Sir Herbert Baker on Cecil Rhodes: “His respect for the dead is better known by the honour he did to the old Matabele chieftain, Mosilikatze, in restoring his defiled tomb in its granite cave in the Matoppos”.
Ref: “Cecil Rhodes by his Architect” Herbert Baker, Oxford University Press, 1934
How nice, I thought, how very civilised, to honour the father of Lobengula, his old adversary.
But that’s not what happened. The true story is very different.
Mzilikazi was the founder of the Ndebele people, a fierce warrior and one of Shaka’s Indunas who was sent out to raid and massacre.
The story I recall, and I confess I am vague on the details, is that after a bloody career in Shaka’s service, with great success, Mzilikazi decided it was only fair that having served Shaka so well he (Mzilikazi) was entitled to resign his command and to start raiding for his own account. He had sent to Shaka’s kraal tens of thousands of cattle, thousands of young women and children. Shaka could hardly complain after such profit if Mzilikazi now set out to trade for himself. He sent a messenger to Shaka bearing his resignation.
He was wrong. Shaka was incandescent with rage, and despatched other impis to catch and destroy Mzilikazi, “to terminate him with extreme prejudice” as we might have it today. Mzilikazi fled for his life, with his captures, and ended up in Southern Zimbabwe. Eventually Mzilikazi died in his kraal at Bulawayo and was buried in a tomb in the Matopos. The tomb is known – it is entered by a crack in one of the great granite kopjes the area is famous for. The crack was walled up with stones, and held to be sacred and untouchable by the Ndebele, out of bounds to all comers.
There is an unfortunate story of the residents of the nearest kraal, who were charged with safeguarding the tomb. A veld fire one windy winter’s day blew out of control and encroached on the grave, burning some wooden objects stacked outside. Lobengula’s response was extreme. The headman of the kraal was put to death, as was everybody else who lived there, down to the infants, and every other living thing including the dogs and the chickens.
Such was the importance of Mzilikazi’s grave.