Mzilikazi

ca. 1790–1868
Founder of Ndebele kingdom

For a short time in the early 1800s, Mzilikazi served as a lieutenant in the army of the Zulu ruler SHAKA ZULU. After one battle, Mzilikazi kept the cattle he captured instead of sending them to Shaka. When the chief sent men to investigate, Mzilikazi insulted Shaka by cutting the feathers off their headdresses. Realizing that Shaka would be furious, Mzilikazi led several hundred followers north and established his own kingdom called Ndebele.

Mzilikazi built his kingdom by conquering local groups. His military tactics were devastating: his army surrounded villages at night and attacked at dawn, rhythmically beating their shields, killing all but young men and women, and burning the village to the ground. He incorporated the captive men in his army and gave the women of defeated enemies to his followers as wives. Refugees could join the Ndebele but were not allowed to marry until they had served in the army. Under Mzilikazi, the Ndebele moved often to expand their base of power and to escape the Zulu armies sent to pursue them.

Mzilikazi

During the 1830s Mzilikazi not only defeated Zulu armies, he also raided white settlements, capturing large numbers of livestock. Around 1840 he founded a capital at Bulawayo in what is now ZIMBABWE. From there, he led military campaigns against both local clans and white Afrikaner settlers. He forced the Afrikaners to sign a peace treaty in 1852. By this time, his kingdom included more than 20,000 people and had an extensive law code that covered every aspect of Ndebele life, including farming, war, marriage, and taxation. Mzilikazi controlled the region until the gold rush of 1860, when thousands of immigrants contested his rule. After Mzilikazi’s death, his son LOBENGULA lost the struggle with the immigrants over land rights, and the Ndebele kingdom collapsed. (See also Ndebele, Southern Africa, History.)