Thursday, March 4, 2010


The Zwangendaba Succession

  • Thursday, March 4, 2010
  • Samuel Albert
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  • C. J. W. Fleming
    IN order to appreciate all the niceties of the Zwangendaba succession it is necessary to go back and look at the ancestry of this legendary potentate. He was the son of Hlachwayo, an induna of the powerful Ndwandwe chief, Zwide Ncumayo, who occupied the country to the north of the Black Mfolozi River in Northern Zululand. There is here, as there often is in other places, some confusion over tribal names.' Basically all the peoples in the coastal belt from Delagoa Bay to the Great Fish River were of Nguni stock but there were many subdivisions among them and many tribal names. Very often these names stemmed from the designation of the locality from which the people hailed. This appears to have been the case with the Angoni for they are often called Swazi, apparently because they came from a district called Uswazi in their original homeland near St. Lucia Bay.2 Because of this they are often confused with the Swazi of present day Swaziland, but this is wrong for it seems that there is no direct connection between the two groups except that they were both of Nguni origin. They probably derive their other name of Angoni from the wider tribal name of Nguni. The Angoni's closest associates in Zululand, where they hailed from, were the Ndandwe, their overlords, and the Kumalos, later to be known as the Amandebele, who were also at one time the subjects of Zwide Ncumayo. Their southern neighbours were the Mtetwa and the Zulus, who, to start with, were an insignificant group living alongside the Mtetwa. However this was all changed in the opening decades of the nineteenth century when Shaka Zulu, a scion of the house of Senzangakona Zulu, first of all seized the family chieftainship, then that of Dingiswayo of the Mtetwa, his erstwhile benefactor, and then proceeded to subdue all the neighbouring tribes in Zululand. All the conquered people afterwards came to be known as Zulu. Very early on Shaka turned his attention to Zwide Ncumayo and a protracted struggle followed. Zwangendaba like his father was one of Zwide's indunas and was reckoned to be one of his most successful generals in the fights with Shaka. In 1819 however Zwide's armies were finally defeated at the battle of the Mhlatuze River and the broken remnants and many women and children fled northwards and eventually collected, together with many other refugees from Shaka's reign of terror, in the country to the south of Delagoa Bay. Among them were Sochangane, an Ncumayo who subsequently usurped the Zwide chieftainship, and Zwangendaba and many of their followers.

    At this time Zwangendaba must have been a fully mature man because it is known from an incident which is recounted below that he was married and had a little son in his first house (nyumba ya gogo) and there is evidence to suggest that he had already married Lompetu, an Ncumayo and kinswoman of Zwide, as his principal or great wife. It was a common practice among the Nguni for chiefly clans to contract political marriages of this sort with their leading subjects and it is recorded that Mzilikazi, the chief of the Amandebele people, was the son of an Ncumayo princess3 and he was therefore distantly related by marriage to Zwangendaba. The Angoni family system is complicated by the existence of "houses", an institution which springs from the polygamous nature of many Angoni marriages. Each of a man's wives is thought of as having her own house but the wife is not necessarily alone in the house for she may be associated with junior female relatives who rank pari passu with her in the hierarchy of wives and whose children are looked on as her children and take precedence immediately after her own children. The first of such ancillary wives is termed the hlazi of the first, and she in her turn may have a mutanyelo who may also have a hlazi. In the case of a royal family or the family of a notable, these houses often form kraals on their own, they are given names, court officials are assigned to them and they may continue in existence for many generations not only in the homeland but wherever the owners chance to move to in other countries. When an Angoni chief or notable first marries, his wife does not, however, move to a new village but remains as the mistress of her husband's kraal. Her eldest son does not succeed to the chieftainship as might be expected except on the failure of all other issue but instead remains in his father's kraal and subsequently becomes the elder statesman of the tribe or the clan as the case may be. The first house is known as the nyumba ya gogo, the house of the grandparent. The second wife is the great wife. Her house is known as the nyumba ya lusungulu which Miss Read says means the house of the needle and therefore by analogy the house which goes before all others.4 On marrying his great wife the husband starts a new kraal to house this wife and her Nazi if she has one and this is the house in which the chieftainship resides. Hlachwayo's principal kraal, the kraal his father set up when he marriedHlachwayo's mother, was called Elangeni; Zwangendaba's kraal, in which he was born, was called Ekwendeni, and the kraal in which he placed Lompetu was called. Emveyeyeni. After some time spent at Delagoa Bay, Zwangendaba, with the permission of Sochangane,5 set off on his journey to the north, but Sochangane treacherously attacked the advance party consisting mostly of womenfolk and cattle and killed or captured most of them. Zwangendaba counter-attacked and recovered many of the captives and cattle. However he lost his first wife, the one in the nyumba ya gogo, and little son, Ndindane, and according to Chibambo other wives as well. 6 However Lompetu and one or two junior wives survived, so the succession was not affected. After this set-back he moved on to the country of the Tonga on the lower Limpopo before continuing into the Midlands of modern Rhodesia.

    During the tribe's sojourn in Rhodesia two events took place which were to have a profound effect on the disputes which afterwards arose on the succession to the chieftainship. As to the first of these, Zwangendaba desired to marry a Swazi girl in his following named Munene.7 The story, which is rather an extraordinary one, is that he mistakenly married her younger sister, Qutu, instead, but later on discovering his mistake insisted on marrying Munene as well.8 It chanced that both bore him sons and the question later arose as to which of the two sons was senior, the son of the senior sister or the son of the younger one whom he happened to have married first. It was not the ordinary pattern of Angoni marriage for had it been so Munene would have been the senior wife in the house and Qutu would have been her Nazi and there would have been no question as to whose children were senior. But both sisters appear to have had their own houses and, in point of time anyway, Qutu's house was the senior. It was a pretty legal point which as things turned out was never satisfactorily resolved. Because the two women were Swazis some have concluded that they were slave girls captured on the way up, but for the reasons given before this is unlikely. Moreover the point that they were of doubtful ancestry was never taken in the later disputes over the succession.

    The other event which took place while the tribe was still in Rhodesia involved Lompetu, the great wife, who was childless, and her hlazi,Soseya. Zwangendaba was having a carousal at an outlying village one day when pots of beer to add to the conviviality arrived from the royal kraal of Emveyeyeni, the residence of Lompetu. It is alleged that, on examination, one of them was found to have a human hair floating on the surface of the beer. Immediately the cry went up that it was treason and that someone was endeavouring to compass the chief's death. A hurried council was called and the upshot was that Gwaza Jere, later to become the revered elder statesman of the tribe, was despatched with a posse of warriors with orders to extirpate everyone in the royal kraal including the two queens. On arrival it was found that Soseya was about to give birth to a child and although much slaughter was done Gwaza took it on himself to save the two queens and hide them in Elangeni kraal where he lived. Some time later when the hubbub had died down he confessed to the chief what he had done. Zwangendaba embraced the two women and acknowledged the child, a little boy, as his. However, though he forgave them, he never restored them to the royal kraal or to their former dignities.9 The question later arose as to whether the boy, later to be known as Mpezeni, was heir-apparent or whether, as many argued, he had been passed over in favour of the boys by the two Swazi girls mentioned before.

    It is ancient history that after about a dozen years spent in Rhodesia, Zwangendaba crossed the Zambezi River in about November, 1835 into modern. Zambia and after a stay in the present Petauke district he moved on again, first to the Mawiri pools near where Loudon Mission now stands in Northern Malawi, and then finally to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika.1o There at a place called Mapupo he died in about 1848. It was a time of further difficulty for the people for they were now faced with a disputed succession. As has been explained earlier the seeds of the trouble had been planted long before. In many ways the Angoni law of inheritance was superior to that of many other African tribes. Somehow or other it had shaken off the doctrine of tanistry, whereby the headship of the family descends from elder brother to younger brother until all the brethren have been exhausted and only then does the family dissolve and the leadership pass to males in the next generation. Angoni law was somewhat like Roman law in that the death of the father precipitated the dissolution of the family and each son who was of age became the master of his own family and, if there was a title involved, it went to the senior son in the great house or nyumba ya lusungulu.This increased the chances of regencies but at the same time enhanced the possibilities of the accession of vigorous young men to the chieftainship. The Angoni system did not however lack complications. The fact that there were frequently sons about who were older than the heir was not always conducive to a trouble-free transference of power. Again, theoretically at least, on failure of sons in the great house, either by the principal wife herself or one of the ancillary wives, the title went to the senior son in the next house. In practice however this did not happen, for instead, a son, usually in the third house, was -imputed- to the principal house. By a legal fiction therefore the heir was always a son of the great house. The bride price payment for the wife in the principal house was contributed by the people and she was therefore looked on as belonging to the tribe and it seems that it was just as important if not more important that the heir should be a son of the great house than that the chief should be the father of the heir)] Not a. lot is known about the machinery involved in an imputation but it is thought that it can only be accomplished formally by the clan in council. Even less is known about the circumstances in which a chief can dissolve a house and so disinherit a son, as Zwangendaba did with the house of Lompetu after the beer incident. It must be remembered that in African eyes what Lompetu is alleged to have done was not only treasonable but was aggravated by the fact that she used non-natural means to attain her ends. Mzilikazi ordered the execution of his son, Nkulamana, for something a good deal less culpable.12 It would seem that in such cases not only the clan but also the council as well would have to be consulted.

    After Zwangendaba's death there was an interregnum. It was not the practice among the Angoni to appoint an heir immediately and it was usually a year before the final funeral rites had been completed and an heir appointed. In this particular case it was not possible either as none of Zwangendaba's sons were of age.' 3. This necessitated a regency and the first regent appointed was Ntabeni, Zwangendaba's younger brother.14 One of his first acts on assuming the regency was to order Munene and her son Mbelwa. out of the royal kraal. He set them up in a small and paltry establishment contemptuously dubbed Emchakachakeni (Ejected) without cattle and bereft of all the trappings of royalty to which they were accustomed. It was well known that there was violent enmity between the Regent and his sister-in-law. Munene had the reputation of being sharp-tongued and shortly before Zwangendaba's death she and Ntabeni had had a bitter quarrel in which she had launched a scurrilous tirade against her brother-in-law. He never forgave her for this and now that he was in power he was determined not only to destroy her but to get her son disinherited as well. When the matter of succession was first mooted, Ntabeni's section put forward the name of Ngodoyi, Ntabeni's handsome son, who it was claimed had been picked by Zwangendaba himself because he was already of age and because of his fine manly qualities and his sagacity. Chibambo says that he had been shown to the people by Zwangendaba who gave him lion and leopard teeth to wear and also made him a present of twenty head of cattle.15 Cullen Young on the other hand states that Zwangendaba had taken care before his death to indicate his choice of a successor by naming Lomagazi, Munene's daughter, and in this way indicating his preference for Mbelwa, Lomagazi's younger brother.16 It is not usual for a chief to name his heir, and it is well nigh inconceivable that he would nominate the son of his younger brother in preference to one of his own sons, so had this story come from anyone but the author of "Makani gha Wangoni" it would be entitled to little credence. The truth will probably never be known but anyway the Jere clan was not influenced by the old chief's wishes for as it turned out neither Ngodoyi nor Mbelwa was nominated. What apparently happened was that the more conservative members of the family, including Gwaza Jere, demurred at the appointment of Ngodoyi and indicated their preference for Mpezeni. Ntabeni sensing the extent of the opposition withdrew his son's candidature; and it was thereupon agreed that the heir should be Mpezeni and that the next in line of succession should be Mtwalu who was the son of the younger of the two sisters, Qutu. Mbwelwa was not mentioned. Even though he did not get his son nominated Ntabeni at least had the satisfaction of seeing the son of his hated sister-in-law disinherited and it is not unlikely that the deliberate nomination of Mtwalu as second in order of succession was offered to him as a sop for the disappointment over Ngodoyi.

    Everything now appeared to have been satisfactorily settled and it only remained for Mpezeni to come of age. However as it turned out this was by no means the end of the matter. The next thing that happened was that either because they were disgusted with. the Regent's treatment of Munene or because they were ill- treated themselves, all Zwangendaba's widows in a body deserted Ntabeni, their natural protector, and went off to live with Mgai, Zwangendaba's cousin. This was a terrible insult which no amount of diplomacy could gloss over. It chanced that at about this time Ntabeni was struck down with a mortal illness and in order to avenge himself he told Ngodoyi and his followers not to report his illness to Mgai and the other leaders, and thus stir up more trouble. Not to report illness or death to one's relations has sinister implications in Angoni law and among non-agnates is an actionable wrong for which damages called lulakha are payable. Ntabeni died and Mgai, incensed, as he was meant to be, at Ngodoyi's failure to report the occurrence sent an impi to bring his recalcitrant cousin to his senses. Ngodoyi however had anticipated this move and while the main body of his followers scattered and took refuge in the bush he sent a group of warriors back to attack Mgai's kraal. They fell on it and ravaged the unprotected settlement and then made off to the north to rejoin the main body. Ngodoyi then led his host further north and one section of them eventually ended up near the southern end of Lake Victoria C) Nyanza where they were later encountered by Stanley. 17

    The Angoni were badly shaken at the defection of Ngodoyi but it proved to be only the first of a number of similar shocks. Shortly after this occurrence they again began their peripatetic mode of life, first shifting to a place called Malindika near Fife on the old Stevenson Road and then back to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika and finally to a place they called Chidhlodhlo. Here Mgai, the second regent, died and Mpezeni was formally inducted into the chieftainship. During Mgai's obsequies, Zulu Gama, a commoner of Angoni stock, took advantage of the unsettled conditions and he too quitted making off with his retainers to the south-east. He was followed by an impi but managed to make good his escape. He and his followers settled on the Rovuma River in the vicinity of Songeya where their descendants, later to be known as the Magwangwara, still live. This was not all for secession was in the air. The next to go was Chiwere Ndhlovu; he set off for the south on the pretext that he was going on a raid. He was not of true Angoni stock but his expedition contained many boys and girls of pure Angoni blood who had joined the party for the adventure of the thing. Chiwere never returned;he passed southwards deep into present day Malawi and finally arrived in the vicinity of Dowa where his descendants and the descendants of his followers are still to be found.18

    Chiwere's defection, coming so soon after the others, caused a lot of recriminations among the remaining Angoni. Gwaza, more than any other of the Jere family, had kept his own counsel about the vexed question of who should succeed Zwangendaba. He had it is true eventually agreed to Mpezeni but he was suspected, probably rightly as subsequent events disclosed, of sympathizing with the claims of Mbwelwa and Mtwalu and particularly th.e former. A rumour was now put about by the royal faction that Gwaza had condoned the Chiwere defection. This was bad enough but worse was to follow for it was well known that there was no love lost between Mpezeni and his half brother Mbelwa and it now came to Gwaza's ears that his protégé's life was actually in danger. He decided on a bold and dangerous step. In the greatest secrecy he consulted the elders of the two senior royal kraals, Ekwendeni and Elangeni, and it was decided that they too would break away, taking with them both Mbelwa and Mtwalu. The plot succeeded admirably and so covertly were the arrangements carried out that Mpezeni's following knew nothing about it and no attempt was ever made to follow them. Mpezeni was now alone: but he did not remain long in the land which had brought such misfortune to the tribe. With his following he moved off to the south-west following the line of the eastern edge of the Wemba escarpment. He had not gone far when the last splinter group left the main body. This was Mwachumi, a senior member of the Jere family, and his charge, Mperembe, who was a son of Zwangendaba from one of the junior houses. They crossed the Luangwa in its upper reaches and re- joined Gwaza and his party who were now getting settled in on the Kasitu River in Northern Malawi. Mpezeni had a brush with the Wemba, a tribe almost as warlike as the Angoni, and then moved further on down the escarpment, turned east, forded the Luangwa River in its lower reaches, passed Mkoko where Zwangendaba had lived after the Zambezi crossing and went on to Mpinduka hill near the Zambian—Portuguese border in what was formerly the Fort Jameson district.10

    As neither Mbelwa nor Mtwalu were of age Gwaza was made the Regent of the breakaway group. He led his followers southwards retracing their steps towards the Tumbuka country which they had quilted more than a decade before. They settled first on the Kasitu River some distance short of their old settlement at the Mawiri pools. Here the agonizing question of who was to succeed to the chieftainship of the Northern section of the tribe had to be tackled. Was it to be Mtwalu the elder in point of age or Mbelwa the son of the senior sister? Gwaza, ever the traditionalist, cautiously favoured Mbelwa because he thought the seniority of the sisters conclusively settled the rank of the sons. Moreover he was well aware that during the old chief's lifetime Munene's house had been regarded as the great house. Most of the other members of the Jere clan however supported Mtwalu. Gwaza with the spectre of further dissension before him, was reluctantly preparing to give way when quite unexpectedly Mtwalu withdrew his candidature, to the dismay of his supporters.20 It turned out to be a wise and statesmanlike gesture for the tension which was building up was immediately dissipated and the two royal brothers remained on friendly terms with each other for the rest of their lives and the tribe was saved further disruption.

    Thus ended one of the most refractory and bitterly contested successions of recent times. It is estimated that from the time of Zwangendaba's death it took some ten years to finalize, caused considerable bloodshed and ended up with the composite tribe which Zwangendaba had left being broken up into no less than six different segments21 widely scattered over Central Africa.

    1. Lane Poole, E. H., The Native Tribes of the Eastern Province of Northern Rhodesia, Lusaka: Government Printer (1938), p. 1.
    2. Chibambo, Yesaya, "Makani gha Wangoni", in Midauko, Livingstonia: Mission Press (1933), p. 113.
    3. Child, Harold, The History of the Amandebele, Salisbury: Ministry of Internal Affairs (1968), p. 5.
    4. Read, Margaret, The Ngoni of Nyasaland, Oxford University Press (1956), p. 14.
    5. Chibambo op. cit. p. 115. Cullen Young appears to suggest that he went without permission which would account for his being set on by Sochangane (Cullen Young, Rev. T., Notes on the History of the Tumbuka-Kamanga Peoples in the Northern Province of Nyasaland, London: The Religious Tract Society (1932), p. 109).
    6. Chibambo op. cit. p. 115.
    7. Chibambo ibid. pp. 124, 142.
    8. This story comes from informants at Lundazi; Chibambo merely records that they were sisters and Munene was the senior.
    9. Chibambo op. cit. p. 135. After this escape Soseya lived to a great age, outliving her son Mpezeni and eventually dying in November, 1900 (Lane Poole op. cit. p. 16).
    10. Cullen Young op. cit. p. 113; Chibambo op. cit. p. 132.
    11. It was possible in rare cases for the heir to be the son of another man. This did occur in the case of Mafu Jere (Cullen Young op. cit. p. I 110).
    12. Child op. cit. p. 7.
    13. Cullen Young op. cit. p. 114.
    14. Chibambo op. cit. p. 113.
    15. Chibambo ibid. p. 113.
    16. Cullen Young op. cit. p. 113.
    17. Cullen Young ibid. p. 115.
    18. Chibambo op. cit. p. 140.
    19. Lane Poole op. cit. p. 10.
    20. Cullen Young states that Mbelwa was nominated because he came of age before Mtwalu (Cullen Young op. cit. p. 116).
    21. The Ngoni who now live in Central Malawi under Chief Gomani were not with Zwangendaba but came up independently at about the same time (Read op. cit. p. 8; Omer Cooper, J. D., Zulu Aftermath, London: Longmans (1966), p. 58; cf. Cullen Young op. cit. p. 111).

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