Thembu people

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The Thembu/Tamboekie people

The Thembu people ('abaThembu ababhu-bhuzu, abanisi belanga libalele') according to tradition, migrated from central Africa along the east coast via KwaZulu-Natal where they settled. Mbulali, whose grandson, Thembu, led his people from the present KwaZulu-Natal area to Dedesi into the present Transkei. Besides these clans, there were also groups other than Thembu who, in the course of time, had settled on Thembu territory. We can thus see that Ngubengcuka's subjects were not of homogeneous descent, but they developed as a single, loosely-structured political entity which comprised various kinship groups (clans). The term Thembu therefore, denoted those people who owed allegiance to the Thembu royal family, the Hala, Mvelase and its head, the king. The most internationally famous Thembu person was Nelson Mandela, whose father was a reigning nobleman from a junior branch of the Madiba clan of kings. Walter Sisulu was also of Thembu descent from his mother's side.[1]


In Xhosa, the name is abaThembu, aba- being a common prefix for peoples. The land in which they lived was historically known as Thembuland.

In the 19th century, the Thembu were frequently known as the "Tamboekie" or "Tambookie" people. This name was originally the Khoisan term specifically for the Thembu followers of Chief Maphasa who moved into the area west of the Great Kei River in the 1820s. Europeans however, who were often not aware of the distinction, used the term as a synonym for "Thembu" for much of the 19th century.


Prior to the British conquest and incorporation of their territory, called "Tembuland" in the 19th century, the Thembu had an independent kingdom. The clan name of the Thembu kings is King Ntlazi aNkosiyane. 'Madiba eMqanduli'.[citation needed] Recent kings, including Sabata Jonguhlanga Dalindyebo, have used the surname of Dalindyebo, from the name of a 19th-century king.

After conquest, the Thembu were administered by the government of the Cape Colony as one of the Transkeian Territories, which with the exception of a few missionaries and white traders, were treated as lands reserved for African occupation. Other peoples in the territories who had formerly had independent kingdoms included the Gcaleka branch of the Xhosa, the Mpondo (who split into two kingdoms late in the 19th century), the Bhaca and the Xesibe. Under apartheid the Transkei was turned into a bantustan. In the ethnic theory underpinning apartheid, the Transkei was regarded as the "homeland" of the Xhosa people. As a result, the Thembu people are often misidentified as being Xhosa.


Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, son of Sabata Jonguhlanga Dalindyebo, has reigned as Thembu king since May 1989; his praise name is Zwelibanzi. Sabata deposed Kaiser Matanzima, whom the Apartheid government had installed and who advocated against South African liberation movements. In December 2009 King Buyelekhaya was convicted of offences including culpable homicide, kidnapping, arson and assault. In response he proposed secession from South Africa[2][3] and later demanded that the government pay Dalindyebo R 900 million and the tribe a further R 80 billion in compensation for the humiliation caused by the criminal trial.[4]

Dalindyebo was imprisoned in December 2015, has since been customarily dethroned, and is expected to be administratively dethroned in the near future.[5]

Prince Azenathi Dalindyebo, Buyelekhaya's great son, has served as the acting king of the tribe since 2016.

On the 23rd of December 2019, following president Cyril Ramaphosa's Day of reconciliation speech, the Abathembu King was released from prison after having served a 3rd of his sentence.


Thembu Kingship Line[edit]

Ndungwane (AmaNdungwane)NxekoHlanga (AmaQhayi)
1800 -10 August 1830 Vusani Ngubengcuka Aa! Ndaba!
MthokrakraMandela (chief)
Ngangelizwe (Qheya)Henry Gadla Mphakanyiswa Mandela
Aa! Gadla!
Dalindyebo (Alava)MatanzimaNelson Rolihlahla Mandela
Aa! Dalibhunga!
Sampu Dalindyebo Aa! Jongilizwe!Kaiser Matanzima
Aa! Daliwonga!
George Matanzima Aa! Mzimvubu!Madiba "Thembi" Thembekile Mandela [1945–1969]Makgatho Mandela [1950–2005]
Sabata Dalindyebo Aa! Jonguhlanga!Mthethuvumile MatanzimaMandla Mandela
Aa! Zwelivelile!
May 1989 - 2014 Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo Aa! Zwelibanzi!Lwandile Zwelenkosi Matanzima Aa! Zwelenkosi!Siyambonga Dalimvula Matanzima
Aa! Dalimvula!
Azenathi Dalindyebo Aa! Zanelizwe!

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walter Sisulu Archived 2012-06-16 at the Wayback Machine Ancestry24
  2. ^ Troubled monarch sentenced to 15 years IOL
  3. ^ Convicted king plans independent state IOL
  4. ^ Tribe suspends secession plans News24
  5. ^ Compare: "Intrigue in the royal household as King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo sits in jail". Times Live. 1 January 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-01. In terms of laws governing traditional authorities, he also had to be administratively dethroned. This involved President Jacob Zuma withdrawing the certificate that recognised him as a king, and cutting off the benefits that went with his status. [...] Mtirara said Zuma gave Dalindyebo a chance to say something when the certificate was about to be withdrawn, but he chose to go to court instead. This meant the matter of withdrawing the king's certificate still had to be dealt with.

External links[edit]

Media related to Thembu people at Wikimedia Commons