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Game Of Thrones (9) - The Nkulumane Question

We left off in 1867 at the Shoshong with Matsheng once more on the Bangwato throne. Having outmanoeuvred Sekgoma with Khama’s help, his second reign was initially characterised by domestic peace.

By the end of the year, the immediate threat posed to the Bangwato and others in the region by the Tati gold discovery had also receded. The nature of the ore and its then relative remoteness limited the potentially disruptive influx of European prospectors. Cape Colony efforts to get London to establish an imperial presence in the region at the time proved futile, though the seeds for the subsequent Tati Concession had been sewn.

More decisive was the thwarting of Pretoria’s designs in the area. During the first half of 1860s, politics within South African Republic had been unsettled by internal strife amongst the Transvaal Boers, only stabilising with the return to power of Marthinus Pretorius. The success of a united front of the Bangwato and Amandebele over Tati, which closely followed the ultimatum issued by Sechele, Gaseitsiwe and Montshiwa warning against Boer encroachment in Lehurutshe, had the combined effect of checking the ever ambitious President.

 Strategic cooperation between the Bangwato and AmaNdebele courts, however, unravelled in the wake of the September 9, 1868 death of Mzilikazi. 

At the time of the great Nkosi’s demise his ultimate heir, Lobengula, was leading his regiment against the Vashona of Watah in what is now north-eastern Zimbabwe. The expedition may have been motivated by a desire to remove the prince from harm’s way. It was unusually accompanied by the English adventure capitalists George Westbeech and George Phillips, who seem to have been recruited to provide additional security.

Lobengula’s path to the throne was then strongly opposed by a faction who insisted that the rightful claimant was Nkulumane or Kuruman, the long lost son of Mzilikazi’s great wife, Umoaka.

To this day, the actual fate of Nkulumane remains a mystery. In the early months of 1838, during the AmaNdebele migration through Botswana into Zimbabwe, Mzilikazi had divided his forces.

A larger group led by Gondwanda, which included Nkulumane as well as apparently most of the women and children, moved in a north-easterly direction before settling at Ntaba ye Zinduna near modern Bulawayo. For his part Mzilikazi had taken some of his regiments on a more circuitous route via the Zambezi, in the process raiding much of northern Botswana and north-western Zimbabwe.

In 1840, after some two years of separation, Gondwanda decided to proclaim Nkulumane as Nkosi in the belief that Mzilikazi had perished. Thereafter, Mzilikazi marched on Ntaba ye Zinduna, where he had the presumptuous Gondwanda and his followers put to death.

By some accounts, Nkulumane was

also killed. Indeed, in August 1869 an elder induna named Gwabaiyo testified that he and another figure had secretly strangled the prince on Mzilikazi’s behalf.

An alternative version of events was that Nkulumane had been sent away for his protection to relatives in Natal. By some accounts he instead found refuge amongst the Bafokeng (a family claiming to be his direct descendents currently resides in Phokeng).

With the issue of succession thus outstanding, a senior Induna named Nombate was appointed regent, while a search party was dispatched to Natal to determine Nkulumane’s fate.

Shortly after their arrival at Pietermaritzburg, the delegation were introduced by the Colony’s Secretary for Native Affairs, Theophilus Shepstone, to a person claiming to be Nkulumane. Otherwise known as “Kanda”, the said individual was at the time employed as Shepstone’s gardener. After questioning, the AmaNdebele concluded that the claimant was a fraud; paving the way for Lobengula’s coronation on June 24, 1870. Notwithstanding this development, the claims of the Natal pretender continued to enjoy the backing of some leading Amanebele including Mbigo, who had succeeded Nkulumane as the leader of the Zwagandaba regiment.

Thus encouraged, and with Shepstone’s continued backing, in 1871 the pretender Nkulumane travelled to Shoshong, where his royal claims also enjoyed the support of Matsheng. But, the Kgosi’s attempt to mobilise three Bangwato regiments to escort Nkulumane into Zimbabwe, where they would presumably have combined forces with Mbigo’s warriors was frustrated by Khama, resulting in renewed division. Threatened, Khama and Kgamane once more requested that Sechele intervene by assisting them in overthrowing Matsheng.

For his part, Lobengula also sought Sechele’s support, asking him to “send your son or some other important persons” for consultations. At the time, the Nkosi was undoubtedly eager to avoid another encounter with Bangwato guns as well as grateful of the fact that the Mokwena exercised a restraining influence over AmaNdebele exiles in Molepolole who were led by another banished prince, U’mpotla. In the end, Sechele summoned a letsholo (armed meeting) in which the Bakwena mephato were joined by armed Bangwato led by Khama. Before the multitude, the Kgosikgolo declared:

“There will be no peace in the country while either Sekgoma or Matsheng is chief of the Bangwato. I shall therefore assist Khama to obtain the chieftainship for himself, in the hope that permanent peace will be established and that my people may have a free road to hunt and trade in the wide country north of Shoshong.”

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