Our Story | Godongwana becomes Dingiswayo

The herdboys were shocked by the appearance of a strange pale-skinned creature. Picture: Supplied
The herdboys were shocked by the appearance of a strange pale-skinned creature. Picture: Supplied

BOOKS


Rich and impeccably researched, the Our Story series of illustrated history books, aimed at children and adults alike, by South African Heritage Publishers tells the tales that shaped the nation and played out across what are now our nine provinces.

City Press ran a series of extracts to coincide with the first books in 2014, which were received with much appreciation by our readers. Riding on the success of the first 23 books, the publishers have released 11 more, and we are pleased to be able to again run extracts for your enjoyment and education 

While the story of Dingiswayo’s life alone is compelling, any story of Shaka would be incomplete without understanding the central role Dingiswayo played in Shaka’s life.

In many senses Dingiswayo was the father figure who Senzangakhona refused to be. Dingiswayo’s death, at the hands of Zwide kaLanga of the amaNdwandwe, would culminate in the battle of Mhlatuze River; and the defeat of Zwide, Soshangaan kaNxumalo and Zwangendaba kaJele by the Mthethwa under Shaka, supported by Zwide’s grandson Mzilikazi kaMashobane.

Following the battle, Zwide escaped to northern Eswatini and Mpumalanga, while the amaShangaan and Ngoni nations were established under Soshangaan and Zwangendaba respectively.

In this extract, we find the young Dingiswayo, then called Godongwana, on the run for his life. The Mthethwa chief Jobe kaKhayi had several sons, but he favoured his second son, Mawewe, as successor over his first-born, Godongwana.

After a rumour circulated that Godongwana had conspired against his father, Jobe felt justified in ordering the death of his eldest son. Read on to find the young Godongwana, having had a few narrow escapes, about to meet a stranger who was to have a lasting influence.

Dingiswayo

South African Heritage Publishers

48 pages, illustrated

R115 at bookstores

info@heritagepublishers.co.za


A song would be sung in later years by the amaQwabe about the European who had once come on horseback. The pale-faced creature carried a pole in his hand which spat fire and thunder and killed all wild animals he pointed it at. The tribesmen whispered that the stranger could be the chief of a group of diviners, prophets from whom all shamans – sangomas – derived their powers.

To please this strange being and stop him from casting magic spells on them, the men left a newly-slaughtered ox for his food outside the kraals. When the tribesmen crept back after the visitor had gone a long distance, they found beads, copper bangles, brassware and trinkets where he had sat.

The idea of Godongwana riding on a strange animal and being in possession of a weapon of thunder, both of which were said to have been brought by him from some distant country over the seas, caused a feeling in the minds of the Mthethwa similar to that which had pervaded the different tribes through which the umlungu had passed.
Dingiswayo

Some told of the being’s miraculous escape from a blazing hut and its vengeance on those who had set it alight to burn the creature to death. Others assumed it was some superior kind of doctor, possessed of all the magic powers necessary for causing or preventing rain and thunder, lightning, and other celestial disturbances.

Now, it seemed, one of these unusual creatures was coming to Bungane’s kraal. There was talk of taking flight in advance of his arrival, but the chief’s curiosity overcame his fear, and he welcomed this man who had two servants with him who were no different from other people. Some of the amaHlubi men, who had travelled away from home and learnt the language of other tribes further inland, were even able to understand their speech.

This white man was Dr Cowan, a Scottish explorer who rode on horseback from the Cape of Good Hope in a northeasterly direction in 1801. The traveller had tried for some time, in vain, to find guides to direct him to the coast about 500 kilometres away, and then on to Delagoa Bay.

Dingiswayo

Eventually Godongwana, with his small band of followers, volunteered to guide the umlungu, considering that the European’s skills and the goods he had to trade aroused Godongwana’s interest.

During his stay with the chief, the white man performed a surgical operation on Bungane’s knee which had for a few years been infected and had caused him great pain.

The journey to the coast took many days, as the doctor was often ill, but eventually the little party arrived in the amaQwabe tribal lands near the coast at the uThukela River. Godongwana’s group and Dr Cowan parted company here. The amaQwabe chief, Phakathwayo, fearing that the traveller was one of the sea animals that fed on elephants’ tusks, ordered Cowan to be seized and put to death.

Godongwana, however, escaped Phakathwayo, taking with him the firestick and the strange riding animal. Legend has it that his appearance made him the wonder of the tribes through which he passed on the way home to Mthethwa territory. However, he was not able to make the stick spit fire. He found difficulty in urging the animal to travel swiftly because he lacked the sharp heels which the white man had dug into its sides to make it go faster.

Godongwana next took up residence near his own district and rumours spread of his arrival. It was reported he had brought a large army and was riding on an “injomane”, the name which had now been given to horses.

The idea of Godongwana riding on a strange animal and being in possession of a weapon of thunder, both of which were said to have been brought by him from some distant country over the seas, caused a feeling in the minds of the Mthethwa similar to that which had pervaded the different tribes through which the umlungu had passed. The Mthethwa imagined that Godongwana had, by some magic power, gained an ascendancy over the guardian spirit of his brother Mawewe.

Eventually Godongwana, with his small band of followers, volunteered to guide the umlungu, considering that the European’s skills and the goods he had to trade aroused Godongwana’s interest.
Dingiswayo

The return after Jobe’s death of a “westernised”, smart, diplomatic, sensitive and deliberative Godongwana may have concerned and alarmed powerful people, such as Zwide of the Ndwandwe, thinking that the Mthethwa chief displayed the hallmarks of a great leader, one beyond their own capabilities.

They may have thought that it would be best to get rid of him through treachery before he could persuade the people of the benefits of having him as king and joining him in developing a formidable army. Several chiefs visited Godongwana, with Mawewe’s consent, to ascertain the truth.

They were favourably inclined to Godongwana and, during their visit, formed a scheme for ousting his brother. Mawewe accordingly sent an army to kill his brother, but was attacked by men who simultaneously shouted out Godongwana’s war cry, and Mawewe’s force was defeated.

On the news reaching Mawewe, he fled, and Godongwana, without further opposition, became chief of the Mthethwa in about 1809. His first act was to forbid the name of Godongwana being applied to him any longer, saying that, although his father had driven him to undergo the various hardships he had experienced, when Jobe had become a spirit, he favoured his eldest son’s cause.

He ever afterwards went by the name of Dingiswayo – “one in distress”, an allusion to the hard times he had experienced as a wandering outcast.

. From the Our Story series published by SA Heritage Publishers. Ask your nearest bookseller to order from us at info@saheritagepublishers.co.za, and visit www.saheritagepublishers.co.za to see our full range of titles.

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