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Mzilikazi kaMashobane
King of Matabeleland
King Mzilikazi, as portrayed by Captain William Cornwallis Harris, circa 1836
Reignca. 1823 – 1868
Coronationca. 1820
PredecessorFounder (father murdered; formerly a lieutenant of Zulu King Shaka)
Bornca. 1790
Mkuze, South Africa
Died(1868-09-09)9 September 1868
Matabeleland, buried in a cave at Entumbane, Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe (on 4 November 1868)
Spouseseveral wives
IssueLobhengula (son), Nkulumane (son), and many others
HouseKhumalo; founder of the Ndebele people
FatherMashobane kaMangethe (c. late 1700s – c. 1820s),
MotherNompethu KaZwide, daughter of Chief Zwide of the Ndwandwe people (tribe).

Mzilikazi Khumalo (c. 1790 – 9 September 1868) was a Southern African king who founded the Mthwakazi Kingdom now known as Matabeleland, in what became British South Africa Company-ruled Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. His name means "the great road".[1] He was born the son of Mashobane kaMangethe near Mkuze, Zululand (now known as KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa), and died at Ingama, Matabeleland (near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). Many consider him to be the greatest Southern African military leader after the Zulu king Shaka. In his autobiography, David Livingstone referred to Mzilikazi as the second most impressive leader he encountered on the African continent.

Leaving Zululand[edit]

Mzilikazi was originally a lieutenant of Shaka but had a quarrel with him in 1823 and rebelled. Rather than face ritual execution, he fled northwards with his followers. He first travelled to Mozambique but in 1826 he moved west into the Transvaal due to continued attacks by his enemies. He absorbed many members of other tribes as he conquered the Transvaal, where he established a military despotism. He attacked the Ndzundza kraal at Esikhunjini, where the Ndzundza king Magodongo and others were kidnapped and subsequently killed at Mkobola river.

For the next ten years Mzilikazi dominated the Transvaal. This period, known locally as the Mfecane ["crushing"] was characterised by devastation and murder on a grand scale. Mzilikazi eliminated all opposition and reorganised the captured territory to suit the new Matabele order. In 1831, after winning a battle against the Griqua people, Mzilikazi occupied the Griqua lands near the Ghaapse mountains.[2] He used scorched earth methods to maintain a safe distance from all surrounding kingdoms. The death toll has never been satisfactorily determined, but it is believed that the region was so depopulated that the Voortrekkers were able to occupy and take ownership of the Highveld area without opposition in the 1830s.[3]

Meeting the Boers[edit]

Voortrekkers began to arrive in Transvaal in 1836, resulting in several confrontations over the next two years during which the Matabele suffered heavy losses. By early 1838, Mzilikazi and his people were forced northwards out of Transvaal altogether and across the Limpopo River. Further attacks caused him to move again, at first westwards into present-day Botswana and then later northwards towards what is now Zambia. He was unable to settle the land there because of the prevalence of tsetse fly which carried diseases fatal to oxen. Mzilikazi therefore travelled again, this time southeastwards into what became known as Matabeleland (situated in the southwest of present-day Zimbabwe) and settled there in 1840.

After his arrival, he organised his followers into a militaristic system with regimental kraals, similar to those of Shaka; under his leadership the Matabele became strong enough to repel the Boer attacks of 1847–1851 and persuade the government of the South African Republic to sign a peace treaty with Mzilikazi in 1852.

Matabele Kingdom[edit]

While Mzilikazi was generally friendly to European travellers, he remained mindful of the danger that they posed to his kingdom. In later years he refused some visitors access to his realm. The Europeans who met Mzilikazi include Henry Hartley, hunter and explorer; Robert Moffat, missionary; David Hume, explorer and trader; Andrew Smith, medical doctor, ethnologist and zoologist; William Cornwallis Harris, hunter; and the missionary explorer David Livingstone.

During the tribe's wanderings north of the Limpopo, Mzilikazi became separated from the bulk of the tribe. They gave him up for dead and hailed his young heir Nkulumane as his successor. However, Mzilikazi reappeared after a traumatic journey through the Zambezi Valley and reasserted control. According to one account, his son and all the chiefs who had chosen him were put to death on his orders. A popular belief is that they were executed by being thrown down a steep cliff on the hill now called Ntabazinduna [hill of the chiefs].

Another account claims that Nkulumane was not killed with the chiefs, but was sent back to the Zulu Kingdom with a sizeable delegation which included warriors. During his journey south, he passed through the Bakwena territory in the northwestern Transvaal, near Rustenburg. At the time the Bakwena were struggling to repel repeated attacks from a neighbouring king, who laid claim to the territory that they occupied. Nkulumane assisted the Bakwena by leading his impi [regiment] in a battle in which Nkulumane himself killed the neighbouring chief.

Following this victory the Bakwena convinced Nkulumane to settle in their territory, arguing that it would be futile to return to the Zulu kingdom as his father's enemies would probably kill him. Nkulumane settled and lived with his family in that area until his death in 1883. His grave, covered in a concrete slab, is on the outskirts of Rustenburg in Phokeng. The site of Nkulumane's grave is incongruously referred to as Mzilikazi's Kop [hill], even though it is his son who is buried there.

After resuming his role as chief, Mzilikazi founded his capital 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) from Ntabazinduna and named it ko-Bulawayo [place of slaughter]. Shaka's capital was also called Bulawayo.[3][4]


  1. ^ "King Mzilikazi". South African History Online. 13 September 2011. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  2. ^ Harris, Sir William Cornwallis (1839). The Wild Sports of Southern Africa; Being the Narrative of an Expedition from the Cape of Good Hope, Through the Territories of the Chief Moselekatse, to the Tropic of Capricorn. Albemarle Street, London: John Murray. p. 151.
  3. ^ a b Becker, Peter (1979). Path of Blood: The Rise and Conquests of Mzilikazi, Founder of the Matabele Tribe of Southern Africa. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-004978-7.
  4. ^ Dodds, Glen Lyndon (1998). The Zulus and Matabele: Warrior Nations. Arms and Armour. ISBN 978-1-85409-381-3.

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