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Leadership: The Qualities Required To Revive The Ndebele Nation and  Restore It As Powerful As It Once Was

Mbodlomani Gojwana  - 04 October 2002

Developments of the last two decades within present day Zimbabwean boundaries have left Ndebele people in a state of deprivation and disenfranchisement, life has truly become unbearable. In levels that are unprecedented and that have never been experienced before in the history of the Ndebele, the once mighty nation founded by King Mzilikazi kaMashobane has been reduced to third class citizenry by the Shona supremascist regime led by Robert Mugabe.

The demise of the Ndebele nation was initiated by European colonialists at the turn of the 19th century, but the "art" of oppression has been perfected by fellow Africans who have only served to replace the Europeans as oppressors.  The 1884 Treaty of Versailles set the path for the destruction of the Ndebele state by first creating artificial borders and then imposing unitary systems of government on the "new" states.  Publications illustrating how  Ndebele people  rightfully continue to behave as a nation, but only just, within present day Zimbabwe have been issued through this forum. See Two countries in one?  Concepts of citizenship in Matabeleland and Can Zimbabwe as a state survive the two-nations in one sentiment most Ndebele people subscribe to? 

The notion of a unitary system based on artificial colonial boundaries is self defeating in many African countries and present day Zimbabwe is no exception. Not only were these perimeters imposed, but more tragically, they emasculated once powerful nations like the Ndebele,  who today find themselves under an imposed leadership.

It is therefore a valid and serious point to make that the Ndebele have started the new millenium without a leader. In fact, they have not had a leader since 22nd December 1987 when Joshua Nkomo capitulated and signed the "Unity Accord". For any society to legitimately call itself a nation and survive, it must have a leader who is able to articulate its aspirations at the same time moving that nation towards the realisation of those aspirations. The Ndebele nation is not only leaderless at the present moment, but also seems unable to produce individuals of the right calibre.  Have the Ndebele been cowed to perpetual timidness?  I hope not.

When we analyse history, we will realise that events which culminated in an attempt to destroy the Ndebele nation by both white colonialists and Shona hegemonists were preceded by either military defeat or disarmament of the armies representative of  Ndebele nationhood. Whereas white colonialists, in 1893 and1896, defeated a well-spirited regiment of Ndebele warriors the Shona government of Robert Mugabe - taking advantage of Joshua Nkomo's monumentally disastrous decision to disarm undeafeated Zipra forces - committed genocide against defenceless Ndebele people.

The defeat of the warriors by the British army can only be attributed to the inequalities in military firepower between the two armies and not King Lobengula,s inability as a military strategist.   It is true that some sections of Ndebele society questioned Lobengula's accession to the throne, saying he lacked a colourful military background.  He however proved his doubters wrong by his unshakeable determination to safeguard the kingdom against conquest by other tribes. He is a leader who presided over proud men of whom praises have been sung by white historians:

"I cannot speak too highly of the pluck of these two regiments. I believe that no civilised army could have withstood the terrific fire they did for almost half as long". - Sir John Milloughby, speaking of the Imbizo and Ingubo Regiments after Maxim Guns were used against them, at Mbembesi, 1 November 1893.
"The facing of the Maxims by the Ingubo regiment at a distance of a hundred and ten yards, was, perhaps one of the most magnificent displays of physical courage that Africa has ever seen".- De Vere Stent, journalist, after the same engagement. 
It is crystal clear that the founder of the Ndebele nation, Mzilikazi kaMashobane  organized his new kingdom along military lines. He was a great military leader as well as an able administrator. He ruled for about 40  years and withstood attacks from neighbouring tribes, the British and Afrikaners. It is tragic that not long after his death on September 9 1868, the Ndebele kingdom, under his son Lobengula, was overwhelmed by the white colonialists.

 As a descendant of Zulus, Mzilikazi kaMashobane modelled his new nation on the  mighty Zulu nation and as such, pride was always at stake for the nation. Zulu military exploits are well known,  particularly their defeat of the British at  ISandlwana of which S. Bourquin  wrote the following:

"At one stage during the battle of Isandlwana, the British fire was so hot that the Zulus seemed to have had enough and a movement of withdrawal became noticeable, when, according to tradition, a lone voice filled a moment's silence and trailed across the field of battle: 'Ihlamvana bul' umlilo kashongo njalo!' - 'The little branch which extinguished the fire (started by Walmsley and Rathbone at the battle of Ndondakusuka in 1856: a euphemistic reference to Cethswayo the king) never gave such an order!' The backward movement stopped immediately, the Zulu army rose as one man and made its final devastating rush upon the British camp."
It is also ironically tragic  that the final defeat of the Zulu empire came about because King Cetshwayo was completely unprepared for war and that he believed that war could be averted, even after the British had set a pretext for war, and that when war came, his heart was not in it.

Whilst the Zulu nation experienced a demise similar in many respects to the Ndebele nation, they have managed to retain their traditional system of governance as well as the monarchy. Chief Buthelezi once stated that:

'another of my hopes for my people is the return of Zulu pride - pride in what they were, are and can be. Somehow, without the intention to do so, a feeling has been inculcated that we should be ashamed of everything that constitutes our past. To many people the old Zulu kingdom means just bloodshed, but it had other positive aspects in the sense that our political and social system was based on it. With the overthrow of the Zulu kingdom came the shattering of much of the Zulu national consciousness. We can get back this national consciousness, step by step, in the best possible way, if our people have the right once more to make decisions about their own future.' [1]
Likewise, the overthrow of Lobengula brought an end to Ndebele consciousness as proud warriors were turned into factory, farm and mine workers and proud women into nannies for the colonialists. But having said this, six decades later, there was still willingness to fight against colonialism and for the restoration of the Ndebele order. The Ndebele nation was represented by the military wing of ZAPU, ZIPRA at the liberation war between 1970 and 1980. The leader who presided over this war was Dr. Joshua Nkomo.

Great leader though he was, Joshua Nkomo's acceptance of the imposed boundaries exposed a lack of vision which future leaders must guard against. His willingness to disarm an undefeated army when signs of genocide against the Ndebele nation were all too apparent will forever haunt the Ndebele until such time that a leader of Mzilikazi's stature emerges. Like Cetshwayo before him, Nkomo's indecision and miscalculations cost the nation heavily because not only was Zapu, the political party representative of the Ndebele nation annihilated but fear was instilled in the  hearts of Ndebeles through Gukurahundi. Throughout the war of liberation in Rhodesia, the Ndebele nation followed Nkomo religiously and the war against colonialism should have been in defence of the old Ndebele order and the restoration of pre-colonial boundaries.

Given the present plight of the Ndebele nation, the post- Joshua Nkomo leadership vacuum calls for someone with a true sense of nationalism and a high degree of bravery. 

The development of individual leaders is a possible and assailable task. Ndebele national traditions are still in place but need to be vigorously reinforced and coupled with a modernist approach which will take into account globalisation. Within the imposed unitary state of Zimbabwe today, there is a flicker of optimism because institutions that are mainly owned or administered by Ndebele people continue to be free of the corruption and rot experienced elsewhere. Good examples are the Bulawayo Municipality, which despite tough economic conditions, continues to strive and is a major success compared to other local government councils.  On the sporting scene, Highlanders Football Club's on-field exploits and administrative excellence are the envy of other teams in the country.

Ndebele people need a leader who will sieze upon this embodiment of uBuntu/Humanity while he/she possesses the strong nation-building qualities of Mzilikazi kaMashobana.  They must also have the intellectual capacity of Joshua Nkomo but above all, the new leader must gain the total support of the Ndebele by restoring a sense of pride and consciousness amongst  Ndebele society.

UMthwakazi yinkomokazi kababa emabalabala, 
Inkonyane yamaDlozi, 
Abathi beyigwaza ngemikhonto, 
Yazimela yathi mpo, 
Imikhonto  yephukel' emhlane. 
Zonke iziwe zayibon' inqaba!

[1] Military History Journal - Vol. 4 No. 4 (http://rapidttp.com/milhist/vol044sb.html)
[2] http://user.aol.com/Inkundla

©Mbodlomani Gojwana