Origins of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe

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The Ndebele are descendants of the Khumalo people who lived under the rule of Shaka in present day South Africa. They got their name ‘Ndebele’ during their association with the Sotho people in the Transvaal region. The name ‘Ndebele’ meant strangers from the coast. The breakaway of the Ndebele from Shaka has been attributed to their leader Mzilikazi who ruled for 50 plus years.

Mzilikazi was a chief under Shaka until about 1820 when they fell into a dispute regarding spoils of war. The dispute led to battles with Shaka’s army and eventually forced them to migrate more than 1500km north. Their first settlement was at Ekupumuleni where they raided the Sotho and Pedi. Due to the drought that ensued that year they began to raid more and more of their neighbors even going as far as the Limpopo to raid Shona cattle.

Mzilikazi crossed into Zimbabwe in 1838. They split into two groups, one led by Mzilikazi and the other by Gundwane. Gundwane Ndiweni and Nkulumane the heir travelled and settled close to the modern-day Bulawayo which is Zimbabwe’s second largest city. The second group led by Mzilikazi tried to settle in present day Zambezi Valley but had to retreat because of the problems associated with tsetse flies that killed theri herd. The group led by Gundwane subdued the Rozvi State and even demanded tribute in the form of labor and cattle. Mzilikazi’s group also attacked and subdued the Tswana and Kalanga. However when they finally met up again some of the leaders within Gundwane’s group were resisting Mzilikazi’s rule. As a result many were killed and Nkulumane was driven down across the Limpopo. Mzilikazi then retained dominance over the Ndebele people.

The land occupied by the Ndebele has been previously inhabited by the Changamire State since the 12th century. The only outside interference they has experienced was with the Portuguese, Swahili and other traders. Other groups that settled in previously Shona areas included the Soshngane who settled in the South-east, Zwangendaba who defeated the Rozvi State but it was Mzilikazi who finally defeated the powerful Changamire Rozvi State.

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