South Africa, meet the Shangaan tribe (But then who is Tsonga?)

2013-08-14 14:09
There is still a huge amount of confusion with regards to differentiating who or what is Shangaan or Tsonga. Before we can understand Tsonga history, it is fair to clarify how Shangaans became Tsonga. The term Shangaan is used interchangeably with Tsonga; however the meaning is one but only to those of the Tsonga tribe.

Who is Tsonga then?

The Tsonga tribe originates from East Africa; we are a tribe without a king. We moved down to the south of Africa, namely Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. We grew our tribe through assimilating other tribes such as Vakalanga (Valoyi), Ndlovu and the Shangaans to name a few. Today, all Tsonga tribes share one identity even though origins differ. The issue is with the term or category, even though linguistics group us as one. Tribal divisions make other Tsonga groups reject the title Shangaan or Tsonga. This is an issue of identity, even though our origins, culture and languages are similar. The Shangaan tribe is accused of wanting to yet again attempt to rule the whole Tsonga tribe by replacing its existence. The Shangaan tribe shadows other Tsonga tribes; also the other Tsonga tribes such as Vandzawu and VaTshwa refuse the term Tsonga.
The core of this discussion is origin and context of the tribe and term Shangaan.

Origins - 
There are two types of Tsonga tribes, Vatsonga-va-Xiviri na Vatsonga-va-Riririmi (Tsongas of Origin and Tsongas of language). With that said, Vatsonga-va-Ririmi are a tribe that lost its language then followed its culture. These tribes came to Tsonga land in passing or through warm, they never left, they became Tsonga. Yet each of these tribes recognizes where they originate from. A good example of such a tribe is the Maluleke tribe that gave us Prof. Hudson Ntsan’wisi former chief minister of Gazankulu. This is also the case with the Shangaan tribe, just like the Ndlovu tribe, the Shangaan tribe is not the first Nguni tribe to be assimilated into the Tsonga group.

According to the 2004 Presidential appointed commission on traditional leader’s disputes and claims:7.3.1 AmaShangana are Nguni people. Mnguni is the forefather of the Nguni people.7.3.2 The Nguni people are divided into southern and northern Nguni. The northern Nguni include amaZulu, amaSwati, amaNdebele and amaNdwandwe.7.3.3 Nxumalo was the first leader of amaNdwandwe during the seventeenth century. He was succeeded by Ndwandwe, Mkhatshwa, Gaza I, Langa I, Mavuso, Ludonga, Xaba, Langa II and Zwide II.7.3.4 During 1819, amaNdwandwe were under the leadership of Zwide II. Soshangana (also known as Manukusi) was his cousin, military commander and leader of the Gaza regiment.7.3.5 After the defeat of Zwide by Shaka in 1819, Soshangana refused to be incorporated into the Zulu kingdom. He fled with his followers along the eastern foothills of the Lubombo mountains to the upper Tembe River.7.3.6 Soshangana and his followers later crossed the Tembe River to Delagoa Bay. He fought, defeated and subjugated the vaThonga communities he found in the area. In 1828, he was attacked by Shaka. He moved further north to an area known as Bileni.7.3.7 He further subjugated and incorporated indigenous communities that included amongst others vaNdzawu, vaNgomane, vaShongonono, vaRhonga, vaChopi, vaShona and vaTshwa. Thus, Soshangana established his kingdom. He established his Great Place at Bileni. He named his newly formed traditional community maShangana and the kingdom was named “Gaza,” after one of his ancestors.7.3.8 Soshangana fathered Mzila, from the first wife, Nomboya and Mawewe from his great wife. Nomboya, the heir apparent, predeceased his father.7.3.9 Soshangana fought his way further north and eventually settled in Musapa, the area between Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. He died at Chayimite in 1858.

Do note that Soshangana did not rule all Tsonga tribes. Through his wars he managed to unite the Tsonga tribe, thus the political correct term for our group is Vatsonga-Machangana. Soshangana is honored for uniting our tribe, even though his aim was to rule and change Tsonga tribes into Nguni slaves, Soshangana lived and died a proud Tsonga. The other reason for the term “Vatsonga-Machangana” is that for many years the Shangaans only recognized themselves as Tsonga speaking Nguni’s, thus Vatsonga-Machangana.

4.1.16 In 1884 Nghunghunyani realized that his kingdom was being invaded by the Boers and the British. He signed a treaty with the Portuguese government, and by so doing compromised his sovereignty and independence. The Portuguese went on to demarcate boundaries of the Gaza kingdom and further dispossessed amaShangana of their land.4.1.17 In 1895 Nghunghunyani placed his kingdom under the British to gain protection from the Portuguese. Nevertheless, the Portuguese attacked and defeated the Gaza regiments. This resulted in the dispersal of amaShangana all over the country and some became victims of the migrant labour system.4.1.18 On 28 December 1895, the Portuguese captured Nghunghunyani, his sons Godide and Buyisonto, his brothers, uncles as well as his generals. He pleaded for the release of his brothers, uncles and the generals. On 13 March 1896, Nghunghunyani, his sons and one of his generals were banished to Portugal as prisoners of war.4.1.19 After the defeat by the Portuguese, amaShangana regrouped under Mpisane Nxumalo, the uncle of Nghunghunyani. Mpisane was forced to leave Mandlakazi together with the wives of Nghunghunyani and the remaining members of the royal family. He took along his followers, travelled west, and eventually settled at Bushbuckridge, in the present day Mpumalanga. Mpisane ruled as regent for Thulamahashe who was the qualifying successor in the absence of Godide and Buyisonto.4.1.20 Nghunghunyani was the last king to rule over the united Gaza kingdom. He died on 23 December 1906 at the age of 56. He was buried in Portugal.
Context –

Within the Tsonga groups, Shangaan is acceptable and even though it may not be valid. It is however used interchangeably with Tsonga. But when it comes to matters of identity, Tsongas are not all Shangaans. The term Shangaan is used socially to mean Tsonga; also it used to specify which Tsonga tribe one is from.The term Shangaan is rejected once outside the borders of Tsonga land, as it has different derogatory meanings. Even the spelling differs, we write it as “Muchangana or Muchangani”, while others write: “iShangane” or “Lechangane”.

Let it be clear that the Tsonga tribe is not from the Nguni tribe. Let it be known that we are all Tsonga; we speak and live the Tsonga way, this is inclusive of the famous amaShangana tribe.

Be on the lookout for my letter to the Huvo ya Vatsonga.
Twitter: @FanaThePurp Website: 
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.