Our Story No 17: Mzilikazi’s war kraals

2016-11-20 06:39

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Mzilikazi 2: The Roving Conqueror

South African Heritage Publishers

48 pages, illustrated


During the next year the three military kraals were built.

Each one was a large, sprawling settlement built in very much the same way as Shaka Zulu’s Gibixhengu, where a large cattle kraal was surrounded by great semi-circular huts.

The entire settlement was surrounded by a high wall made from heavy branches.

On the tops of these fences, sharp thorns were woven into the wall to give extra protection against invaders, whether it was a hungry lion or an enemy.

Inside these massive structures Mzilikazi would train his Matabele troops in the art of war, and at a moment’s notice they would be ready to defend their chief.

The three kraals were built along the Crocodile and Apies Rivers.

The first was called enKungwini – the Place of Mist – and was built on the banks of the Apies River where Pretoria North is now. If you travelled just a little way down the river you would then meet up with the second mighty kraal, known as enDinaneni.

The third kraal was the biggest one of the three, and was built to be the capital of the Matabele nation. It was known as emHlahlandlela – Cutting a Path – and it lay furthest north of all the kraals along the Crocodile River, a little way from where it met the Limpopo River.

The kraals were built with architects, craftsmen, thatchers and builders working every day to finish them quickly. Mzilikazi was impatient for the work to be finished, and would continually order the builders to hurry up.

While the kraals were being built, Mzilikazi had some visitors in his temporary kraal.

They were Ndwandwe warriors, the remainder of the army that had been led by Chief Zwide, Mzilikazi’s very own grandfather, who had been defeated by Shaka Zulu many years before.

Since they lost the battle with the Zulu chief, they were forced to run away from Zululand in much the same way as Mzilikazi, and had to roam the country as nomads, always looking for food and water.

Now they fled from the east of present-day Gauteng to plead with the Khumalo chief to be part of the Matabele nation.

The Ndwandwe had heard that the Matabele were now a powerful nation, and so they asked if they could join Mzilikazi’s ranks as members of that nation.

Now, even though Mzilikazi had fought against the Ndwandwe and Chief Zwide had cut off the head of his father a long time before, the Matabele chief was glad to welcome his fellow Nguni speakers into his kraal.

After the invasion of the Bakwena, there were many people of Sotho origin who had joined Mzilikazi’s ranks, so when the Ndwandwe asked to join the Matabele, Mzilikazi realised it would be a way to strengthen his own family ties.

In this way, the Ndwandwe joined the Matabele as a kind of royalty, where all the Nguni speakers enjoyed a higher rank than the Sotho members who had joined because their clans had been defeated.


Another project Mzilikazi pursued was one that had been bothering him for some time. It was about a clan who lived near the Steelpoort River, just before it merged with the upper Olifants River.

The Bapedi lived there under the rule of Chief Sekwati. The Bapedi were the “rock rabbits” that had managed to escape the Matabele attack when Mzilikazi’s troops were searching for the Sotho chiefs Sibindi and Mokotoko.

The Matabele had managed to attack everyone who stood in their path, except for Chief Sekwati’s army.

The reason for this was that the Bapedi would scurry up two steep mountains, known as Matamoga and Morema, and in doing so would escape the wrath of the Matabele.

Mzilikazi heard that the Bapedi had started to boast far and wide they were the only people to have beaten the mighty Matabele, and they started to sing songs about Mzilikazi that called the great chief a mighty brute.

Now, any self-respecting chief could not allow this, and so Mzilikazi commanded his troops to attack the Bapedi on their return from Mashonaland.

When the troops returned they kept their promise, and they attacked Matamoga and Morema, the two mountain strongholds of the Bapedi.

They wanted to get rid of the “rock rabbits” that lived there. This time the Bapedi were unlucky, and weren’t able to send the Matabele away in defeat.

The attack was harsh, but not many of the Bapedi were killed.

In fact, they were taken prisoner and sent back to emHlahlandlela, to help the Matabele finish building the mighty kraal.

When they returned to emHlahlandlela, Mzilikazi kept them prisoner in an unusual way. He built them 44 huts in the middle of emHlahlandlela, complete
with high walls to keep them locked inside.

Mzilikazi then made them work in the nearby forests, cutting down trees to be used at the military kraal.

The Bapedi were worked to the bone for mocking the great Matabele chief, until it was said that they became so weak they could not work any more. Eventually, the
Bapedi were so weak that Mzilikazi sent them back to their mountain homes in order to recuperate.

The Bapedi, as well as all the other prisoners, were the biggest workforce that built emHlahlandlela.

They were the ones who built the high walls and the huts, the fences for the cattle kraals, and even the buildings where they would be kept as prisoners.

They were made to work without rest, under the command of the Nguni-speaking Matabele who held the positions of supervisors and designers.

- To buy the books, ask your nearest bookseller to order copies if they do not stock the series, or contact the publishers at info@saheritagepublishers.co.za

- For a full list of titles in the series,

visit saheritagepublishers.co.za

- For updates and more information, follow Our Story on Facebook at facebook.com/ancestorstories or on Twitter at @saheritagepub


To win an exclusive box set of the first 14 Our Story titles, valued at R2 500, SMS us on 34217 using the keyword HERITAGE17.

Include your name, surname, email address and the answer to the following question: What was the nickname that the Matabele, now known as the amaNdebele, gave the Bapedi?

Congratulations to last week’s winner, Paul Ntshabele. ANSWER: Mpangazitha

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