulu kingdom as his father's enemies would probably kill him. Nkulumane settled and lived with his family in that area until his death in 1883. His grave, covered in a concrete slab, is on the outskirts of Rustenburg in Phokeng. The site of Nkulumane's grave is incongruously referred to as Mzilikazi's Kop [hill], even though it is his son who is buried there.

After resuming his role as chief, Mzilikazi founded his capital 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Ntabazinduna and named it ko-Bulawayo [place of slaughter]. Shaka's capital was also called Bulawayo.