Forgotten History: The Gaza State, 1821- 1895


In 1821, Soshangane who had been a part of Shaka’s army led a small group of the Ndwandwe to the North. Eventually, they settled in the lands of the Tsonga, in what is now present day Mozambique. They defeated and brought under their authority the Tsonga, Chopi, Shona and Tonga. The area they settled was tsetse fly infested which made it hard to keep cattle. In addition, it was a dry climate; however, some areas such as a the inland of the Limpopo river were suitable for farming and raising cattle.

In Gaza society there were three classes; descendants of the Nguni who formed the ruling class, the conquered groups who assimilated into Nguni culture and in the lowest class were the captured Chopi and Tsonga people who were part of the slave class. The Tsonga and Chopi people became slaves to the Nguni because they refused to accept their dominance. As a result the Gaza army raided, captured, and made them slaves who were even more oppressed than the other captured tribes. Some of the conquered people were also sold to Portuguese traders at Maputo and Inhambane as slaves. These slaves were taken to work in sugar plantations in Mauritius while others were conscripted to fight in Nguni armies.

Nguni men who possessed cattle were able to use them to marry women from the other tribes. The children they had with Nguni men were considered true Nguni and had the rights and privileges of the ruling class. In other instances, women captured by the Nguni were taken as wives but did not have any rights in Nguni society because there was no bride price paid for them. Interestingly, the female children were sometimes sold as brides but the male children could become Nguni.

The Gaza maintained close ties with Portuguese traders as they sold slaves and ivory to them. Within the Gaza state there were many wars between Soshangane and Nxaba and Zwangendaba. In addition, the Gaza state was constantly attacked by the Zulu until 1833 even though they never succeeded at defeating them. For a period of time, Soshangane moved his capital away from the Limpopo river until the end of Dingane’s rule. Soshangane died in 1858 and thereafter, his sons Mawewe and Mzila fought for the throne. Eventually, Mzila became King in 1862 and moved to the southeast highlands in present day Zimbabwe. He signed a treaty with the Portuguese in exchange for their support and with the Ndebele king, Lobengula. After Mzila died in 1884, his son Ngungunyane became King and moved the capital back to the Limpopo in 1889. Under his leadership, The Gaza fought many wars against the Portuguese before they were finally defeated in 1895 and became a colony of the Portuguese in Mozambique.